By Andrew C. McCarthy, SEPTEMBER 29, 2012 –
When Recep Tayyip Erdogan became prime minister of Turkey, it was anything but clear that he would last more than a few months. The military, the constitutional guardian of Atatürk’s secular order, had killed the Islamist administration of Erdogan’s mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, only a few years earlier. At the time, Erdogan was jailed for several months as a seditionist. Though he was nonetheless permitted to assume the prime minister’s office in 2003 after leading his Islamist party to victory, the man who famously proclaimed “I am a servant of sharia” still aroused great suspicion.
To survive and thrive, Erdogan would have to find ways to erode and nullify his Kemalist opponents. Thanks to Europe, he had cards to play.
It had long been a Kemalist dream to integrate Turkey fully into the West. The leaders of the secular order it was Erdogan’s goal to supplant craved acceptance into the European Union. Ingeniously, Erdogan grasped the brute truth: Turkey would never in a million years be admitted into the EU; Europe’s leaders would never tolerate it.