March 29, 2016 | The New York Times

Turkey Has Been Reckless, Repressive and Unreliable

When then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last visited Washington in 2013, he received the full “valued ally” treatment, including an appearance with President Obama in the White House Rose Garden.

Not this time. Now president, Erdogan will instead meet with Vice President Biden this week, which is the diplomatic equivalent of a handshake after a romantic date.

The cool reception is not just a Washington thing. Europeans, scornful of his relentless crackdown on the opposition at home, don’t care much for the Turkish president. Arab states like Jordan don’t particularly appreciate him these days, either. And even some within NATO grumble that Turkey’s unofficial role as a buffer to both Russia and the Middle East has spoiled like month-old peynir.

Admittedly, Turkey is among the few standing up to Russia these days. It was the Turkish military that shot down a Russian jet back in December as Vladimir Putin flexed his muscles in Syria. But NATO members hit the panic button over the very possibility that Ankara might invoke Article V and summon them to intervene.

But it’s not just recklessness that has NATO spooked. Turkey’s border with Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011 has become a zone of illicit finance. A steady stream of reports suggests that Turkey has been providing material or even military support to jihadists groups (from the Nusra Front to Ahrar al-Sham to even the Islamic State) that a member of NATO has no business backing. Meanwhile, Turkey’s renewed war on the Kurds has greatly complicated the U.S. efforts to battle the Islamic State by proxy.

Istanbul has also become a headquarters for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The war between Hamas and Israel in 2014 was, in fact, prompted by an attack planned and financed from Turkey-based Hamas figure Saleh Arouri.

Ankara was also involved in a gas-for-gold scheme that helped Iran evade international sanctions between 2012 and 2013 – a time when Washington and Brussels needed Turkey’s help most. Ankara was again exposed for helping Iran evade sanctions when an Istanbul prosecutor’s report leaked in March 2014, pointing to hundreds of millions of laundered profits for Iran, with massive volume transiting through Turkey. In fact, the central figure in the schemes, Reza Zarrab, was arrested in Miami last week for conspiring to evade American sanctions on an enormous scale.

In short, Turkey is increasingly an awkward fit in a multilateral organization dedicated to preserving the values of the West. Nobody really wants Turkey to go, after years of military investments and tireless alliance building. But it’s getting harder and harder to justify. A reckoning is needed.

Jonathan Schanzer is Vice President for Research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer


Iran Kurds Turkey