In the complex arena of global politics, there are few leaders who exemplify the principle of strategic pragmatism as distinctly as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Türkiye’s President. With his captivating leadership style and populist rhetoric, Erdogan has adeptly maneuvered through the intricate web of international relations, often leaving onlookers both fascinated and perplexed. His political tactics, which frequently appear to challenge traditional norms and anticipations, can be most accurately interpreted through the concept of Macchiavellian pragmatism.
Niccolò Machiavelli, a diplomat and political thinker from 16th-century Italy, championed a practical and outcome-focused approach to politics, where the ultimate goal justifies the means to achieve it. This Machiavellian pragmatism, often linked with shrewdness and strategic exploitation, is echoed in Erdogan’s political strategies. From his management of domestic affairs to his strategic posturing on the international front, Erdogan has consistently shown a readiness to capitalize on any circumstance to his benefit, often engaging multiple parties to fulfill his goals.
This essay seeks to explore Erdogan’s Macchiavellian pragmatism, scrutinizing key events that underscore his strategic methodology. By investigating Erdogan’s populist allure, his involvement in the Ukraine conflict, his ties with Putin, his use of Türkiye’s NATO membership, his contentious decisions regarding defense purchases, his position on sanctions against Russia, his approach to the refugee crisis, and his recent dealings with Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Azov commanders, we can gain a more profound comprehension of Erdogan’s political tactics and their ramifications on the world stage.
Erdogan as a Populist Leader:
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s journey to the helm of power in Türkiye is fundamentally intertwined with his adept utilization of populist sentiment. With a keen understanding of the public mood, Erdogan has expertly employed populist discourse as a means to forge a deep bond with the general populace. He often positions himself as a guardian of the average citizen, taking a stand against the established elites. This populist strategy has not only cemented his domestic support but has also informed his approach to international politics.
Erdogan regularly uses this populist narrative as a backdrop to explain his strategic decisions on the international stage. By presenting his actions as a crusade for the interests of the Turkish people, he manages to legitimize even the most contentious decisions. This populist narrative serves two purposes. On the home front, it enhances his image as a leader who is unafraid to confront global powers for the benefit of his people. On the international stage, it lends a layer of democratic legitimacy to his actions, as he can assert that he is acting in accordance with the wishes of his people.
In essence, Erdogan’s populist appeal is more than just a political tactic; it is a perspective through which he interprets and engages with the world. It informs his domestic policies, shapes his international relations, and underpins his strategic decisions. This populist approach, when combined with his Machiavellian pragmatism, forms the bedrock of Erdogan’s political identity, enabling him to navigate the intricate and often stormy seas of Turkish and international politics.
Erdogan’s political tactics are inseparably connected with his domestic followers. He has painstakingly fashioned a persona of himself as a leader on the global stage, using this image as a mechanism to fortify his influence within Türkiye. By depicting his actions in international affairs as triumphs for the Turkish nation, he has been successful in preserving substantial domestic endorsement, even when faced with contentious decisions.
Erdogan’s capacity to present himself as a global leader has been a crucial component of his domestic political strategy. He recognizes that his international actions are not solely about foreign policy, but also about how these actions are interpreted by his domestic audience. Every choice, every proclamation, and every action is thoughtfully adjusted to resonate with his followers, reinforcing his image as a formidable leader who is adept at safeguarding Türkiye’s interests on the international stage.
This strategy has enabled Erdogan to sustain substantial domestic support, even when confronted with controversial decisions. Whether it’s his position on the Ukraine conflict, his ties with Putin, or his management of the refugee crisis, Erdogan has consistently portrayed his actions as victories for Türkiye. By doing so, he has managed to present himself as a leader who is willing to make bold decisions for the sake of his country, further strengthening his influence at home.
In essence, Erdogan’s political strategy is a lesson in political communication. He understands that in politics, perception is often as significant as reality, and he has skillfully used this understanding to create an image of himself as a global leader. This image, combined with his ability to depict his international actions as victories for Türkiye, has allowed him to preserve substantial domestic support, further solidifying his power and influence.
Erdogan’s Strategic Pragmatism in International Politics
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s approach to international politics is a vivid illustration of his strategic pragmatism. His adeptness at maneuvering through intricate geopolitical scenarios, balancing diverse interests, and transforming challenges into opportunities underscores his Machiavellian approach to politics.
