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US – Turkey Bilateral Relations At A Crossroads

By Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now the President for life of the Republic of Turkey, has been throughout his illustrious political career a hypocrite and an Islamic fundamentalist par excellence. Elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 as a member of the then Welfare Party, he declared: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.” Sentenced to ten months in prison and barred from politics until 2003, he became Prime Minister in the same year. Meanwhile, in 2001, he co-founded the Justice and Development Party (in Turkish: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). During his first decade as Prime Minister, Erdogan reformed his country economically and laid the foundation for Turkey to become a strong regional power. The Justice and Development Party dominated Parliament passed five reform packages in order to comply with European Union legislation. During his prime ministership between 2003 and 2014, Turkey experienced an average annual growth rate of 7.5%. Foreign investment in Turkey increased from $1.2 billion in 2003, to $20 billion in 2014.  He also replaced the old lira with a new lira that until recently held its value.

Regrettably, Erdogan interpreted the so-called Arab Spring that commenced in early 2011, and since engulfed the region in numerous bloody conflicts, as an opportunity for himself to enhance Turkey’s regional power. In addition to throwing his country’s support behind the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, he became a staunch financial supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip to the tune of at least $300 million annually. Moreover, Turkish special forces undertook to surreptitiously train Hamas fighters across Egypt and beyond. Adding insult to injury, a charitable organization directly linked to his Justice and Development Party, held events throughout Turkey to recruit “human shields” for Hamas during its 2014 war against Israel.

Erdogan also saw an opportunity to topple the hated Alawite regime of the Assad family in Syria. Turkish intelligence services provided massive financial support and regular armed shipments to al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra. Not to be satisfied, Erdogan also decided to actively interfere in the internal affairs of the Republic of Iraq. Immediately following the territorial gains by ISIS, fighters, arms, food, and money have flowed freely to the terror group. Iraqi oil, extracted by ISIS was sold in Turkey. In 2015 alone, these sales amounted to more than $1 billion.

Domestically, Erdogan has turned the Turkish secular Republic gradually into a sham democracy. Although in August 2005, in Diyarbakir he mused about the “Kurdish problem” and the need for more democracy to solve it, in 2009, he admonished the Kurds, whom he called “Mountain Turks”, to either love Turkey or leave it. Being a hypocrite as he is, he also declared that democracy is “a vehicle, not a goal.” Subsequently, he expressed his belief that the Kurdish problem could be solved on the basis of the joint Muslim identity. After his election to the presidency in 2014, he purged the Justice and Development party of his opponents. In addition, the detention and conviction of the alleged so-called Fethullah Gulen military supporters reached Stalinist proportions. Called the Ergenekon trials, they lasted for three full years and essentially decimated the officer corps. Yet, on April 21, 2016, the High Court of Appeals ruled that all the indictments under the Ergenekon affair lacked legal merit and were riddled with procedural violations. In spite of this decision, not a single convicted person was released from prison.

Erdogan ambitions to overshadow the founder of the Republic Ataturk knew no bounds. To demonstrate his strength, he commissioned a new presidential palace, named the Pure White Palace (Ak Saray), complete with thousand rooms and shuttle vehicles to negotiate the huge compound. The Gezi Park riots in June 2013, and the failed coup of July 15, 2016, were brutally oppressed. Calling the coup a “gift from Allah”, Erdogan declared emergency rule on July 20, 2016, that is slated to end on July 18, 2018. Yet, his deputy in the Justice and Development Party Bulent Turan warned that “the fight against terrorism will not be interrupted.” Considering that the term terrorism is extremely elastic and thus subject to Erdogan’s shifting interpretations, it is safe to assume that the emergency rule will continue unabated into the future too.

All this amounts to the total repression of any opposition. It also signals the end of political freedom in Turkey. While still claiming to be a secular democracy, Erdogan’s Turkey is a dictatorship and his efforts to conceal reality renders his regime a giant hoax. His policies to transform this hoax into the new governing principle of the Republic will fail, because it will never provide Turkey with internal peace and stability. Moreover, this sham democracy cannot be legitimized by staged elections, even if he and his party will garner the majority of votes in future elections. In reality, Erdogan’s Turkey has become a ruthless and fundamentalist Islamic dictatorship that has nothing to do with the value system of Europe and the United States of America.

Erdogan’s foreign policy actions have not fared better. The once touted foreign policy of “no problems with neighbors” has gone out of the window. As a result, Turkey’s foreign policy is in utter disarray. Presently, he is waging reckless and ultimately self-defeating wars on many fronts. His hypocritical “Operation Olive Branch” is actually a military offensive in Syria against the latter’s Kurdish minority, whom he designated as terrorists. This military offensive has been the answer to the declared American intentions to establish a “Border Security Force” staffed mostly by Syrian Kurdish fighters around the Afrin enclave. This Turkish offensive signals a major turning point in US-Turkish relations. In mid-January of this year, President Trump warned Erdogan “to avoid any action that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

Concerning the European Union, Turkey has blackmailed the member states with the “migrant crisis.” Exploiting the present anti-Russian hysteria in the United States, Erdogan has attempted to use Russia as a counterweight to the United States and NATO. Moreover, he has actively cooperated with the Islamic Republic of Iran to crack down on the Iranian Kurds. And finally, his domestic and foreign policies have created chaos and confusion that the world has not seen since the protracted purges of Mao Zedong in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in the People’s Republic of China.

Clearly, Erdogan’s crazy despotic ambitions will not end well. Yet, he appears to be wholly impervious of the lasting damage that his rule has inflicted on his country, which he wants to elevate to a dominant power in Europe as well as in the greater Middle East. Keeping him within the confines of NATO seems increasingly to be a pipe dream of spineless bureaucrats in Brussels. President Trump must call Erdogan’s bluff. The imposition of limited sanctions is a good first step. However, if needed, Erdogan must be taught a tough and enduring lesson. His ambitions must be stopped at the doorsteps of Turkey’s actual strength and the realities of the international situation. Otherwise, his brand of megalomaniac Islamic fundamentalism might spread to other parts of the Islamic Ummah. In this regard, a warning sign has already been issued by the newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan who has spoken glowingly of Erdogan and the latter’s style of governance. In order to keep Turkey in NATO, Erdogan must not be allowed to get away with political murder. At stake is no less than the future cohesion and the unity of purpose of the Western alliance.