- - Monday, April 4, 2016


The descent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration into a brutish tyranny must not be something else for Barack Obama’s “don’t-do list.” Mr. Erdogan even takes his thugs with him when he leaves Ankara. The Brookings Institution was tempted to cancel Mr. Erdogan’s speech last week after his security detail roughed up American and Turkish reporters, giving Washington a taste of what’s happening in Turkey.

The London-based Amnesty International has documented Mr. Erdogan’s expulsion of refugees, including unaccompanied small children, back into Syria as his government sinks into an ignorance of fundamental decency. This violates Mr. Erdogan’s promises of cooperation with the West to control the flow of refugees in return for generous aid to bolster the flagging Turkish economy. Some 2.7 million migrants have reached Europe since the Syrian conflict began; another 151,104 crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece this year alone. Nearly 400 others have drowned in the attempt. The United Nations refugee agency warns that Greece’s burdened asylum system is close to collapse, adding to its continuing economic misery.

Turkish and EU leaders agreed in March to a deal curbing the flow that has plunged Europe into a refugee crisis not seen since the end of World War II. The Turks are dealing with 2.7 million Syrian refugees. The agreement with the Europeans, principally Germany, would allow one legitimate Syrian refugee to migrate to Europe in exchange for every migrant Ankara takes back. This will cost the Europeans $3.3 billion, ostensibly to pay Ankara’s costs. Germany says will take Syrian refugees with children first.

Whatever the outcome of the refugee pact, however, the Obama administration must be concerned with President Erdogan’s internal policies and his relationship with the terrorists in the region. He has turned his back on earlier efforts to negotiate a solution to a decades-long insurgency, the result of Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the aspirations of its huge Kurdish minority. That’s doubly complicated by the Ankara government waging a campaign against the Kurds, who make up the only successful weapon against the Bashar Assad government. This should be a concern of the Erdogan regime as much as to the United States and the Europeans.

In the early days of his administration, President Obama, with his curious inability to see strife in the Middle East for what it is, ignored Mr. Erdogan’s radical Islamic past. Mr. Obama has boasted that Mr. Erdogan is one of the few foreign leaders with whom he had close and friendly relations. The relationship has soured as Mr. Erdogan has grown closer to radical Islam at home, even flirting with Hamas and Hezbollah, which are both on Washington’s watch list of terrorists.

When Mr. Erdogan showed up for the international nuclear summit last week, President Obama first refused to see him, sending him to Vice President Joe Biden. This was a pointed diplomatic snub. Then, in typical Obama fashion, the president, seeking to “unsnub,” met him briefly at the edges of the meeting.

There’s little chance that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace conference on Syria will be more than the usual diplomatic party with warm tea and stale crumpets. Germany’s idea of swapping open access to Turkey’s 75 millions by dangling eventual EU membership before them is not likely to produce better policy in Ankara. But NATO is important again, and with renewed Russian aggression in the region. Mr. Obama must deal with reality, whether he likes the reality or not. Presidents have responsibilities.

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