As tensions between Ankara and Washington take a dive, President Trump has begun targeting Turkey with a growing list of sanctions. As the Lira continues to drop in value, could Trump’s economic war shake the foundations of President Erdoğan’s support? According to Metropoll, last August saw the President’s approval rating drop by 8.6%.
The sanctions started with the freezing of assets belonging to two Turkish government officials, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, accused of playing a role in the arrest of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, after the October 2016 coup attempt. Last month, the sanctions broadened to a raising of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum by 50% and 20%, respectively.
Turkey has the largest bauxite deposits in the world; a mineral used in the production of aluminum. Targeting the metal industry is far from a light jab at the Anatolian country. Manufacturing has grown under Erdoğan to represent 29.19% of the national GDP, in 2017, with an added value of 198.594 billion USD (2010).
A resurgent Turkish economy has been widely responsible for the continued support of Erdoğan’s Islamist AKP among the secularists. Since coming to power in 2002, Erdoğan’s sweeping liberalization of the economy has seen tangible economic growth. From 2002 to 2017, the GDP (PPP) has grown by 1.87%, compared to the 1.18% growth of 1990 to 2002. In a comparable time frame, from 2002 to 2014, the GDP (PPP) grew by 1.66%.
While the privatization of government assets does act as a shot of economic adrenaline, a serious trade conflict between the US and Turkey could bring the party to an end. Considering the cultural allure of “buying American” in Turkey, if Trump continues to escalate, secularists could abandon the AKP for the historically dominant Kemalist CHP or even a smaller fascist offshoot like the IP. This can be seen in the results of Turkish local and national elections where the AKP only loses seats during a serious economic downturn.
Turkey has always been an interesting player in the international scene. Historically, they have never clearly fit into one geopolitical camp. While they joined NATO, the CHP has mostly kept Turkey a mixed-market socialist economy. More recently, looking at the Syrian Civil War, Turkey is openly attacking the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to control northern Syria under a Turkmen proxy state.
Trump is likely to continue applying greater economic pressure as threats to seize Trump’s personal property in Turkey are being weighed. Turkey is not one to bend the knee and is openly flaunting their independence from Washington by meeting with Iran and Russia, on September 7th, to discuss matters of military cooperation. It would be unlikely that Turkey would align too closely with Russia, despite the recent acquisition of Russian missile defense systems.
Kemalists should keep a close eye on the next few months. It is likely that a severe recession, like the one that hit in the tail-end of the 2000s, could provide the CHP with the needed leverage to rid themselves of Erdoğan’s coup resistant regime.