Time to Throw Out Turkey

If NATO has any modern meaning, it must be without Turkey.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.

 - George Washington's Farewell Address

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations - entangling alliances with none.

 - Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address

As a general rule, we defer to the thought processes of our Founding Founders, figuring that they knew what they were doing in most cases.  We've also observed that we tinker with their brilliance at our peril.

There are a lot of people who do not share our respect for their wisdom.  Over the past two centuries since their passing, we've moved a long, long way from the principles they espoused; modern America would be almost unrecognizable to Washington or Jefferson, to say nothing of Patrick Henry or John Adams.  Ben Franklin would doubtless make himself at home as he did most places; he'd be quite comfortable with reality TV and modern celebrity cultural mores.

The usual argument as to why we need to stray from their advice is "Times have changed!"  On the foreign policy front, this is true.  There's a vast difference between being a nation surrounded by barbarous wilderness on three sides and a six-week ocean voyage on the fourth vs being in a world where we can be hit by a nuclear missile inside of twenty minutes or by a sneak attack in even less time.

In a dangerous world, it's useful to have friends, and the Founders realized this.  The very first nation to recognize the independence of the United States was the Kingdom of Morocco in 1777.  In 1787, Congress ratified a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with Morocco which is still in force to this day.  We have had peaceful relationships with Morocco for over two hundred years.  Despite being heavily Muslim, the Moroccan government has never given us cause to doubt the wisdom of this violation of President Washington's advice.

This doesn't mean the Founders' advice about alliances is worthless, though, as we ought to be learning in the Middle East.  In 1949 the U.S. established what has become the world's most powerful alliance: NATO.  It now contains 28 member states, mostly in Europe and North America; 22 looser allies in the "Partnership for Peace"; and an additional 15 countries in various degrees of serious discussions about how they plan to relate to NATO in the future.

The power of NATO is based in its Article 5, which says that an attack on one member is an attack on all.  This helped keep the peace during the Cold War since Russia knew that if it invaded West Germany it would automatically be at war with the United States, Canada, England, and on down the entire NATO list.  This was more than the Soviets wanted to deal with even at the peak of their power, and besides that, they expected the capitalist countries to wither away without a fight over time.

It may also be the only thing keeping tiny countries like the Baltic States independent.  There's no possible way Estonia, say, could ever field an army able to delay the Russians by more than five minutes.  As a full member of NATO, though, the Estonians have the security of knowing we'll be there in case of need.

Is this a bad deal for the United States, given that neither Russia nor anyone else is likely to invade us?  Not necessarily: Hitler made a habit of picking off countries one by one so that, when the war finally came, beating him was much harder than it would have been in, say, 1935.

On the other hand, for an alliance to work as a deterrent, there has to be confidence that all members will participate when push comes to shove.  Unfortunately, one of the key NATO members closest to the world's worst trouble-spots is giving more and more clear indicators that they're on the other side.

Turning A Nation Towards the Light

The nation of Turkey is one of the more interesting countries in the world.  A century ago, as the Ottoman Empire, the Turks controlled most of the Balkans, most of the Middle East, and of course what's now Turkey, and had done so for centuries.

Though Churchill's invasion of Turkey in the First World War didn't go too well, ending up on the losing side was more than the troubled Ottoman Empire could handle.  The Turkish military, like the German one, blamed their defeat on incompetent national leadership, which was probably true, and under General Mustafa Kemal the military took steps to rectify the situation.

By the mid-1920s, the "Young Turks" had formally ended the Empire, terminated the Caliphate, and got rid of the Sultanate who'd reigned from the Sublime Porte since the Middle Ages.  The new Kemalist government decided that thoroughgoing modernization of the nation was urgently required, along the lines of what Japan had done with great success during the Meiji Restoration of the late Victorian era.

