The republic of Turkey, a beautiful country, has been an ally of the West, but that alliance is in trouble. The Eastern Flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance may be at risk.
Turkey served as the southern anchor of NATO during the Cold War. It is easy to see why: It is the land bridge from Asia to Europe and from the Mideast to Central Asia.
Europe and Turkey need each other: More than 6 million Turks are part of European economies.
Turkey is also important because of the latest threat to civilization: terrorism.
But Turkey is no longer a reliable ally in this war. The overtly radical vision of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leans toward extremist, political Islamism.
Recent events in Turkey are setting off alarms: the closing of all independent media, purges of pro-Western officials and the toleration of jihadist organizations.
Can Turkey can still secure NATO’s vision to “safeguard democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”? Regrettably, Turkey’s rule of law is in decline.
Respected scholars conclude that President Erdogan is deeply corrupted and has put his own ambitions above the security of his nation and of NATO. Case in point: He reportedly has used a Turkish-Iranian businessman to handle huge money transactions between Iran and Turkey, breaching sanctions against Iran. His illicit support for terrorist organizations in Syria has been documented.
Due to the upheaval that followed the failed attempted coup in Turkey last year, the Turkish people have been traumatized. But their president has made a bad situation worse by using the coup as an opportunity to expand his own political power. After the coup collapsed, the authorities began arresting many citizens who had nothing to do with it: reporters, military officers, policemen and teachers.
More than 150,000 were arrested — many tortured. The purged officials were replaced by the president’s cronies, political opportunists and radical, political Islamists.
Turkey will hold a national referendum on April 16th. It asks the Turkish people to take power from the parliament and give it to the president — who would have almost unlimited power to rule by decree.
But would more power to the president mean Turkey would do more to win the war against terrorism? No, it would not.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Turkey at a crossroads
Turkish authorities have tolerated the presence of terrorists on Turkish territory for years — a tragic miscalculation. In 2015, Turkey did not carry out a single pre-planned counterterrorism operation on its soil against the Islamic State. Turkish authorities recently discovered 100 Islamic State safe houses in Istanbul. The Islamic State infiltration is very widespread.
Even worse, thousands of Turkish and foreign Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq are expected to return to Turkey this year.
President Erdogan has cooperated with the European Union to slow down the flood of migration from Turkey to Europe. At least 5 million refugees are sheltering in Turkey. Yet, he threatens to unleash millions of refugees into Europe.
And there are other threats to Europe stemming from Turkey’s instability.
• Turkey’s civil war against the Kurds could get bigger due to the president’s actions. Both the Kurdistan Workers Party and the newly emerged Islamic State are Turkey’s enemies. Growing civil war could close the energy supply to Europe by shutting down oil and gas pipelines.
• Due to the prospect of a wider civil war, the arsenal of nuclear weapons at the NATO base in Incirlik is in danger of being captured.
• More than 50 atomic weapons are believed to be located there.
So, what should the United States and NATO do to protect Western countries from a destabilized Turkey?
We can look to the successful strategies of the Reagan administration for clues.
President Reagan opted to stand firm against the threat of Soviet expansion, but at the same time, he reached behind the Iron Curtain to speak to people who were oppressed.
The NATO alliance must engage the Turkish people and do three things.
1.) First, pursue criminal charges against President Erdogan at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for aiding terrorists;
2.) Second, the West should draw down its NATO forces in Turkey and relocate sensitive weapons to other countries.
3.) Third, apply “tough love” when dealing with the Turkish strongman government.
Trade sanctions should be considered. But Washington should reach out to all the peoples of Turkey — Turks, Kurds, Muslims and non-Muslims — who want a stability that only a republic of laws can give them. Encourage efforts to restore Turkey’s free press and give humanitarian aid.
America desires to see Turkey become an economically strong partner that is at peace, both at home and with its neighbors. The Turks have been wonderful allies of the American people.
Fact is, the Turkish people are resilient, and Turkish democracy can flourish again. The United States must not enable a dictatorship but help the Turkish people choose freedom, faith and prosperity.
With the wisdom of constitutional government supporting its democracy and with good-faith partners in NATO, the best days of Turkey are still ahead.
• Robert Carl “Bud” McFarlane was national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 through 1985. After a career in the Marine Corps, he became part of the Reagan administration and was a leading architect of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) for defending the U.S. against missile attack. Along with former CIA director Jim Woolsey, Mr. McFarlane co-founded the United States Energy Security Council, sponsored by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.
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