Turkey's Patchwork Foreign Policy

Between Islamism and Pragmatism

Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Qatari Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah in Ankara, July 2017. Reuters

Turkey’s steady descent into authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accompanied by an erratic foreign policy. Since coming to power in 2002, Erdogan has combined neo-Ottoman rhetoric at home with pan-Islamist ambitions abroad, patronizing the Muslim Brotherhood globally and, more recently, supporting jihadist proxies in Syria. Yet shifting domestic alliances and foreign policy failures have constrained the Turkish strongman’s ability to act on ideological principles alone. The resulting tension—between Erdogan’s Islamist zeal and his forced pragmatism—helps explain Ankara’s patchwork foreign policy in the Middle East and beyond.


Over the last four years, Erdogan has survived two attempts to oust him: a landmark corruption scandal in 2013 and a bloody coup attempt last summer. The Gulen movement, Erdogan’s closest political ally between 2002 and 2013, played a key role in both. The vicious infighting within Turkey’s ruling bloc has led Erdogan to

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