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Friday, February 24, 2017

Can NATO Survive 'Islamist' Turkey?

Can NATO Survive 'Islamist' Turkey? (AINA).

It has become a staple of diplomatic rhetoric that, whatever problems the United States has with the current government in Turkey, diplomats must ameliorate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan because Turkey is too important to NATO and also a staging ground in any operations against the Islamic State.

Certainly, that is the position of the new administration. Vice President Mike Pence has said he foresees a "new day" in U.S.-Turkey relations. Trump himself stressed the close U.S.-Turkey relationship during his first phone call with the Turkish leader. Ted Malloch, a businessman and Trump ally who is a leading candidate to become US ambassador to the European Union, argued that the United States should bite the bullet and give into Erdogan's political demands in order to reset U.S.-Turkish relations.

Alas, what the Trump team appears not to realize is that Erdogan's problem with the United States and the West more generally is ideological and not based on grievance. In particular, Erdogan hates NATO. 

That may sound counterintuitive given that Turkey contributes the second-largest troop component to NATO and participates with NATO countries in Afghanistan. But Erdogan's upbringing was against the backdrop of Cold War diplomacy blessing Turkish dictatorships. So why doesn't Erdogan just pull Turkey out of NATO? Here, the sad truth is that Erdogan can do far more damage from inside NATO because the defensive alliance is governed by consensus. By remaining inside NATO, Erdogan can paralyze the organization with a de facto veto.

But, Erdogan's game is deeper. His party is now demonizing NATO as a terror organization. Here is what AKP Gaziantep parliamentarian Şamil Tayyar had to say:

Turkey has been subjected to coups since it joined NATO. NATO has always been in charge of the dirty and bloody deeds in the country. The 1960 military coup was staged by the British, the 1971 coup was staged by the CIA, and the 1980 coup was staged by NATO. In NATO's new plan, a Turkey with [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan should not exist... NATO has become a threat and is spreading terror organizations across the region. You can designate NATO along with DEASH [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- ISIL], the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party] and FETÖ [Fethullahist Terror Organization].

In a country where saying or thinking the wrong thing can lead years in prison--even for members of parliamentary--it simply isn't possible that Tayyar was speaking absent Erdogan's approval.

Turkish state media, meanwhile, has sent reporters to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to broadcast programs accusing NATO of involvement in terrorism.

So what is Erdogan's game here? He believes he is engaged in a win-win strategy. If the United States and European officials refuse his demands, his incitement will transform NATO into an enemy in the eyes of most Turks. Such actions would also feed Russian propaganda and anti-American forces worldwide. It will also allow him to play the nationalist card against the NATO bogey in the run-up to the April 2017 referendum on a new constitution which would formalize Erdogan's dictatorial powers.

On the other hand, if Trump caves into Erdogan's demands, he will justify his purge of officers and civil servants whose only crime was having been posted to NATO offices and legitimize his broader crackdown. This, too, would play into Erdogan's hands ahead of the April referendum.

So what is NATO to do? Turkey poses a problem the defensive alliance hasn't experienced in its nearly seven decade existence: What to do when the enemy is internal rather than external.

Appeasing Erdogan only kicks the can down the road, but it is not a sustainable strategy. It is time for NATO to get serious about the Trojan horse which Turkey has become.

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