Erdogan's Warning to the US

What kind of ally and NATO member is Turkey exactly?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the autocratic Islamist president of Turkey, wrote an op-ed article published on Monday by the New York Times, entitled “Turkey’s View of the Crisis With the U.S.” He complained that the United States does not respect “Turkey’s sovereignty” and “Turkish democracy.” He warned that failure to reverse the “trend” of “unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States” will require Turkey “to start looking for new friends and allies.” The fact is, however, that under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey had already embarked on its own trend away from being a reliable NATO member and friend of the United States well before its recent disputes with the Trump administration. 

Erdogan’s bill of particulars against U.S. policy set forth in his op-ed column included American support for Kurdish forces in Syria. Although the Syrian Kurds have been fighting effectively against ISIS, Erdogan treats them as terrorists more dangerous than ISIS because they are allied with the Kurds in Turkey seeking autonomy. Erdogan objected to what he considered the U.S.’s failure to adequately condemn the failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016. He complained about the U.S.’s rejection of Turkey’s requests to turn over the presumed ring-leader of the coup attempt, Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania. Finally, Erdogan expressed defiance over the recent sanctions imposed by the Trump administration in response to the Turkish government’s refusal to free Pastor Andrew Brunson, a U.S. citizen. 

Erdogan’s complaints are meritless and his warnings are hollow. He has become a tin pot dictator who turned Turkey away from its secular republic institutions towards becoming an Islamist state molded in his image of a revived neo-Ottoman empire. “The Republic of Turkey, just like our previous states that are a continuation of one another, is also a continuation of the Ottomans," Erdogan said in remarks he made last February during a commemoration ceremony in Istanbul to mark the centenary of the death of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. Abdulhamid, Erdogan’s role model, is blamed for the genocide of Armenians in the early 20thcentury. 

Ramming through changes in the Turkish constitution intended to concentrate power in the presidency after he became president in 2014, Erdogan has used his expanded powers to eliminate an independent judiciary, imprison dissenters and journalists, and suppress freedom of speech. Erdogan’s government has arrested people residing in Turkey, including minors, for allegedly insulting the ruler. And Erdogan has carried his attempts to suppress free speech beyond Turkey’s borders. His government demanded the prosecution of a popular German comedian for insulting Erdogan under an 1871 German law that makes it illegal to insult a foreign head of state. Chancellor Angela Merkel bowed to Erdogan’s wishes. While the comedian did not end up facing criminal charges, he was forbidden from repeating publicly his supposedly objectionable remarks. In an even more egregious example of Erdogan’s attempts to export his suppression of free speech to the West, Erdogan’s thugs attacked protesters carrying a flag of a Kurdish party outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. during Erdogan’s visit to meet with President Trump last year. 

On the foreign policy front, Erdogan’s government has made claims to territory within the boundaries of Iraq, invaded and bombed northern Syria, and ramped up tensions with Greece over Greek islands in the Aegean that Erdogan believes rightfully belong to Turkey. These actions reflect Erdogan’s desire to re-assert Turkish leadership of Sunni Islam under his vision of a re-created Ottoman empire. He is not only looking east towards the Arab world. He is looking west towards Europe, which he sees succumbing to its growing Muslim population. Alparslan Kavaklıoğlu, who serves under Erdogan as the head of the Turkish parliament’s Security and Intelligence Commission, recently said “Europe will be Muslim. We will be effective there, Allah willing. I am sure of that." Erdogan himself urged Muslim migrants living in Europe to “[M]ake five children – not just three. For you are the future of Europe."

While Erdogan is relying on migration and demographics to conquer Europe for Islam, he supports violence against Israel. His mouthpiece, the daily Yeni Şafak, ran an article earlier this year calling for an “army of Islam” to be formed that could conduct a joint Muslim attack on Israel. Erdogan called for the world's Muslims to take a "physical stance on Israel." Whipping up a crowd in Istanbul last May in response to the violence at the Israeli-Gaza border and the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Erdogan urged that "with the strength of Jerusalem in our feet, let's march together...let's come and unify and be together and fight the tyrants with one hand, with one strong fist."  

Erdogan, who supports Hamas, has perversely accused Israel of “state terrorism” for defending its civilians against Palestinian terrorist rocket attacks. And he has compared the Jews of Israel to Nazis. As far back as 1998, when Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul, he declared that "the Jews have begun to crush the Muslims in Palestine, in the name of Zionism. Today, the image of the Jews is no different than that of the Nazis." Last month, he said that Israel’s passage of its nation-state law affirming Israel’s Jewish character proved that Israel was "the most Zionist, fascist and racist state" in the world. Erdogan thereby repeated the libel that the Zionist principle of self-determination for the Jewish people in their historic homeland is tantamount to fascism and racism, which even the UN General Assembly repudiated when it repealed a resolution to that effect. "Hitler's spirit has reemerged among administrators in Israel," Erdogan added. Ironically, Erdogan had cited Hitler’s assumption of the presidency in Germany as a positive example when defending his own plans for a new presidential system with expanded powers to govern Turkey under his rule. “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany,” Erdogan said before one of his lackeys tried to clarify the comparison.  

In any case, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu properly responded to Erdogan’s latest slander against Israel. He observed that Turkey is becoming "a dark dictatorship" under Erdogan's rule. "Whoever imprisons tens of thousands of his citizens, fires hundreds of thousands, massacres Kurds and occupies both Northern Cyprus and northern Syria should not preach to us about democracy and human rights," Prime Minister Netanyahu said.

Erdogan ended his New York Times op-ed column with the warning that Turkey would “start looking for new friends and allies” if the United States did not cease its “unilateral” actions against Turkey. However, this would be akin to closing the barn door after the horse had already bolted. Erdogan did not wait to find his “new” friends in Russia and Iran. Indeed, Erdogan has been consorting for some time with the leaders of Russia and Iran over plans to divide the spoils in Syria. Turkey had previously decided to buy billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weapons from Russia, ignoring the disapproval of its NATO partners. Turkey and Iran had already agreed to boost their military cooperation with each other and to increase intelligence sharing. This is all part of Erdogan’s long-held desire for geo-political reasons to tilt his country away from the West. Moreover, as author and historian Dilip Hiro explained in an article appearing on YaleGlobal Online last January, Turkey’s “close ties with Russia and Iran” are driven by “economic interests” involving, among other things, Turkey’s “urgent need of a dependable supply of natural gas.” Turkey’s “main sources of gas are Russia and Iran, contributing respectively 60 and 30 percent of the total.”  

With “friends” like Erdogan, who needs enemies? He is a NATO “partner” in name only. It is time to take Erdogan’s hostility to Western democratic values seriously as he builds up his Islamic autocracy and increases his already existing military and economic relationships with Russia and Iran. We must start by promptly removing any nuclear weapons that remain stockpiled in Turkey.

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