During my 30 years in Congress I was privileged to serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I had a simple rule when it came to U.S. foreign policy: We should support our friends and vigorously oppose our enemies. Unfortunately, President Obama’s foreign policy seems to be the reverse of my mantra — namely, appease our enemies and alienate our friends. Tragically, but predictably, the end result of the Obama doctrine has been chaos.
Time and time again, this administration led from behind, coddle our enemies and, consequently, badly mishandled events in Egypt, Libya, North Korea (which has become increasing erratic and belligerent), Iran and Syria. If you don’t believe me, ask the hundreds of thousands of refugees desperately trying to escape the Middle East and the clutches of the Islamic State, aka ISIS.
It may not be too late to salvage the situation. But to do so, we need friends and allies, and the biggest friend and ally in the region that we desperately need is Turkey. Here’s why:
First, Turkey sits at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Its proximity to Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria — countries engulfed in conflict — make Turkey an ideal location for basing humanitarian relief operations as well as military interdiction operations (if necessary). In fact, Turkey is already engaged in both endeavors with regard to the conflict in Syria. According to some estimates, there are already more than 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Second, on the combat side, Turkey since 2014 has allowed anti-ISIS coalition forces to flying surveillance missions from Turkish bases. In July, it agreed to allow the coalition to fly combat missions against ISIS targets and began launching its own military action against the terrorists. Should these joint efforts prove successful in eliminating ISIS’ access to the border region with Turkey, it would significantly weaken ISIS by curtailing the group’s access to pro-ISIS fighters and trade routes that support the group financially.
Historically, the United States and Turkey have enjoyed a decades-long defense relationship. As a strategically important NATO ally, Turkey played a critical role in containing communism and winning the Cold War. Since the Cold War ended, the Turkish base at Incirlik has been used by U.S. and NATO forces for operations in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Afghanistan and against terrorist targets.
Third, economically, Turkey had a remarkable economic performance in the past decade. Turkey’s presidency of the G-20 nations in 2015 is a very good example in this context. Turkey will organize the leaders summit of G-20 in November in Antalya.
It has a young, dynamic and educated workforce and is projected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to have the fastest-growing economy among the OECD members during the periods of 201217 and 2018-30. Its economy created 6 million new jobs between 2009 and 2013.
Economically, the United States is Turkey’s fourth-largest trading partner, and according to U.S. Commerce Department statistics, 65 percent of U.S. businesses doing business in Turkey are eager to invest more money in Turkey. Eighty-eight percent of those businesspeople advocate for U.S. government engagement with Turkey to further improve the investment, market access and operating climate for U.S. companies in Turkey. Turkey’s geography location also makes it a key country in U.S. and European efforts to establish new pipelines to tap abundant oil and natural gas resources in Eurasia and the Persian Gulf.
Finally, politically, Turkey is a Muslim-majority, secular democracy and an inspiration for other countries in the region to witness that democracy works and is achievable once stability is restored. In addition, Turkey’s historical, cultural and religious knowledge of and ties with other regional actors make Turkey a natural mediator in an extremely volatile region of the world.
For all of these reasons and more we should embrace our friendship with Turkey.
During his first presidential trip abroad in 2009, Mr. Obama visited Turkey and told the Turkish parliament: “Turkey is a critical ally . And Turkey and the United States must stand together — and work together — to overcome the challenges of our times.” Despite our current disagreements, Turkey’s hand of friendship is still extended — it is up to us to grasp it. We should. Our nation would be better off if we did.
• Dan Burton is a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana.
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