President Donald Trump’s willingness to criticize America’s traditional allies has generated a fierce backlash. Members of the infamous Blob, the foreign policy establishment, have united to defend virtually every member of every alliance.
No doubt, cooperation to advance shared interests is advantageous. However, that does not require one-sided peace guarantees to nations capable of defending themselves. And it makes no sense to ally with a country that does not advance U.S. security. Like Turkey.
Ankara has long enjoyed a reputation for being strategically important, anchoring Europe’s southeast, limiting Soviet advances into the Mediterranean through the Black Sea and into the Middle East overland. The U.S. still uses Incirlik and Izmir Air Bases to extend its military reach. Ankara has been held up as a model Islamic democracy.
Even during the Cold War, NATO paid a high price for Turkey’s inclusion. Authoritarian, military-dominated governments in Ankara enforced a ruthlessly secular public space; there were several coups, hard and soft. In 1974, Turkey invaded and partitioned the Republic of Cyprus. War almost erupted with Greece and for a time Congress barred arms sales to Ankara. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ankara became a regional guardian without serious duties, while its unstable, military-dominated coalition politics and weak economy didn’t look like much of a model for anyone.
The 2002 victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) transformed Turkey. Originally the AKP presented itself as responsibly religious, pro-Western, and liberal, eager to democratize Turkish society, exclude the military from politics, and join the European Union.
However, by the end of the decade, Erdogan and his party had immersed themselves in corruption and initiated authoritarian rule. His commitment to Islam turned harsh and political. Rule of law, individual liberties, and democratic procedures all were sacrificed to enhance regime power. The 2016 attempted coup was Erdogan’s Reichstag fire, justifying the brutal crackdown and purge that he’d long wanted and may have planned. Last year, for the first time, Erdogan tampered with the actual vote, forcing a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral race, which his party ended up losing twice. Next time he may be more desperate—and simply steal the election.
The cumulative impact has been to destroy what was always a flawed and limited democracy. The group Freedom House rates the country as not free. The State Department points to “reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons,” and that’s just the start.
Read more: The American Conservative