A Strongman’s Struggle at Home and in Syria
An authoritative account of the Turkish president’s wars at home and abroad, and how each of these power games has shaped both policy and strategy.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s pugnacious president, is now the country’s longest-serving leader. On his way to the top, he has fought many wars. This book tells the story of those battles against domestic enemies through the lens of the Syrian conflict, which has become part and parcel of Erdoğan’s fight to remain in power.
Turkey expert Gönül Tol traces Erdoğan’s ideological evolution from a conservative democrat to an Islamist and a Turkish nationalist, and explores how this progression has come to shape his Syria policy, changing the course of the war. She paints a vivid picture of the president’s constantly shifting strategy to consolidate his rule, showing that these shifts have transformed Turkey’s role in post-uprising Syria from an advocate of democracy, to a power fanning the flames of civil war, to an occupier.
From the first days of Erdoğan’s rule through the failed coup against him, via the Kurdish peace process, the Arab uprisings and the refugee crisis, this compelling, authoritative book tells the story of one man’s quest to remain in power—tying together the fates of two countries, and changing them both forever.
Gönül Tol talks to Alex Andreou about Erdoğan’s journey from reformer to autocrat, how his 19 years in power have changed Turkey, and what the future holds for the country and his leadership.
‘[A] fascinating book.’ — The New York Review of Books
‘[Gönül Tol’s] detailed analysis exploring Erdoğan’s shifting foreign policy strategy in Syria gives us a nuanced understanding of a complex proxy conflict, which has many different international actors, with competing interests and ideologies.’ — Irish Independent
‘Brilliant’ — New Lines Magazine
‘Provide[s] a concise and clever portrait of Türkiye in the last two decades.’ — Informed Comment
‘This astute book masterfully explains how Erdoğan’s plans to exploit the Syrian war for his own ends have perverted Turkish domestic politics, plunged his country further into authoritarianism, and changed the course of history. A fascinating, instructive and ultimately powerful cautionary tale.’ — Fiona Hill, former Deputy Assistant to the U.S. President, and author of There Is Nothing for You Here
‘Superbly narrates the tragic intersection of Syria’s civil war and Turkey’s ravenously ambitious president. Politicians clung to power in Damascus and Ankara, but “Erdoğan’s War” helped shatter Syria and undermined what had been an aspiring Turkish democracy. A sad story, very ably told.’ — David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post
‘Early in Syria’s peaceful uprising, Turkish officials were alarmed by Assad’s brutal survival tactics, and perplexed by his turning from Turkey’s friendly leader. But Syria and Syrians became props for Erdoğan’s own political survival. This is a fascinating story, and no one tells it better than Tol.’ — Frederic C. Hof, former U.S. Special Envoy to Syria
‘A timely and insightful examination of Erdoğan’s project and its geostrategic implications. Well-written, richly informed and powerfully argued, this is a must-read for anyone interested in Turkey today, or in how strongman politics and great power ambitions are changing countries and the world order.’ — Vali Nasr, Majid Khadduri Professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs, Johns Hopkins University
‘A compelling, richly researched picture of Erdoğan as a populist, not an Islamist—a political chameleon with an uncanny sense for power. Tol’s clear writing makes sense of Turkey’s role in Syria’s catastrophic war, its slide into authoritarianism, and where it might be going.’ — Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, The George Washington University
‘Expertly traces Turkish decisions and actions in the Syria conflict, providing unique context as we consider NATO’s role post-Ukraine. Tol’s dissection of Turkey under Erdoğan’s unique leadership will help future generations of military and diplomatic leaders understand this critical, but frequently frustrating, NATO ally.’ — Gen. Joseph L. Votel (Ret.), commander of U.S. Central Command 2016–19
‘A compelling narrative that unveils Erdoğan’s unique chameleon-like qualities through the lens of the Syrian war. By connecting Erdoğan’s domestic strategy with his controversial foreign policy, Tol provides a treasure trove of knowledge, information and insight for future historians.’ — Cengiz Çandar, award-winning journalist and former advisor to President Turgut Özal
‘A sharp and penetrating analysis of Turkey’s transformation under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and of foreign policy’s role in that process. A very well-written and engaging book that covers everything you need to know to understand today’s Turkey.’ — Yaşar Yakış, former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs
Gönül Tol is the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey programme, and a Frontier Europe Initiative senior fellow. A frequent media commentator, she teaches and writes extensively on Turkey–US relations, Turkish politics and foreign policy, the Kurdish issue, and Islamism in Western Europe and the Middle East.