Turkey was once the heart of the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic caliphate that included Hungary, the Balkans, Greece, and much of the Middle East. In the years leading up to World War One, the Ottoman Empire was known as the “sick man of Europe” because its decay and decline were plain for all to see.
Modern Turkey has now succeeded its Ottoman forebear and is wheezing its financial distress. Our most reliable newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, seems confused by the rapid demise of the Turkish economy. It wonders why the United States, which usually intervenes to calm global markets, isn’t doing so to save Turkey from itself.
The answer is so simple that even the media ought to understand. Turkey, a NATO ally, has for over a decade treated us as an enemy instead of a friend. President Trump is beginning to return the favor. What Turkey has done, and Mr. Trump is starting to do, is all the result of the actions of Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan who has created an Islamic quasi-dictatorship where a secular democracy once stood.
Erdogan and his AKP Party — an arm of political Islam — rose to power in 2002 when he was elected prime minister. He since served three terms as prime minister, strengthening the hold of his religion in all facets of Turkish life from schools to the media. Erdogan was elected president in 2014 and re-elected this year. He has achieved near-total power by changes to the Turkish constitution and now essentially rules by decree.
Erdogan has succeeded in reversing Turkey’s course. In the years following World War I, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his followers made Turkey into a secular state, rejecting Islamism and its 7th century model that eschews political evolution. After World War II, Turkey became a cornerstone of NATO, anchoring its influence in the Middle East.
Erdogan has reversed Turkey’s half century of progress and returned to its Ottoman Islamist roots. All aspects of Turkish society — schools, courts, legislature, military, and media — have all been remade as tools of Islamism.
Erdogan, never one to waste a crisis, used the failed July 2016 coup against him to seize total power. He quickly blamed the coup on Fethulla Gulen, an Islamic cleric based in Pennsylvania. About 50,000 “Gulenists” and suspected sympathizers were arrested. Some 120,000 others — government employees including judges and secular members of the military — were also fired as Gulenists.
Erdogan has repeatedly demanded that we extradite Gulen to Turkey for trial. But his government has never presented any evidence that could justify our extraditing Gulen.
The “Gulenist” arrests were a sham. Erdogen and his loyalists used the crisis of the coup to rid government — including the military and the judiciary — of any opposition. Journalists were arrested too, ensuring the Turkish press would follow Erdogan’s orders.
In October 2016, three months after the coup was defeated, Erdogan’s regime detained and imprisoned Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina evangelist preacher who had served in Turkey for over two decades. Brunson was indicted on charges of espionage and plotting to overthrow the Erdogan government via the supposed Gulenist coup attempt.
Erdogan insists that Brunson isn’t a hostage. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that we’ve not seen any credible evidence against Brunson. Both President Trump and Vice President Pence have demanded Brunson’s release.
We’ve even tried to engineer a prisoner swap. In July, Israel agreed to release Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish woman held for aiding the terrorist group Hamas, in what was to be an exchange for Brunson. The Israelis released Ozkan who immediately left Israel. Erdogan then changed his mind, denied that there was any deal, and is still keeping Brunson.
The fact that Brunson is held hostage against the release of Gulen was proven by Erdogan himself in a speech last fall. He said, “‘Give us the pastor back,’ they say. Well, you have a pastor as well. Give that one [Gulen] back to us, then we will give [Brunson] back to you.”
Iran held American hostages for 444 days in 1979-1980. Although Brunson was released from prison recently and is now being held under house arrest, he has been a hostage longer than those held by Iran. Erdogan is doing much more to prove that Turkey is our enemy.
Last year, Erdogan signed a treaty with Russia and Iran which promises that all three nations will preserve the Syrian terrorist regime of Bashar Assad. The Assad regime — father and son — has been designated by our State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979.
In a New York Times op-ed published Saturday, Erdogan wrote that, “Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy.”
His reasons? First, of course, is our refusal to extradite Gulen based on nothing more than his demand. Second, is our support for the Kurds, in Iraq and Syria, who have been fighting alongside our troops to defeat ISIS. That, to Erdogan, proves our perfidy and in his mind justifies his actions that are definitively against American interests.
Erdogan’s New York Times article concludes that, “Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”
Erdogan has already done so. His alliance with Russia and Iran to save Assad demonstrated conclusively that he is no longer America’s ally. It is entirely inconsistent with Turkey’s obligations as a NATO member.
President Trump has, so far, neither knuckled under to Erdogan’s demands nor taken all of the actions that he could to force Erdogan to stop acting as our enemy. That may be changing.
The Turkish economy is in shambles, almost in as bad a situation as Iran’s and Venezuela’s. The Turkish lira fell in its value against the dollar by about forty percent earlier this year. Last week, Trump announced that he was doubling the tariffs on steel (to 50%) and aluminum (to 20%) imported from Turkey, which caused the lira to sink by another twenty percent and made international banks that hold Turkish debt very nervous.
A Reuters report on the financial crisis engulfing Turkey quoted an Istanbul clothing store clerk who said, “This crisis is created by America.” Of course it was, and we need to keep the pressure on even if Erdogan releases Brunson.
Turkey may have to seek an International Monetary Fund bailout loan to save its tottering economy. As I wrote recently in respect to Pakistan’s similar need, we should do everything we can to prevent the IMF from bailing Erdogan out of his economic woes. More and continuing pressure on Turkey is essential. It’s highly unlikely that Erdogan can be brought to heel but Turkey will have to bend to our increasing pressure.
Unfortunately, Trump didn’t stop the June delivery of two F-35 attack aircraft to Turkey despite congressional opposition. Congress was right for a very big reason.
The F-35, for all its enormous problems, is going to be our top-line attack aircraft for about fifty years. It isn’t an air superiority fighter, but as a result of a lot of bad decisions, we’re going to pretend it is and spend over a trillion dollars to buy and maintain it over the next couple of decades.
The problem with Turkey in this regard is its purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft/anti-missile systems. Think about the harm that will be done.
The F-35 is stealthy. The Turks will be able to test it against the S-400’s radars, determining how small its radar signature is and, possibly, how to target it with the S-400’s missiles. Whether or not Russian radar operators run the F-35 tests against the S-400, the information will quickly be passed on to the Russians. And that’s not the worst.
As I’ve written before, the F-35 is supposed to be an information hub, collecting and retransmitting data to and from ground forces, other aircraft, and commanders around the world. That ability may be great, but it also means that the F-35’s systems are susceptible to cyber-attack because no such system can ever be invulnerable to data interception and interference. Turkey’s possession of F-35s will inevitably enable the Russians — and probably the Iranians — to develop the methods and means for hacking into the F-35’s systems including navigation, communications, and armaments.
Congress, in the recently-passed National Defense Authorization bill, stopped further deliveries of F-35s to Turkey until the Pentagon reports on the effect of further deliveries. Though enormous damage has already been done, the president should immediately order that no further sales to Turkey of F-35s or any other defense systems will be permitted.
Earlier this month the Trump administration announced sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against Turkey’s justice minister and its interior minister for their actions in detaining Brunson. They are now subject to financial asset freezes and travel restrictions. Turkey retaliated by announcing sanctions against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which won’t have any effect.
In May of last year, demonstrators outside the Washington, D.C. residence of the Turkish ambassador, with Erdogan inside, were assaulted by Erdogan’s bodyguards. Nine people were hurt, two of the bodyguards were arrested and released. Erdogan has no respect for American power, our constitutional rights, or any other aspect of America.
Trump needs to maintain and increase every means of pressuring the sick thug of Europe.