As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization turns 70, most of the commentary is focused on the same old tripe. In the Washington Post, diplomat Nick Burns wrote one of the most cliched screeds, titled “NATO’s biggest problem is Trump.” One could imagine where it was going merely from the headline.
Apparently, NATO leaders say Trump is a problem. Well, of course—Trump has been the first one to actually pressure free-riders to pay for their own defense. Who in his right mind would like that his buckpassing is over?
The article also says Trump was weak to Russia, and must do more to uphold the liberal international order. It did not mention that the current U.S. administration has provided lethal weapons to Ukraine, while Germany continued to cut down on defense spending and invite the Russian energy sector into the European Union.
The rest of the commentariat on NATO and Trump are also absolutely predictable. Unfortunately, none of their articles are mentioning anything about the biggest issue facing NATO. It’s not Trump, it’s Turkey.
The Turkish husband of a French colleague of mine was arrested in the purge that followed a failed Turkish coup attempt. He has a doctorate, is a senior police officer, is secular and liberal in his outlook, and, of course, is still rotting in jail. The coup itself was dodgy, and Turkish leader Recep Erdogan, Europe’s longest-serving, democratically elected Islamist, immediately blamed a cleric named Fethullah Gulen, who is funnily enough based in the United States.
Erdogan, who suffers from severe anti-Western bias, blamed the United States, cracked down on the protesters, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then Erdogan has systematically destroyed Turkey, converting it from a secular democratic ally of the West to a quasi-Islamist dictatorship, with an ever-growing presence in the Middle East, support for Islamist jihadist groups in Syria, and back-channel deals with Russia and Iran.
Recently, the United States has moved to block transfer of technology to Turkey, especially the joint F-35 stealth fighter, after it refused to back down from buying Russian anti-air missile tech, notably the S-400. “Pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forgo delivery of the S-400, deliveries and activities associated with the stand-up of Turkey’s F-35 operational capability have been suspended.” This Pentagon statement made it clear that Turkey’s insistence on buying the S-400, which would compromise the security and radar signature of F-35 aircraft, is the chief cause behind this step.
That is hardly the only concern. Why is Turkey still considered an ally at all? Turkey has been for some time exporting Islamism across the greater Middle East as foreign policy leverage. Ever since Erdogan came to power, there has been documented evidence of Turkey cynically using Islamist proxies across Syria and Libya. Every Turkish cultural and language center across Europe promotes the Turkish brand of Islam.
One of the strongest backers of ISIS was Turkey, even when it claimed to oppose ISIS. Again, there is documented evidence of this, such as: “By all accounts, foreign fighters from around the globe first traveled to Turkey and then on to Iraq and Syria, forming the backbone and striking power of the Islamic State. In 2013 alone, some 30,000 militants traversed Turkish soil, establishing the so-called jihadi highway, as the country became a conduit for fighters seeking to join the Islamic State.”
Erdogan has promoted and branded himself the savior of all Sunnis. With his thorough Islamisation of Turkey, Erdogan changed the character of the secular republic formed by Kemal Ataturk after the First World War. Erdogan has established hundreds of Islamic schools to replace traditional secular education, stealthily reshaping generations to come. A report from Reuters says, “Erdogan has said one of his goals is to forge a ‘pious generation’ in predominantly Muslim Turkey ‘that will work for the construction of a new civilisation.’ His recent speeches have emphasized Turkey’s Ottoman history and domestic achievements over Western ideas and influences.”
In foreign policy, Erdogan has blackmailed the European Union with flooding refugees, and commanded the Turks settled within EU countries to rise up: “‘Go live in better neighborhoods. Drive the best cars. Live in the best houses,’ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday in the city of Eskisehir, while campaigning for a referendum that would solidify his power. ‘Make not three, but five children. Because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.’”
In the recent Turkish elections, Erdogan used the videos of the New Zealand gunman to promote a sense of injustice against “Christians.” He has invaded Syria and squared off against American allies, the Kurds, and Turkish thugs. Erdogan’s supporters have rioted in the streets of Europe, and even in Washington DC.
It defies logic that a certain section of the European and American commentariat—who are supposedly so determined to preserve the liberal democratic order, and never lose a single chance to rally against Russia, and even traditional socially conservative Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary—are utterly silent about Turkey. Even if someone agrees there’s growing authoritarianism in sections of European countries, those countries are in no way comparable to Erdogan’s Turkey.
Of course, not all Turks are like that. Turkey remains the only Western predominantly Muslim country, where the powerful army as an institution remains secular. Also, of all the countries stretching from Tunisia to Bahrain, Turkey is the only country that has the largest secular, western-educated middle class. But that is beside the point. In no conceivable universe can one claim to be on behalf of liberal democracies while justifying an alliance with Turkey.
If Turkey is indeed the troubled child, and we are still tolerating it because of realpolitik, which might well be the case, then we should stop judging Eastern European socially conservative countries and their domestic politics. Otherwise, it is visible hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is hard to defend in international affairs.
The denial of the F-35 is a good start, but not nearly enough. Turkey under Erdogan, and not Trump, remains the biggest threat to not just NATO as an alliance, but to any values we claim to hold dear. Anyone who takes the chance to bash the current U.S. government for NATO’s growing problems, while simply refusing to mention Turkey, is guilty of intellectual dishonesty.