Enough with Turkey!

March 08, 2019
Given our joint military operations in Yemen have caused half their total population of twenty-eight million to face pre-famine conditions yet received sparse media coverage, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's disbelief over his assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi dominating headlines is understandable. To prevent additional negative press on the upcoming $110 billion American arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Turkish President Recep Erdogan would have to stop releasing damning details on his regional rival's culpability in the Istanbul consulate murder. Therefore, to placate the Turkish ruler who fundamentally transformed our once secular, democratic, and reliable ally, the Trump Administration is considering extraditing Fethullah Gülen, the elderly Turkish cleric who supposedly masterminded the 2016 coup d'état against Erdogan from his Pennsylvania Poconos home where he has lived in self-imposed exile since the late 1990s.

Constantinople, located at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, took turns under Greek, Persian, and Roman control before becoming the seat of the Ottoman Empire and a de facto capitol of the world for over four centuries. As Caliph, the Sultan was God's will on earth and during the First World War he used Islam to rally royal subjects against the Allied Powers who used nationalism to incite rebellions throughout his Empire. After the military defeat of the Sick Man of Europe in 1918, the Sultan was further delegitimized by the Allied occupation of Constantinople, a peace accord that partitioned the Caliphate in a way that would have created a separate Kurdistan, and a British dragnet that arrested members of the growing Turkish Nationalist Movement that had established their own rival government 200 miles to the east in Ankara. The Grand National Assembly's Commander in Chief was Mustafar Kamal, the hero from the Ottoman's only major military victory for saving the Gallipoli Peninsula from the British, denying the Allies access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, and preventing Constantinople from becoming part of the then Russian Empire. Kamal was given the surname Atatürk, or Father of the Turks, after saving Anatolia from the invading Greek army that was claiming portions of the Sultan's former Empire, encamping his Turkish army next to Constantinople encouraging the British to leave without a major military confrontation, and the Turkish Parliament declaring Turkey a republic in 1923. The monarchy was abolished with the Sultan having been allowed to remain Caliph had he not fled into exile, the parliament constitutionally appointed the confident Atatürk its founding president, and Constantinople went on to be officially renamed Istanbul.

Atatürk's portrait soon appeared in every household as the father of the nation for leading a purposeful reinvention from the vestiges of Islamic imperialism towards a more homogenous Turkish identity where secularism, republicanism, and modernity reigned. Istanbul resembled more the cosmopolitan Paris or New York City than insular Mecca or Medina, with men being required to wear brimmed hats instead of traditional felt fez hats, newly enfranchised women sporting western styles instead of veils, and even pious Muslims being prevented from wearing turbans if they were not official state imams. While the former capitol faced westward towards the Ottoman Empire, the more centrally located Ankara was capitol of a more rural Anatolia with far less natural resources and in his industrialization pursuits, Atatürk ultimately chose nationalism over worldwide Marxism after briefly considering joining the successor state of their century long strategic rival to their east. Given their First World War experience, Turkey remained neutral during the Second, but developed a strategic relationship with the United States that lasted throughout the Cold War where in exchange for American economic and military assistance, Turkey remained the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's southern flank's bulwark against the Soviet Union directly bordering Warsaw Pact countries. Turkey notably contributed militarily to the Korean War, housed our nuclear tipped medium-range ballistic Jupiter missiles that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and generally cooperated with other American Middle East allies to contain the influence of Soviet clients like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. After the Cold War ended, Turkey remained relatively stable in the often-volatile Middle East despite several governments being unseated by their secular military. The only remaining remanence of Turkey's alliance with the United States today is our continued use of the Incirlik Air Base to stockpile our unnecessary B61 nuclear weapons and launch operations in Iraq and Syria.

Most Americans have likely only heard of Gülen if they closely followed the guilty plea Special Counsel Robert Mueller secured from retired Army Lieutenant General and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. After being removed as Istanbul's mayor and imprisoned for reading a poem that apparently threatened Turkey's secularism in 1998, Erdogan formed a political party that did well in the 2002 parliamentary elections. He became prime minister when the ban on him returning to politics was lifted and brought his brand of political Islamism to the previously apolitical presidency in 2014. Gülen, an advocate of moderate Islam, was once one of Erdogan's key allies with his followers helping Erdogan dismantle the secular elite's influence in state institutions. Erdogan initially demanded Gülen's extradition in 2013, alleging his followers leaked a recording that embroiled Erdogan's inner circle in a graft scandal. Erdogan then accused Gülen of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt and after his more forceful extradition demands went unmet, his apparatus turned to the former general for assistance. Flynn had not registered as a foreign agent when he accepted a $530,000 lobbying contract with a Turkish businessman to improve Ankara's image, argued the day of President Trump's election in an opinion editorial in Washington D.C.'s the Hill that "We should not provide [Gülen] safe haven," and was investigated by Mueller for his planned extrajudicial rendition of Gülen to Turkey in exchange for $15 million.

In making himself the elected autocrat of a more assertive regional power, Erdogan has made Turkey's strategic relationship with the United States questionable at best and has completely disregarded Atatürk's example of a cult personality leader that abides by the Turkish constitution's checks and balances. Since the failed 2016 coup against his growing authoritarianism by an already neutered military, Erdogan has purged any judge, police, or military officer he implicated, made Turkey the world's leading jailer of journalists, and arrested more than 200,000 bureaucrats, academics, and scientists. Further, he has used his extraordinary state of emergency powers to turn state news outlets into his own propaganda machines and pushed through a constitutional referendum that abolished the prime minister's office making him Turkey's first executive president. While Turkey readies to purchase 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from the United States, Erdogan watched the ensuing melee from the driveway of his ambassador's residence after twelve of his security guards rushed past Washington D.C. Police to attack protesters, began regularly taking western hostages like American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, and is currently buying at least one $2.5 billion advanced Russian S-400 air defense system that could down American warplanes. In Erdogan's efforts to become the predominant regional power, he helped Iran violate international sanctions as the Obama Administration was negotiating the nuclear accord, is setting up a military base in Qatar as Saudi Arabia tries to isolate the nation, and his portrait has gone up throughout the occupied Palestinian lands for being an even bigger defender of their cause than even the Crown Prince. More damning was Erdogan allowing foreign jihadists free passage to destabilize the regime of longtime rival Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, his state-run news agency disclosing a detailed map of American bases in Syria with corresponding troop numbers, and in his own all-out war against the Kurds him repeatedly endangering American combat advisors fighting alongside the Syrian-Kurdish forces battling the Islamic State.

President Trump has made abundantly clear that America's foreign policy priorities in the Middle East are continued arms sales, protecting cheap oil access via the Incirlik Air Base, and Saudi Arabia keeping oil prices low. Meanwhile, the rulers of Turkey and Saudi Arabia harbor ambitions to lead the Muslim World, demonstrate no desire to remain junior partners to the American led world order, and chafe at any opportunity to advance our wellbeing. The United States should discontinue nonexistent strategic partnerships that simply maintain our standard living, put the same levels of investments it does in arms productions towards renewable energy, and get off oil to disengage from the Middle East altogether.