Turkey is a country that is not often in the news in the US. Although it has been a NATO ally since 1951, two years after the alliance’s founding, in recent years the country’s President has taken Turkey down a path that is troubling and is growing even more so.
Turkey shares a border with both Russia and Syria, so it is strategically located and played a critical role during the Cold War. It is the only Muslim-majority country in NATO but has historically had a secular government that has respected freedoms, honored democratic institutions and whose policies have been driven by national interest rather than by religion.
Since becoming President, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has moved to change all that. His government continues to be increasingly Islamist and he backs the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group. He has cut back on freedom of the press, imprisoned political opponents and moved his country and government away from Western values and relations with NATO allies have soured.
In the area of its foreign relations, Turkey has raised concerns among its NATO allies by backing radical Muslim groups in the region, and specifically in the civil war in Syria.
Of even more concern, Turkey has bought anti-aircraft weapons from Russia and then used its American-made planes to test the new weapon system (with concerns that they have then shared that information with Russia). As a result, the United States has decided to stop sales of its latest fighter planes to Turkey. That could hardly have been a surprise, given that its fighters were now being used by Turkey to test Russian weapons systems. However, in a move to further irritate relations with NATO, Erdogan threatened this week to force all US and NATO facilities in the country to close if he didn’t get what he wanted.
A recent article by the non-partisan Council On Foreign Relations notes that Turkey would not be admitted as a new member of NATO if it applied today, because of its move away from democratic institutions and basic freedoms and its military attack on the minority Kurds in neighboring Syria.
Turkey under President Erdogen is a country that is moving away from its NATO allies and toward an authoritarian Islamist regime. President Trump was wrong to remove US troops so Turkey could invade Syria last month. And we should be wary of Turkey going forward. As a strategically located, Muslim ally they have been valuable friends in the past and our support, both military and economic has been well spent. Going forward it may not be, and we should cut back on what we share with them at least until such time as they start to change.