Losing Turkey

Your Thanksgiving Day turkey and trimmings cost a heck of a lot more thanks to Joe Biden’s inflation. But this is about the other Turkey. 

Turkey, the country, is often badly misunderstood, maligned, and castigated by the Western press and its leaders. Their president doesn’t help his country’s case. More than a generation ago, the acclaimed motivational speaker Dale Carnegie penned a best seller titled, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Have you ever heard of it? Read it? Well, it applies here.

It was chock full of good advice that any leader could readily utilize. Do not be overly critical. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Get the other person’s point of view. Show genuine interest. Smile. Be a good listener. And make the other party feel wanted and important. 

This isn’t rocket science, just good policy and plain common sense. It is something sorely needed today in U.S.-Turkey relations—on both sides. 

It is worth stepping back from the current downward spiral and reinvesting in a long-term, rock-solid, relationship before it’s too late to restore good will between the United States and Turkey. After the Afghanistan debacle we actually need Turkey more than ever. That neighborhood is dangerous and full of failed states. The United States needs solid allies in the region. 

That’s the way it was for decades, and it’s the way it should be for decades to come. The consequences of deterioration in the relationship are just too great for each side. 

The United States appears to be doing precisely the opposite of what Carnegie suggested and is literally losing Turkey as a friend and ally. Erdoğan’s intransigence doesn’t help matters. Together both countries should work to turn that around and make sure it does not happen. The Turks need to do their part as well, and play by the rules. 

Neoconservative pundit Michael Rubin says Erdoğan turned away from the West. With some chutzpah—for an AEI neocon egghead, certainly—he accuses defenders of the president of a NATO ally of being on Erdoğan’s payroll. There are some matters of substance behind Ankara’s frosty caution towards official Washington, however. So, let’s unravel the whole truth. 

Turkey’s modern association with the United States began in 1947 when the United States Congress designated Turkey, under the provisions of the Truman Doctrine, as the recipient of special economic and military assistance intended to help it resist threats from the Soviet Union

A mutual interest in containing Soviet expansion provided the foundation of U.S.–Turkish relations for the next four decades. As a result of Soviet threats and U.S. assistance against them, Turkey moved away from a single-party government towards democracy; in fact, holding the first democratic elections in 1950. 

Turkey contributed personnel to the United Nations forces in the Korean War from 1950–53, joined NATO in 1952, became a founding member of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) collective defense pact established in 1955, and endorsed the principles of the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine

In the 1950s and 1960s, Turkey generally cooperated with other United States allies in the Middle East to contain the influence of those countries regarded as Soviet clients. Throughout the Cold War, Turkey was the bulwark of NATO‘s southeastern flank, directly bordering Warsaw Pact countries and risking nuclear war on its soil during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Ankara received around $2.5 billion dollars in military aid from 1950 to 1970. Since 1954, Turkey has hosted the Incirlik Air Base, an important operations base of the United States Air Force, which has played a critical role during the Cold War, the Gulf War, and the more recent Iraq War. 

Turkey is a large, modern secular-Muslim country of over 80 million people, with a sizeable economy ($2.7 trillion GDP), very significant military force of 380,000 troops (second only to the United States within NATO) that straddles Europe and Asia. It occupies a strategic space and has been a stalwart ally to the United States from late in World War II through the Cold War up until recently. What has shifted? 

The Turks played a starring role in post-9/11 American foreign policy and can claim accolades like being on the founding list of five countries that were already spending 2 percent of GDP on defense when the Obama Administration codified that norm into NATO at Wales. Compare their treatment in cognoscenti rags to Germany’s, for example, and recall that while Turkey is now assuming the security obligations of allied priorities (Kabul Airport, to name but one) Merkel and her “defense” minister (who failed upwards as the Head of Government of the EU) packed up their military presence and turned their participation into a big development aid project long ago. 

The exceptionally harsh treatment of Erdoğan’s allyship to Washington doesn’t stop above board. The fate of four-star Defense Intelligence Agency General Michael Flynn, for example—defenestrated among other reasons for a lack of sympathy toward the putschist Turkish cleric who resides in Pennsylvania—was a very clear signal from the beltway that they wished Erdoğan had been felled in the coup d’état attempt against his government. To put it bluntly, old Recep has every right to take personally an attempt on his life. In fact, that January 2016 revolt against Turkey’s president, which killed hundreds, was organized and executed by the CIA and its proxies on the ground. Their man, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, was escorted in 1999 on a private plane to a safe retreat in the Pocono Mountains by the Clintons—after he donated some $14 million to the Clinton Foundation. It is nice, as they say, to have “friends in high places.” 

Certainly, it was not Trump’s policy to chase Turkey into the willing and open arms of Russia and its Iranian partners. But that is what Biden, and his misfits seem willing to do. 

Is it the policy of the deep state and its agents who work to thwart everything Trump attempted in foreign policy? The dirty money Gülen and his FETÖ network has paid for years in exchange for support and cover in the U.S. might provide a clue.

That so-called “spiritual network,” which is a known terrorist Islamic threat, has funded congressional campaigns and made sizable donations in the millions to the Clinton Foundation. Such political favors have bought influence and safety in Pennsylvania—where Gülen maintains his nerve center, undisturbed. Exposing the history of such doings and payments would further question the deep state. 

The State Department certainly has no interest in fixing relations and is decidedly anti-Erdoğan. They have gone out of their way to humiliate and demean his regime—at considerable cost to the nation. 

