I can’t decide whether Adm. James Stravidis’s op-ed at Bloomberg is accurate analysis, closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, wishful thinking, or some combination of all three. His thesis is that Turkey is just too strategically important to eject from NATO:
There is no understating how important it is that the U.S. and other NATO allies quickly mend fences with Turkey and help it through its regional crisis.
The Turks are under great strain from the fight against terrorists in Syria and Iraq, a rare instance of sustained warfare along NATO’s southern flank. Russia is moving ever closer to Turkey, coordinating military operations in the Middle East and agreeing to sell the Turks a top-of-the-line S-400 air-defense system, over protests from the U.S. and other NATO countries.
Domestically, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a highly polarizing figure who continues to fume over the failed coup against him last summer. More than 50,000 Turks have been jailed and 150,000 have lost their jobs, actions that will reverberate in Turkish politics for a generation. Crackdowns against “unruly journalists” and “suspect jurists” are common. And the independence movement among the Kurds of Iraq and Syria has put an end to hopes for progress on relations with Turkey’s own restive Kurdish minority.
Meanhwile, U.S.-Turkish relations have cratered following a string of confrontations that run from the profound to the petty. Erdogan continues to be obsessed with extraditing Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric now living in Pennsylvania, whom he believes to have been at the heart of the coup. His security detail is under indictment in the U.S. after they beat a group of protesters in Washington. This month, a Turkish citizen working for the U.S. State Department was jailed, triggering visa retaliations back and forth between Ankara and Washington and dealing a staggering blow to the Turkish lira. And the U.S. is understandably concerned about Turkish moves in Syria, which seem to be more aligned with the interests of Russia and Iran than the U.S.
Let’s turn our minds back to the 1970s. We had strong relationships with the two major non-Arab Middle Eastern powers with Muslims majorities—Turkey and Iran. Iran was strategically important, too, until it became our implacable enemy and then it wasn’t. That’s the nature of strategy, a subject about which Annapolis grad Adm. Stavridis surely knows more than I. When a strategy becomes untenable, you change strategies.
There’s a basic question which I do not see Adm. Stravidis addressing let alone grappling with. That Turkey under Erdogan is no longer the secularist Kemalist country it was for its first 90 years. Under Erdogan it is an increasingly authoritarian Islamist state and as such has a lot more in common with Iran than it does with us. I don’t think he’s taking Turkey’s religious turn seriously. Like most secularist Westerners he assumes, incorrectly in my view, that Islamism is just a ploy.
Let’s talk about that question. NATO has accepted military dictatorships since its inception (PortugaL, Greece, Turkey). Can it tolerate an Islamist member? I don’t believe so but I’m willing to listen to arguments.