Turkey’s turmoil: A corruption scandal and other forces take a toll

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The internal political problems of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party over charges of corruption coincide with a decline in Turkey’s influence in foreign affairs.

Under Mr. Erdogan, who has been in office for 10 years, Turkey seemed to be a promising case not only in terms of its domestic situation but also in its potential to play a leadership role in the troubled Middle East and the world. It had decent relations with Israel, it was taking steps to move closer to association with the European Union and it appeared capable as a majority- Islamic democracy to serve as a badly needed bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

But things went wrong, and its internal political situation appears to be boiling as local elections loom in March.

Turkey fell out with Israel over a 2010 Israeli attack on a Turkish ship which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and one Turkish-American. The EU put up so many barriers to Turkish association that Turkey itself lost some interest. The Arab Spring, and especially the civil war in neighboring Syria, presented Turkey with formidable problems through a heavy refugee flow and from Syrian rebels based in Turkey.

Now, charges of graft and bribery against the sons of three cabinet ministers, coupled with a split with former political ally Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in exile in Saylorsburg in northeastern Pennsylvania, are chipping away at the grip Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have had on Turkish politics.

U.S. relations with Turkey, which were firmly based on cooperation between Mr. Erdogan and President Barack Obama, are now also slipping. Dating from the end of World War II, the U.S.-Turkish alliance is important. For that reason and others, the United States needs to remain understanding as Turkey works through its problems.

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