But it’s not us, it’s him, insists Rubin. S-400 surface to air missiles can’t go to a NATO country without implied treason. The United States could have given more assurances along with the keys to their defense options. Of course, if Erdoğan didn’t have to worry about the loyalty of his own Air Force, he might not think he needed the only gear that runs any risk of shooting down his own aircraft. We should have every faith that the extensive purge of that and all other branches was thorough enough, but the fact remains. Fussy old business, that, and a direct consequence of the Clinton/Kerry/Biden State Department, without even touching the rest of the “Arab Spring” (Green Revolution, anyone?)

Turkey is a friend, a trading partner, and a close military and intelligence partner. This in spite of the fact that the United States has failed to meet a reasonable demand of Turkey, its long-term friend and ally.

What demand is that? Namely, the return and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, known terrorist operator who, it is established, played a lead role in the attempted coup of President Erdogan’s government.

Even when presented with reams of information and dossiers of evidence, the U.S. State Department and the Justice Department were slow or reluctant to act.

If the shoe were on the other foot, would it be so? Of course not.

Turkey has a treaty with the United States and has itself extradited numerous assailants to the United States over the years. If Turkey harbored an insurrectionist who tried to overthrow the legitimately elected government of the United States, would we demand his head? We’d get it, too. 

Then-U.S. ambassador to Turkey (he was being reassigned to Afghanistan) John Bass, a careerist Foreign Service Officer and Obama loyalist, with no ties whatsoever to Trump or his policies, overplayed his cards and did unthinkable damage to U.S.-Turkey relations. 

He sought to destroy what took 70-odd years to build. His outright disdain for Erdoğan and his party were most newsworthy. In the process, we witnessed the horrible fallout which continues to this day with Biden’s all-too-evident disdain for Turkey. 

It includes the suspension of visas between the two friendly countries—putting Turkey in the ranks of Syria, Yemen, and other terrorist states. The harm done to trade, investment, and tourism is potentially irreparable: a loss of Turkey in the fight against ISIS, our common foe; the possible removal of U.S. troops and nuclear weapons from the strategic Incirlik airbase in Turkey; the denial of papers to Turkish VIP invitees to attend the Trump inauguration; and the brouhaha around the arrest of a Turkish citizen who is accused of espionage who worked in the U.S. embassy. 

Under normal circumstances, Joe Biden should call President Erdoğan urgently and revert to the late Dale Carnegie’s well-advised policy. But he won’t as his leftist foreign policy advisors won’t let him. 

As the liberal Council on Foreign Relations stated, among the most important developments in international affairs of the past decades is the emergence of Turkey as a rising regional and global power. 

Insofar as Rubin is tempted to call Erdoğan, a “Colonizer” and “Imperialist,” it is important to remember that the AKP’s long tenure in Ankara will someday give way—democratically—to another party’s political facts on the ground. In the meantime, Ankara’s priorities are being skillfully pushed by a foreign office dusting off Ottoman protocols which objectively promote the strategic interests of a midsize Mediterranean power with significant land presence in the middle east. 

They inhabit a hard neighborhood—bordering Iran, Iraq, and Syria, to name just a few. Insofar as we consider Turkey’s value to us as an ally, geography is the order of the day. Again, contrast reality with other NATO members of less distinguished plumage and Turkey will objectively come out favorably positioned by way of comparison to any other possible pair. Do Turkey the disservice of comparing it to a non-NATO ally like Saudi Arabia, and much of the kvetching over human rights melts away: Ankara provided the international community with the intelligence to pin the Khashoggi murder on Riyadh, a net contribution to the enforcement of international norms like not murdering dissident journalists. 

This is admittedly not without drawbacks on purely allied concerns: Treasury has already sanctioned Turkish-flagged actors over proxy forces in Syria, a force of professional fighters which seems to have other wars ahead of them as Turkish mercenaries á la Wagner group or Akademi. Libya is the most vivid example of this, though one wonders in which theater they’ll be left high and dry, or if their destiny is to export the revolution like the Stalinist cadres who lost the Spanish civil war. 

Developing the capability to play at this cagey business is positive news for the alliance’s toolkit, and one which is already paying dividends in theatres important to the alliance. 

Turkey is, has been, and should remain, a bulwark of security and a core, critical ally to the United States in the coming years. Turkey is both a significant regional power and among the valued partners we have. We shouldn’t try to lose them or sell them out. 

But what should, what can, Turkey itself do to enhance and increase these trends looking ahead? That regime surely must also adapt. 

Let us suggest four things that would be immediately useful to improve and restore the best of relations between our two countries. 

First, state unequivocally that Turkey only operates on the basis of law and international treaties. 

Second, reset calibrations in the United States from lobbying (military/economic) to public relations to cultural/educational exchange. They badly need a complete update and reinvigoration. 

Third, think about a revitalized overall strategy for Turkey that meets the realities and builds on its many strengths—politically, militarily, and economically. Turkey needs a new game plan that is bold, fresh and represents its people and government. It needs to make good American relations a top priority. 

And lastly, rebrand Turkey, not only as a new and modern, fascinating Ottoman polity, a strategic force for good and moderate Islam, but as a country where everyone is welcome to visit, invest, and do business. It is this economic realm that needs broadcast because Turkey is a vibrant growing, large and increasingly prosperous middle-income country. 

All this to say, to the hawkish neoliberals of the Biden White House and the Bush-Cheney warmonger neocon gadflies, like Rubin—Erdoğan is playing his own game. Don’t expect Turkey to be a chess piece for you to move as you please, those days are over. It is time to go back to the Trump school of realism in international affairs.

About Theodore Roosevelt Malloch and Felipe Cuello

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch and Felipe Cuello are co-authors of Trump’s World: GEO DEUS (Humanix, 2020).

Photo: People drag the model of Fethullah Gulen at Ataturk National Airport in Istanbul, Turkey on July 17, 2016 as they gather to protest the "Parallel State/Gulenist Terrorist Organization"s failed military coup attempt. Ozkan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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