The Turkish president’s threat to intervene in Libya’s anarchic civil war received scant coverage in U.S. media swooning over the Democrats’ gaggle of synthetic candidates. Not so in Europe and the Middle East — for many reasons.
Last week, though his military forces are deeply engaged in next-door Syria’s ruinous civil war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch a military campaign in another former Turkish Ottoman Empire colonial possession: Libya.
Don’t dismiss the Ottoman link as a quaint historical reference. Ottoman rule influences contemporary Libyan politics in odd but evident ways. Empire connections have some resonance in 21st-century Turkey. Imperial glory may well have psychological import for the authoritarian Erdogan. His nickname is Sultan Recep.
Ottoman Turkey divided its Libyan colony as two provinces, Tripolitania (west) and Cyrenaica (east). In July 2019 an “eastern” army is attacking Tripoli. Indeed, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica are Roman Empire-era names. Italy, a rising power with visions of neo-Roman glory, invaded Libya in 1911, igniting the Turco-Italian War of 1911-1912. The Ottoman Turks –a declining Great Power– withdrew in 1912.
The obscure Turco-Italian War “was the first in an explosive chain of three little wars involving the Ottoman Empire, a declining great power. The First Balkan War (1912-13) and Second Balkan War (1913) followed. In 1914, World War I erupted, with the Balkan “powder keg” supplying the spark.”