Time to Get Tough With Turkey
Given Erdogan's hostility to the U.S., cutting Turkey out of the F-35 program is a good way to reset.
The track record of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a bad one. As we reported in 2016, Erdogan has a history of promoting anti-Semitism, trashing America’s best ally in the region (Israel), and being a thuggish dictator in general. Frankly, Turkey is no longer a reliable ally. In 2003, the Turks refused to allow the 4th Infantry Division to pass through their territory. Erdogan has been cozying up to radical Islamists in Syria, some of whom are tied to al-Qaida. He’s even had the nerve to call Israel a “terrorist state.” It’s obvious that the time has come to draw a few lines in the sand, and some think cutting Turkey out of the F-35 program is a good start.
Granted, good guys in the Middle East are hard to come by. But Erdogan is not even one of the not-so-bad ones. When the F-35 program started, Turkey was a loyal friend, even if it caused drama with NATO ally Greece. But under Erdogan, that has changed.
Erdogan’s regime has imprisoned an American pastor, Andrew Brunson. Erdogan needs to be told that his immediate release and safe return to the United States is non-negotiable. If Brunson is not released by the time the defense policy bill is ready for conference committee, Turkey is not getting any F-35s, and any airframes they are currently slated to receive will go to Israel.
Erdogan’s support of Hamas also needs to end. International relations often come in shades of gray, but Israel’s fight for survival against the terrorist group Hamas (whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction) is not one of those gray areas. Erdogan can be Hamas’s friend or he can buy F-35s. Not both.
Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 is causing a stir. This, though, is something that Turkey can use to demonstrate it is a friend of the United States. To wit, deploy one battery to Nellis Air Force base where it can be evaluated thoroughly in Red Flag exercises. After all, Turkey should be glad to help NATO allies evaluate this system, especially since NATO could very well face off against it should Russia attack the Baltic states. If Turkey doesn’t, then it doesn’t really need F-35s.
Turkey was a friend of the United States prior to Erdogan’s regime taking hold. Erdogan’s really undermined the relationship, though, and it’s a good time for President Donald Trump to stand up for America and Israel. Turkey’s first F-35, to be delivered on June 21, goes to Luke Air Force Base, where it will be used for training.
Ideally, Turkey would have until the defense policy bill is on President Trump’s desk to shape up. If Erdogan fails to do so, the 116 F-35s Turkey wants to buy go to Israel, which boosts a real ally in the Middle East. But as things stand right now, giving the latest fighter technology to the Erdogan regime would be the wrong move.