David Gardner

For a country that so recently harboured ambitions as a great regional power, Turkey is offering an unedifyingly feeble spectacle on its border with Syria, as the merciless fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) close in on the besieged Kurdish town of Kobani. This could be a defining moment for the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who has dominated its politics like no other since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who forged the republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite President Erdogan’s regional swagger, and Turkey’s possession of the second largest army in Nato, the country’s neo-Islamist leadership appear unwilling or unable to prevent a bloodbath at Kobani happening within sight of their tanks. This refusal to act could also sabotage an Erdogan legacy project of a peace settlement with Turkey’s large Kurdish minority, a probable casualty of Kobani as Kurds rise across the region in fury that Ankara is not just watching the town’s defenders being massacred by the jihadi fanatics of Isis but obstructing others trying to aid them. Read more >>

David Gardner

Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the Turkish parliament

Turkey’s parliament has just voted to authorise the army to use force in Syria and Iraq, the dismembered countries to its south where the jihadi extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) have declared a caliphate that is menacing Turkish borders.

Criticised abroad for sitting on the sidelines of the emerging coalition against Isis, and at home for a neo-Ottoman foreign policy that has placed Turkey at loggerheads with almost all its neighbours, Thursday’s vote is being hailed by some as a watershed – Ankara’s return to the bosom of Nato, with which Turkey has been allied for more than six decades.

Yet, rather than a clear-cut decision, this looks like more of a complicated juggling act by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became Turkey’s first directly elected president in August after being prime minister for more than a decade, during which he has left a clear but messy imprint on Turkish policy in the Middle East. Read more >>

David Gardner

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the White House on September 10 2014

Barack Obama’s outline of plans for a US-led offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, is light on the politics that will be decisive in their defeat. Read more >>

David Gardner

Recep Tayyip Erdogan just won his ninth straight popular vote in just over a decade, to become the first directly elected president of Turkey, in what is supposed to be his apotheosis, raising him to the historic height of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey. As his opponents have recurring reason to know, Mr Erdogan has established an almost preternatural grip on the electorate that not even prima facie evidence of corruption, willful policy decisions, and creeping authoritarianism seem able to loosen. Now Turkey and the world will see if he is truly a statesman.

Nobody can gainsay Mr Erdogan his victory which, despite a comparatively low turnout, has given him a comfortable first round win. But after more than a decade as prime minister of a nation he has helped transform – not least by spreading wealth and giving a voice to those whom Ataturk’s secular republic kept at the margins of society – Mr Erdogan must now decide where to take a great and pivotal country he increasingly treats as his personal patrimony. Read more >>

David Gardner

A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.

Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more >>

David Gardner

The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.

“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more >>

David Gardner

Palestinian employees of Gaza City City's al-Deira hotel carry a wounded boy following an Israeli military strike on the nearby beach in which four children were killed on July 16, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

While the current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas looks ominously as though it may intensify, exacting a yet greater toll in Palestinian civilian deaths, there is a pattern to these conflicts: they usually end after an episode of appalling carnage that shocks international actors into action. Read more >>

David Gardner

The abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain, in favour of his son, Felipe, Prince of Asturias, has been on the cards for some time. The image of the king took a big knock when it emerged he was hunting elephants in Botswana at the height of a financial crisis that was costing millions of jobs, and not long after a speech in which he called for “exemplary behaviour” from Spaniards. The monarchy as a whole was damaged when the king’s son-in-law was charged with embezzlement, in a convoluted saga that has sucked in one of the royal princesses, the Infanta Cristina.

King Juan Carlos, through most of his 39-year reign a popular figure in Spain, Europe and Latin America, also showed himself aware of the wider decay and discredit affecting Spain’s institutions, from a politicised judiciary to a parliament that appears to be losing the ability to represent its more and more jaundiced electors. Although the king’s health has improved of late, he is now 76 and has had eight operations in the past four years. Read more >>

David Gardner

The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.

Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.

The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more >>

David Gardner

Patrick Seale, journalist and scholar, Middle East commentator and impassioned Syria expert, died last week after succumbing to brain cancer. He was 83.

Best known as the biographer of Hafez al-Assad, the late dictator of Syria, and as a foreign correspondent, first for Reuters news agency and then as the Middle East correspondent for the Observer, Seale was also at different times an art dealer, a literary agent and in 1999 an intermediary in ultimately vain efforts to secure a peace treaty between Syria and Israel. Read more >>