In 1854, Japan was so weak that U.S. Commodore Perry could force a trade treaty on them with a handful of then-modern warships.  This served as a wake-up call for the Japanese elites, who overthrew the shogunate, placed nominal power back in the hands of a symbolic divine Emperor, and threw everything they had into an effort to catch up with the modern world.  By 1905, the Russo-Japanese War showed they'd succeeded: the Japanese Navy utterly trounced Russia, considered one of the great powers at the time.  The thrashing delivered by the Japanese only ended when Teddy Roosevelt personally intervened, bringing both sides to the negotiating table in the Treaty of Portsmouth.

From that point on, Japan was considered to be, if not quite the equal of the Western great powers, at least a significant junior member.  General Kemal, by now known as "Ataturk" or "Father of the Turks," was determined to do the same for his country.

To that end, he forcibly dragged Turkey into the modern world.  He went so far as to outlaw Islamic veils and the traditional Turkish fez under pain of imprisonment.  It's said that the men of Turkey were so distraught at having to go bareheaded that an emergency run of the Paris-Istanbul Orient Express was chartered, carrying fedoras, bowlers, trilbies, and whatever other sort of "modern Western" headgear could be rounded up and flung into boxcars on short notice.

Through the World War II era and into the 1960s, Istanbul was an outpost of modernity in the Middle East.  Yes, most people were nominally Muslim, but you wouldn't know it to look at them.  The government was aggressively secular, so much so that Islamic headscarves were banned from all public offices and buildings including schools.

Unfortunately, Ataturk concentrated on reforming the prominent major cities; he wasn't nearly so effective in the rural hinterland where most Turkish citizens actually lived.  As you might imagine, the local imams took a rather dim view of this "assault on Islam."  There wasn't much they could do about it at the time, but rural religious peasants have a lot more children than chic, secular city couples, so over the years the balance of power changed.

Ataturk had the foresight to try to prevent this: the army was the most aggressively secular entity in the nation, was almost completely independent from the elected nominal civilian government, and, having taken the lead in freeing Turkey from the limitations imposed by Islam, viewed its primary responsibility to be making sure Islam stayed out of the government.

Unfortunately, with an ever-growing majority of devout Muslims in a democracy, it's going to be a challenge to keep the government from being Islamic.  About once a decade, the military had to step in and overthrow an administration that was pushing for more Islam, but over the years that got harder as the Islamic majority increased.

The last attempt of the Turkish army to stop creeping Islamization was in 1997, where the generals threatened to intervene and obtained the reservation of Prime Minister Erbakan.

Six years later, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became prime minister, after spending his entire life in Islamist political movements.  He'd been imprisoned, banned from office, "reformed," elected by vast majorities, and now held the whip hand.  Within a few years, Erdoğan was able to arrest and imprison hundreds of military officers, journalists, and opposition politicians for "plotting against the government," which no doubt they were.

This broke the back of Kemalist secular opposition to an Islamic state, but that's not enough for Erdoğan: he has currently managed to arrange for a comedian to be prosecuted for performing an offensive poem about him - in Germany.

An Ally, Or Not?

Which brings us to today.  Far from being a Westernizing, modernizing country, Turkey under now-President Erdoğan is something more along the lines of Egypt under Mubarak.  It's not a totally thuggish dictatorship, but it's not a free country either, and it has become Islamic through and through.

The results are plain to see.  In 1949, when the secular Kemalists were at the height of their power, Turkey signed a treated of peace and friendship with Israel, which made Turkey the first Muslim country to recognize the Jewish state.  Right through the end of the 20th century, Turkey was one of Israel's closest and most trusted friends.

All that changed under Erdoğan.  Far from siding with Israel, Turkey instead supported illegal Gaza blockade-busting flotillas to bring banned weapons to Hamas terrorists.  When the Israeli navy enforced the blockade and boarded the vessels, they were met with armed resistance which caused casualties on both sides.

Amidst the furor, Israel ended up being forced to apologize to Turkey, even though the UN's Palmer report found that the blockade was legal and that the flotilla wasn't.

Is that the action of a friend and ally?

Today, the Middle East is being torn apart by the barbarians of ISIS.  Since America has decided not to field our own troops against them, it's left to the incompetent Iraqi Army and the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Unlike the Iraqis, the Kurds are excellent fighters, but they're not well provided with modern armaments.  ISIS has all it needs, having stolen modern American military equipment from the Iraqis as they retreated in disorder.

