National Security

Re-Evaluating America's Relationship With Turkey

What do we do now that the bad guy won?

Harold Hutchison · Jul. 21, 2016

Things will change now that Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has survived an attempted coup by elements of the Turkish military. One thing that has to change now is America’s relationship with Turkey — at least while our NATO ally is under the Erdogan regime, and thus on the road to becoming an authoritarian Islamist dictatorship.

Furthermore, the fallout from the failed coup is spreading beyond Turkey’s borders. Greece has decided not to extradite Turkish military personnel who fled to that country, and Germany is seeing internal tensions grow in its Turkish expat community between Erdogan supporters and opponents.

Erdogan’s tendencies toward Islamism and authoritarian rule have become glaringly obvious in recent years. Whether it’s his domestic opposition, the Turkish judiciary, the military, or even the press, Erdogan has run roughshod over free speech and a free press. Tack on his refusal to assist in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the blind eye he has turned toward foreign fighters traveling through Turkey to join the Islamic State, and it’s obvious that at best Erdogan is what pop culture calls a “frenemy.” Thus, re-evaluation is probably a good idea, even before we take a long, hard look at his current purges. Already the total of those arrested, fired or suspended has exceeded 60,000.

For starters, Erdogan needs to be told that Fethullah Gulen will not be extradited. Given the purges, and Erdogan’s vow to reinstate the death penalty, it doesn’t take a foreign policy expert to figure out that handing Gulen over is sending him to his death. Gulen seems to be a legitimately moderate Moslem who supports democracy, education and religious tolerance. Gulen also condemns terrorism. Facilitating his slaughter by an Islamist dictator is not in America’s interest — or Turkey’s, for that matter.

Next, Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program should be placed on hold, if not terminated outright. If it is heading down the road to becoming a frenemy at best, then the latest in American aviation technology should not be on the flight line for the Turkish Air Force. Certainly the means to produce fifth-generation aircraft, including the source code for the F-35’s software, should not be given to the Erdogan regime. The 116 jets Turkey plans to buy can go to a more reliable American ally, like Israel, the United Kingdom, or Japan — or they could be given to the Navy and Marine Corps to increase their inventories.

To follow-up on that, the United States should halt support for the Turkish military. While Turkey produces the F-16 and the UH-60, the United States shouldn’t help the Erdogan regime keep its military at top readiness. In particular, support for the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AGM-88 HARM should be terminated, and the return of the eight Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates sent over in the 1990s should be demanded. Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should also be suspended for the duration of Erdogan’s rule.

Third, plans should be made to reduce operations out of Incirlik Air Base, and to be able to evacuate those forces and equipment that are there, particularly any “special weapons,” like the B61 gravity bombs. The United States should also look for a replacement base in the region.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that the people of Turkey will be paying the price for the failure to take out Erdogan in this coup, much as the people of Venezuela today are paying the price for the failure of the 2002 coup that targeted Hugo Chavez. If the Erdogan regime can be replaced with one that will be a true partner in the War on Terror and in NATO, the Turkish people will be the biggest winner.

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