Ahead of the May 2023 elections in Türkiye, the Western media launched a campaign to “unite the opposition to get rid of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” In recent months, anti-Turkish and anti-Erdoğan articles have appeared more and more frequently in United States and European publications.
Most recently, The Economist published a special issue on Türkiye to claim that the country was “on the brink of dictatorship” and urge Western leaders, starting with U.S. President Joe Biden, to “warn” Erdoğan about democracy. Interestingly, the same magazine had claimed that Türkiye was “sliding into dictatorship” in April 2017 – days before the constitutional referendum when the Turkish people adopted the presidential system of government.
Most people are tired of reading condescending, discriminatory and prejudiced commentaries in the Western media that refuse to grasp the reality of “the new Türkiye.”
Hardly anyone is surprised that such pieces are published more frequently around Turkish elections to reflect the narrow interests of certain foreign governments or the rhetoric of anti-Turkish lobbyists. Indeed, some media outlets and think tanks in Washington, Brussels and Berlin do not hesitate to publish propaganda, masked as analysis, regarding ways to ensure Erdoğan’s loss – in a way that serves intelligence and perception operations.
An essay by John Bolton, a former U.S. National Security adviser that appeared in The Wall Street Journal was the most straightforward. There, Bolton claimed that NATO would kick Türkiye out in case of another victory for President Erdoğan and urged readers to support the opposition.
Meanwhile, several “academic” articles, which discuss “competitive authoritarianism” in foreign languages, are so miserable that they make the Orientalists look good.
Over the following months, there will be no shortage of propaganda in the Western media that calls for President Erdoğan’s removal from power to stop Türkiye from becoming more powerful.
This campaign by Western media outlets, which oppose even Türkiye’s counterterrorism campaign, will fuel the Turkish people’s concerns over their country’s survival and anti-Western sentiment. Indeed, all Turkish voters are unhappy with the Western support of the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) terrorist organizations and Greece’s maximalist demands. Their hostility toward Türkiye’s initiatives and achievements in defense and energy is not lost on anyone either.
Against that backdrop, the West would only empower the People’s Alliance’s arguments by approaching the May 2023 elections like The Economist or Bolton.
The portrayal of Türkiye being “on the brink” reflects the assessment of the ruling alliance and the opposition.
However, they disagree on what is about to happen in Türkiye. The ruling alliance talks about its ideal of a more powerful country, warning that an opposition victory would lead to chaos and a downward turn.
By contrast, the opposition seems to agree with the West media’s charge of "dictatorship" to such an extent that they describe the upcoming election as “the final election.” Ironically, the Western media’s anti-Erdoğan campaign renders the opposition parties vulnerable to the accusation that they think along the same lines as the foreign powers.
Furthermore, the popular concerns over Türkiye’s “survival” (rooted in the West’s anti-Turkish policies) and the chaos and uncertainty in the international system come together in a way that serves the ruling alliance’s interests.
That’s why it is critically important whether Western leaders will openly side with the opposition in Türkiye. Again, how Washington will respond to the Turkish request to buy F-16 fighter jets (as it sells F-35 fighter jets to Greece) will be very important. It would be a severe mistake to link the sale of F-16s to Sweden and Finland’s admission into NATO or to make any attempt to mount pressure on Ankara regarding that issue.
Keeping in mind that Türkiye’s "positive agenda" with the U.S. has been reduced to increasing the bilateral trade volume and the F-16 deal and the country’s EU membership bid having been frozen for a long time, the relations between Türkiye and the West will be tested over the next months.
What Washington and Brussels won’t do during that period will be no less important than what they will do. Indeed, the Turkish electorate would be most unsettled by foreign meddling in their country’s elections. In this sense, any public intervention by the West, such as “warnings” or “pressure,” would backfire spectacularly.
Still, there is no reason to expect the influx of foreign funding, manipulations on social media, or the activities of supposed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) geared toward indirectly influencing the Turkish elections to slow down.