February 8, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Don’t reward Erdogan

February 8, 2024 | Washington Examiner

Don’t reward Erdogan

After holding the NATO alliance hostage for nearly two years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally agreed to allow Sweden to join the trans-Atlantic alliance. Washington and other NATO capitals were jubilant. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “welcome[d] Turkish President Erdogan’s signature of the Articles of Ratification for Sweden’s NATO membership.” 

Erdogan’s approval was quickly rewarded by Washington greenlighting a long-anticipated F-16 sale to Ankara. In other words, Erdogan was willing to hold up NATO’s expansion and security interests until he got what he wanted: fighter jets. The Biden administration was so excited with Erdogan’s positivity that it dispatched acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Ankara to continue the exercise in positive reinforcement.

Nuland informed Turkish officials that bargaining between the United States and Turkey need not end with the F-16 deal. In fact, Nuland went on to say that “if we could get through this S-400 issue, which we would like to do, the U.S. would be delighted to welcome Turkey back into the F-35 family.”

To understand why this is the wrong way to deal with Turkey, it is useful to remember why Turkey is now acquiring F-16s and not F-35s. Turkey should have been on the glide path to receive over 100 units of F-35s. This did not happen because Erdogan decided to acquire an S-400 Russian missile system from Moscow in 2019.

He was warned not to proceed with the purchase, as the deployment of the missiles would compromise the F-35s’s operational security and obstruct NATO’s interoperability. Erdogan went as far as to peddle the lie that he was purchasing the S-400 because Washington was not willing to sell him the Patriot equivalent. Erdogan’s purchase of the Russian missiles resulted in Ankara being kicked out of the F-35 program and sanctioned by Washington. The S-400 matter represents the West’s fundamental loss of trust in Turkey.

Now is not the time to reward Erdogan with promises of F-35s. Let’s be clear: Ratifying Sweden’s accession to NATO is not something to be jubilant about. It is the bare minimum of what should be expected. Turkey and Hungary aside, all other NATO members accepted Sweden with open arms in little to no time.

Hours after approving Sweden, Erdogan hosted Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Ankara. On Feb. 12, he will follow up his adoration of malign dictators by hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin. None of these visits to Ankara by seasoned adversaries of the West are a coincidence. They are carefully planned and announced summits, intended to threaten the West, to show Turkey’s treaty allies that Erdogan is willing to deepen his ties with autocrats and use these budding relationships to undermine the core security interests of NATO.

One could argue that a meeting between regional powers is a necessary and constructive act. If this were a meeting between France and Germany, that would be understandable. However, Iran is a sworn enemy of the U.S., and its militias recently actively targeted and killed U.S. service members. Iran also supports Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, which Erdogan has praised as a “liberation movement.”

Additionally, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are directly responsible for attacking both civilian and military shipping the Red Sea. Instead of hosting the region’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, Erdogan should be issuing warnings and collaborating with his NATO allies to counter Iran’s ambitions.

The same can be said in his meeting with Putin, who has come to rely upon Erdogan as his willing puppet who actively undermines NATO’s cohesiveness. Why does Erdogan continue to hold on to the S-400s and permit Russia to build its first nuclear power plant? Why is Erdogan not being pressured to back international sanctions against Moscow for prosecuting its illegal war in Ukraine, instead permitting Putin to service his personal yacht in Istanbul?

Erdogan has rarely missed an opportunity to snub his Western allies. Why reward him now? The Biden administration is understandably trying to woo Turkey in light of its Sweden decision. Positive reinforcement is good, but it can only work if one sets boundaries. Divestment of the S-400s should be a necessary but insufficient move to bring Turkey back to the F-35 program. Ultimately, it should require Ankara’s divestment from malign actors and its sincere reengagement with its Western allies. Sadly, under Erdogan, this is not possible. 

Sinan Ciddi is a nonresident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of DemocraciesFollow him on X @SinanCiddi.

Issues:

International Organizations Turkey