A key instance of this was his role in the Ukraine conflict of 2022. This situation provided Erdogan with a distinctive opportunity to showcase his strategic pragmatism. He skillfully positioned Russia and the West against each other, capitalizing on Türkiye’s strategic location to optimize his political benefits. This maneuver not only emphasized his Machiavellian pragmatism but also showcased his ability to steer through complex geopolitical situations.
His ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin further exemplify his strategic pragmatism. Despite the historical tensions and differing alliances between their countries, Erdogan has succeeded in fostering a unique relationship with Putin. This relationship has enabled him to negotiate with Russia on his terms, often leading to beneficial outcomes for Türkiye.
Erdogan’s strategic utilization of Türkiye’s NATO membership is another manifestation of his Machiavellian pragmatism. He has consistently capitalized on Türkiye’s position within NATO to further his political agenda, frequently using it as a negotiation tool. This strategy has enabled him to secure concessions from other NATO members, advancing his political objectives.
His decision to acquire S-400 missile systems from Russia, foregoing F-35 fighter jets from the United States, was a daring move that reflected his pragmatic approach. Despite the potential fallout, Erdogan prioritized Türkiye’s immediate defense requirements over its long-term alliance with the United States, demonstrating his readiness to make difficult decisions in the pursuit of his strategic goals.
Erdogan’s refusal to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia further illustrates his strategic pragmatism. By preserving economic ties with Russia, Erdogan has ensured that Türkiye maintains its strategic flexibility, enabling it to navigate the intricate geopolitical landscape without being confined to a single bloc.
His management of the refugee crisis is a clear demonstration of his Machiavellian pragmatism. He has leveraged the refugee situation to apply pressure on European countries, often threatening to unleash a wave of migration to secure concessions from the EU. This strategy has enabled him to transform a humanitarian crisis into a political instrument, advancing his strategic objectives.
Erdogan’s recent dealings with Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Azov commanders highlight his ability to juggle multiple interests. Despite promising Putin not to release the Azov commanders before the war ends, Erdogan welcomed Zelensky and handed over the commanders, demonstrating his readiness to shift alliances based on the evolving geopolitical landscape.
Finally, Erdogan’s attempts to exchange benefits such as acceleration in the EU accession of Türkiye for Sweden’s NATO bid underscore his strategic pragmatism. By capitalizing on Türkiye’s potential EU membership, Erdogan has sought to secure concessions from other countries, demonstrating his ability to turn every situation to his advantage. This was particularly evident in his recent negotiations regarding Sweden’s NATO bid, where he attempted to use Türkiye’s potential EU accession as a negotiation tool.
In each of these instances, Erdogan’s Machiavellian pragmatism is evident. His ability to navigate complex geopolitical situations, balance multiple interests, and turn challenges into opportunities underscores his strategic approach to politics. Whether it’s managing domestic politics, steering international relations, or navigating intricate geopolitical situations, Erdogan’s pragmatism continues to shape Türkiye’s trajectory on the global stage.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political journey serves as a powerful example of strategic pragmatism at work. His skill in navigating the complex geopolitical terrain, balancing a multitude of interests, and converting obstacles into opportunities has allowed him to cement his power domestically and globally. However, this Machiavellian approach to politics has also attracted substantial criticism and sparked serious doubts about his adherence to democratic ideals and international standards.
Erdogan’s readiness to alter alliances based on shifting geopolitical landscapes, his manipulation of the refugee crisis for political leverage, and his refusal to join the West in sanctioning Russia have all been perceived as opportunistic and self-centered. These actions, while showcasing his strategic pragmatism, have also raised questions about his disregard for the principles of international collaboration and unity.
Furthermore, his decision to prioritize immediate defense requirements over enduring alliances, as shown by his procurement of S-400 missile systems from Russia at the cost of F-35 fighter jets from the United States, has strained Türkiye’s relations with its traditional allies. This has led to concerns about the potential long-term repercussions of his strategic pragmatism on Türkiye’s position in the global hierarchy.
In conclusion, while Erdogan’s Machiavellian pragmatism has undoubtedly influenced Türkiye’s course on the global stage, it has also raised serious concerns about the future of Türkiye’s international relations. His approach, while effective in the short term, risks isolating Türkiye in the long term and undermining its credibility on the international stage. As Erdogan continues to steer through the intricate geopolitical landscape with his unique brand of pragmatism, the question remains whether this strategy will ultimately prove to be a blessing or a curse for Türkiye’s future.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.