Turkey: America’s Unacknowledged Problem

January 1, 2015

4 min read

Turkey is a NATO ally, and U.S. President Barack Obama has called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan his best friend. But Erdogan-led Turkey does not ‎behave as an ally or a friend of the U.S. This is not a new development.‎

Erdogan and his Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), have ruled Turkey since 2002. Erdogan’s ‎Turkey has gradually distanced itself from the West, adopting domestic and foreign ‎policies fueled by Ottoman and Islamist impulses. ‎

Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years. Infringements ‎on human rights have gradually increased. In truth, Turkey has never had a political ‎system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power ‎around one politician. In recent years, Erdogan has weakened further the few ‎constitutional constraints against “Putinization” of the Turkish political system. ‎

The longer Erdogan rules, the more power-hungry he seems. His authoritarian ‎personality becomes clearer every day. The press is hardly free. Erdogan arrests even ‎Islamist journalists who are critical of his policies. His party has infiltrated the judicial ‎system and the police. Foci of power, such as the bureaucracy, the banking system, ‎industrial associations and trade unions, have been mostly co-opted by the AKP. ‎Opposition political parties are largely discredited. The military, once active in politics ‎as the defender of the Kemalist secular tradition, has been successfully sidelined. ‎

From a realpolitik perspective, the domestic political developments, deplorable as they ‎may be in Turkey, could be ignored by the democratic West as long as Ankara ‎continues to be a useful ally. Unfortunately, Turkey no longer qualifies as a trusted ‎ally. ‎

The most recent examples of nefarious Turkish behavior are its support of Islamic State and ‎Hamas. Turkey is playing a double game on the issue of Islamic State. It pretends to ‎cooperate with the U.S. policy in the attempt to contain radical Islam, but actually ‎Turkey supports the radical group. It allows passage of volunteers through Turkish territory to join ‎Islamic State in Iraq. The group gets logistical support via Turkey, and sends its wounded militants for ‎treatment in Turkey. Turkish military forces stood idly by the besieged city of Kobani, ‎just across the Turkish border, while the Islamists killed Kurdish fighters. Finally, ‎Turkey denies the American air force access to Turkish bases, forcing the U.S. to use far‎away bases when attacking Islamic State targets. ‎

Turkey is also openly supporting another radical Islamist organization, Hamas. ‎Despite the fact that the West regards Hamas a terrorist organization, Ankara regularly ‎hosts Hamas representatives to meet the highest Turkish dignitaries. Hamas, an ‎offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a rabid anti-American position. Moreover, ‎Salah al-Aruri, a senior Hamas operative, operates out of Istanbul. Recently, the ‎Turkish branch of Hamas was involved in a series of attempts to carry out terrorist ‎attacks against Israel, and in orchestrating a coup against the current leadership of the ‎Palestinian Authority.‎

Such behavior should not surprise policy makers in Washington. In 2003, Ankara ‎denied the request from Washington to open its territory so that the U.S. military could ‎attack Saddam Hussein’s forces from two separate fronts.‎

AKP-ruled Ankara also defied American preferences on Syria, a country allied with ‎radical Iran and on the American list of states supporting terrorism. In January 2004, ‎Bashar Assad became the first Syrian president ever to visit Turkey. In April 2009, the ‎two states conducted their first ever joint military exercise. No other NATO member ‎had such close relations with the authoritarian regime in Damascus, which has been ‎closely allied with Iran for several decades.‎

Turkey further deviated from the Western consensus in 2008 by hosting Sudanese ‎President Omar Hassan al-Bashir twice. Bashir, who was charged with war crimes and ‎genocide in Darfur, presided over an Islamist regime. ‎

Turkey even welcomed the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud ‎Ahmadinejad, for a visit in August 2008. No Western country has issued such an ‎invitation to the Iranian leader. Additionally, Erdogan congratulated Ahmadinejad ‎immediately after his re-election in June 2009. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear threat, ‎Ankara, unlike its NATO allies, has refused to adopt the U.S. stance on harsher ‎sanctions, fearing in part the economic consequences of such steps. In June 2010, ‎Turkey voted at the U.N. Security Council against a U.S.-sponsored resolution meant to ‎impose a new round of sanctions on Iran.‎

Turkey also has consistently defied advice from Washington to tone down its anti-‎Israel statements and mend relations with an important American ally. All American ‎efforts in this direction have failed.‎

There is also a clear divergence between the U.S. and Turkey on important global issues ‎such as Russia and China. For example, U.S. wanted to send ships into the Black Sea via ‎the Bosporus Strait during the Georgia war in August 2008. Turkey flatly denied ‎several such requests on the pretext that the military vessels were too large. Moreover, ‎Turkey proposed the creation of a regional security framework involving Turkey, ‎Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan that left out a NATO role. More blatantly, ‎Turkey has failed to participate in the Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia ‎during the recent Ukraine crisis.‎

Dissonance exists also with regards to China. While the U.S. fears the rise of China, ‎Turkey sees this country as a potential economic partner and not a problem. It held ‎military exercises with China. Ankara even considered purchasing anti-aircraft systems ‎from Beijing, an incredibly brazen position for a NATO member.

It is not clear why Washington puts up with such Turkish behavior. The Obama ‎administration seems to be unable to call a spade a spade. It refuses to acknowledge ‎that Turkey is a Trojan horse in NATO, and that Ankara undermines American interests ‎in the Middle East and elsewhere.‎

Reprinted with author’s permission from Israel Hayom

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