The obvious solution would be to provide decent weapons to the Kurds, but the Turks won't allow it for fear that the Kurds are somewhat disenchanted with the Turkish government.  The results are predictable:

Turkey's opposition to arms transfers to the Kurdish forces is hampering the U.S.-led coalitions' efforts to fight the extremists and further complicating relations between Turkey and the United States. The countries are involved in negotiations about Ankara's role with the U.S. and NATO allies fighting ISIS, which is attempting to capture the strategic town Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border.

The trouble is, the Kurds are surrounded on all sides by enemies.  The only reasonable way to get arms to them would be by way of Turkey, and that's out.

Speaking of Kobani, that town, on the Syrian side of the border, suffered a major siege by ISIS forces throughout most of 2015.  The Kurds staunchly defended Kobani, keeping ISIS forces engaged so they could be picked off by American air strikes.  But the town was surrounded on three sides by ISIS, making supply difficult.

On the fourth side was Turkish territory, and the obvious solution would be to bring in reinforcements that way.  Not only wouldn't Turkey allow this, it also turned back many refugees who wanted escape and blocked fighters who wanted to help defend Kobani.

Ultimately, under heavy American pressure, the Turks let refugees out and 1,500 more Kurdish soldiers in.  America airdropped supplies at vast expense and smuggled several truckloads of ammo through Turkey.  The siege was lifted and ISIS suffered a major defeat.

But it took nearly a year, and for no good reason!  It's not fair to say that Turkey is on the side of ISIS, exactly, but it's pretty plain that they're not on the anti-ISIS side either.  You'd think they'd be all in favor of someone else doing all the fighting and dying, but instead Erdoğan threw down every obstacle he could dream up.  Is this the action of a friend and ally?

Choosing the Dark Side

To answer this question, we turn to a recent publication by the Turkish government for use in schools:

The Turkish government has printed a children's comic apparently encouraging boys and girls to seek Islamic martyrdom, it has been reported

A cartoon called 'may god bless our martyrs, may their graves be full with holy light' was published by Diyanet, the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs.

The colourful drawings show a young girl saying 'I wish I could be a martyr' to which her mother replies: 'If you desire enough, Allah will give you that opportunity', according to a Russian news outlet.

RT reports that another cartoon shows a father explaining to his son 'how good it is to be a martyr' and telling him that martyrdom gives people the chance 'to gain the right to go to heaven.'

According to RT, the drawings are accompanied by statements, one of which reads: 'Our prophet says: a martyr feels the pain of dying as much as you feel pain when being pinched.'

The cartoon, which was reportedly published by government agency Diyanet, the highest national religious body, has sparked anger in some quarters. [emphasis added]

Some quarters?  An official government publication by a major NATO member nation encouraging children to blow themselves up to murder infidels, only sparks anger in some quarters?

Obviously it won't make anybody mad in the Islamic world; that's what they do.  Which makes it pretty plain that Turkey has cast in their lot with the modern world's most powerful and barbaric forces of evil.

If Erdoğan's Turkey intends to go down that road, Turkey has no business being in any Western club, whether military, technical, economic, or social.  That kind of Turkey should be dealt with, if we must at all, as we do the Palestinians, recognizing them for the conscienceless killers that they are.

When even the New York Times believes we need to take forceful action, the situation must be pretty dire.  For once, we have to agree with the Times that there's only one thing to be done:

As Mr. Erdogan seeks to eliminate all opposition and create a single-party regime, the European Union and the United States must cease their policy of appeasement and ineffectual disapproval and frankly inform him that this is a dead end.

There's one excellent and clear-cut way to do that: throw Turkey out of NATO, and EU applicant status, without delay.  Maybe that will wake up the secular Turks to take back their country; but if there aren't enough of them left to turn the tide, at least we'll have valuable clarity as to the reality. 

If that is how it turns out, Ataturk's dream of a powerful, modern, secular Turkey is well and truly at an end as its own politicians proudly proclaim, and it's high time to face that fact no matter how regrettable it is.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
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