- - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Congress and the Obama administration need to take thoughtful note of the recent elections in essential U.S. ally Turkey. Whether one cheers or jeers the elections, one thing is certain: Turkey shares our challenges to security with the presence of the Islamic State, the Kurdish PKK and the Gulen Movement, a global Islamic network. Turkey is in a tough neighborhood. Its stability is in the interests of the United States, and Congress can help with that stability.

Through the mayhem and turmoil of the Arab Spring, which it supported, the Obama administration has been contemplative to the point of paralysis, and Congress has been seemingly disinterested. This disengaged American foreign policy has led to a vacuum of power and disorder.

Just look at the Russian power returning to the Middle East after an absence of more than 40 years, a marauding Islamic State and several nations that have all but ceased to exist. This lands squarely at the feet of the administration and Congress, and until a new U.S. foreign policy is in place, it is incumbent upon Congress to take the lead.

It is important to note that through this, one nation has maintained stability: Turkey has become a pillar of security — militarily, politically and diplomatically — in the Middle East. It also has the virtue of being the one nation that can sit at a negotiating table with most of the parties involved. A stable, moderate and prosperous Turkey has become indispensable to the United States and the European Union. It needs to remain as such. It is certainly in the interests of Congress to devote more attention to Turkey as the Obama administration fades into the sunset.

True, Turkey acquired a more religious demeanor since the ruling Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002. At times, Ankara was an uneasy ally, especially before the invasion of Iraq. However, these days are few and far between. Turkey is still a staunchly modern nation with a market-driven, open and very large and growing economy. It has functioning democratic institutions and is a NATO member.

However, Turkey’s difficult environment presents challenges, from Kurdish nationalism to nuclear-aspiring Iran to the murderous Islamic State. There are also internal threats that challenge Turkish internal peace and democracy — one that seems to emanate from the United States.

One of the greatest threats to the fabric of modern Turkey is the Islamist Gulen Movement, which appears to destabilize the nation and its devotion to modernity. Banned by many nations, including its native Turkey, it espouses overtly conservative religious ideals and insinuates itself into modern societies. It has spent untold billions of dollars to penetrate Turkey’s judiciary, law enforcement and media, and used its overt and covert power to challenge the government. These changes clearly are taking Turkey in a decidedly less Western direction.

Prosecutors and the police, reportedly under the influence of the Gulen Movement, have gone after top military officers on fabricated charges, illegally tapped phones and jailed secular journalists. This is accomplished by subtle, yet real changes in laws.

The Gulen movement in Turkey is utilizing networks of schools operated under various names to influence children away from the ideals of a modern Turkey, like madrassas do in other nations.

Amazingly, the Gulen Movement operates in the United States, where its founder resides in exile, and it has registered various nonprofit organizations. Many of these organizations are now the subjects of FBI investigations.

The Gulen Movement’s signature modus operandi is the establishment of charter schools. Although, the United States can use help to improve the education of its youth, the Gulen schools begin as “regular” American schools, complete with credentialed teachers, but they are soon replaced by Gulen Movement devotees imported from Turkey. Another interesting point is that no one seems to be able to discern the origin of the vast amounts of money used to launch the schools.

It is in U.S. interests to support Turkey, a major stable power and a reliable friend. Congress can begin by paying more attention to Turkey’s stability in general. Specifically, Congress must investigate Gulen Movement schools and how they are funded and managed. This should be done in conjunction with ongoing and expanding FBI investigations. Congress must also investigate why the Gulen Movement is so actively attempting to change the nature and make up of our ally, Turkey — from within the United States. And better to do it sooner rather than later.

Jason Katz is the principal of TSG, LLC, a consultancy that advises foreign governments, NGOs and corporations. He is the former head of public affairs and public relations for the American Jewish Committee.

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