This article originally appeared here on Politico.com on Friday, August 21, 2015.
On July 23 virtually every news outlet in the United States ran some version of the following headline: “Turkey Joins the Fight Against ISIL; Opens Air Base to Coalition Forces; Washington and Ankara Agree to Safe Zone in Syria.” The media, being what it is, dubbed Ankara’s decision to order up airstrikes on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s forces a “game changer,” which is what journalists say when they have nothing else to say, do not understand a situation and are itching to get back to covering Donald Trump. The only game that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is actually interested in changing is the political one that he has been uncharacteristically losing since mid-June when his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the parliamentary majority it has held since November 2002. Erdogan’s military actions against the self-proclaimed Islamic State are best understood as one part a desperate, highly complex attempt by Erdogan to win back the power he lost. If his plan fails, the risky multi-front war Erdogan has just launched may become his undoing.
It’s hard to believe that Erdogan took a fresh look at what was happening in Syria and Iraq and came to the conclusion that joining the American-led fight against the Islamic State was in Turkey’s national interest. The prevailing theory among Turkey watchers instead is this: Ankara agreed to fight against the Islamic State so America would allow it to attack the Kurds (who are also at war with ISIL) and thereby improve the AKP’s political prospects in parliamentary elections that will be scheduled for the fall.
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