For Turkey and Iran, soft power is more difficult than hard power


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in Sochi, Russia, September 29, 2021. Sputnik / Vladimir Smirnov / Pool via REUTERS

Times are changing ‘. Iranian leaders may not be fans of Bob Dylan, but his words are likely to resonate, as the mullahs contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon and Azerbaijan.

The same is true of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – a staunch supporter of Muslim causes, except when there is an economic price to pay, as is the case with China’s brutal crackdown on Turkish Muslims. He was also attacked for money laundering and economic mismanagement.

Turkey threatened this weekend to expel ambassadors from the United States, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala, in accordance with a European decision. Decision of the Court of Human Rights.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford these setbacks. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic and economic fish to fry, and compete with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – as well as Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia – for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

This competition takes on increased importance in a world in which rivals in the Middle East seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on the economy and soft power.

Turkey’s integrity as a country that vigorously combats the financing of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a possible lawsuit in the United States which could further tarnish Erdogan’s image.

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that Turkish public lender Halkbank could be prosecuted on charges it allegedly helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

Halkbank pleaded not guilty and argued that he was immune from prosecution under the Federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because he was “synonymous” with Turkey, which enjoys immunity under of this law.

The FATF put Turkey on its gray list last week. He joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan and Yemen that have failed to meet the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that the gray list would affect a country’s ability to borrow in international markets and cost it up to 3% of gross domestic product, as well as lower investment direct foreigners.

The management of Erdogan’s economy has been troubled by the recent sacking of three central bank policymakers, a larger-than-expected interest rate cut that caused the Turkish lira to fall, a surge in prices and a annual inflation which last month approached 20 percent.

A public opinion poll concluded in May that 56.9% of those polled would not vote for Erdogan, and that the president would lose in a runoff to two of his rivals, Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas and his counterpart of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu.

In the case of Iran, a combination of factors is altering the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias. A newly released report by the Counterterrorism Center of the United States Military Academy at West Point concluded that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was facing “increasing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Harsh anti-US militias struggle with the conflicting needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet their base’s demands for anti-US operations, and simultaneously develop non-kinetic political and social wings. “

Iran’s de-escalation of tensions with the United States hinges on efforts to revive the old 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program – and improve ties with Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, as in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by the growing opposition of Iraqi public opinion to sectarianism. Worse yet, militias including Hezbollah, the main armed group in the Arab world backed by Iran, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Likewise, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias has become the big loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second largest parliamentary bloc, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

A shining light from Iran’s point of view is that an attempt in September by militants in the United States to garner support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month also targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Kurdish Iranian opposition groups. Tehran believes they are part of a tightening of the US-Israel grip around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

With a relaunch of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears Azerbaijan will become a platform for US and Israeli covert operations.

Eldar Mamedov, political adviser to the Social Democrats on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get involved in a conflict where it has no vital interests at stake, and even less in the name of a regime so contrary to the values ​​and interests of the United States.

He noted that Aliyev forced large American NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, trampled on human and political rights, and was anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

However, it is clear that Iran and Turkey are finding it difficult to manage their soft power on the international scene.

Dr James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar and senior researcher at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.


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