Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an claimed victory this week in a new round of elections that strengthen his grip on power. While his rule is again confirmed through the ballot box, Erdo?an is far from a stalwart defender of democracy. Instead, he is an Islamist dedicated to restoring the Ottoman Empire and positioning himself as its new Sultan. In doing so, Erdo?an has cast aside the rule of law and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to form partnerships with Putin’s Russia and al-Qaeda affiliated rebels in Syria. Even for the most naïve, it’s hard to view the direction he is taking Turkey in as anything other than contrary to democratic principles and U.S. interests.
America’s alliance with Turkey is historically and strategically significant. Starting in the early years of the Cold War, the United States recognized the geographic importance of Turkey’s position as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and as a gateway to the Black Sea. Meanwhile, Turkey was secular and increasingly western-oriented. Turkey saw a relationship with America as necessary to deter Soviet expansionism and was eager to contribute to the nascent North Atlantic alliance. However, that was the Turkey of the past. Since Erdo?an came to power in 2003, he has systemically eroded the secularism and pluralism which made Turkey standout in the region while simultaneously turning on Ankara’s traditional Western allies such as the United States.
Just over a year ago, the United States witnessed Erdo?an’s tyrannical tactics in the streets of America’s own capital. As the Turkish leader stood by and watched, his security guards brutally attacked peaceful protesters who gathered to exercise their most fundamental American right to free speech. In response, there was no apology or explanation from Turkish officials. Instead, there was just more condemnation from our supposed ally for having the audacity to issue charges against their guards. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice has since abetted Turkey’s bad behavior by dropping charges against eleven of the fifteen guards indicted. Giving such blatant criminal conduct a pass undermines our values and provides legitimacy to Erdo?an’s barbaric repression in Turkey.
Erdo?an’s ruthless pursuit of power also holds severe national security implications for the United States and its allies. In his feckless Syria policy, Erdo?an has forged alliances with violent jihadists who seek to attack the U.S. and its allies while showing uncompromising hostility towards Kurdish militants who fought ISIS alongside American and coalition forces. Turkish officials have even gone so far as to directly threaten U.S. forces working to stabilize northern Syria with the Kurds. A new agreement between Ankara and Washington has sought to address Turkish concerns while accomplishing Western interests in Syria, but already, different interpretations of the plan are emerging.
The list of Turkish treachery abounds, and absolutely none of it should be acceptable. To be considered a U.S. ally and NATO member should require specific standards such as respect for human rights and democracy. These standards should be in addition to the obvious prerequisite of not fooling around with malign regimes and terrorist groups that undermine U.S. security. Erdo?an’s Turkey does not meet any of these standards. Therefore, their status within NATO and bilaterally with the U.S. should be put on indefinite probation. This should include an immediate halt to sensitive arms transfers such as the F-35 stealth fighter and revised NATO planning and exercises that exclude Turkey’s participation. Finally, there should be clear conditions that if Erdo?an continues pushing his nation on its current course, there will be more serious penalties. It is time to hold bad allies like Turkey accountable before they further weaken America’s collective security. And that’s just the way it is.
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.
As originally published in the National Intrest: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/middle-east-watch/it%E2%80%99s-time-put-turkey%E2%80%99s-ally-status-probation-24472