If Obama were a poker player holding a full house, he’d fold to let the guy across the table with a pair of twos feel like a winner. Not even Jimmy Carter was so adverse to squandering leverage when dealing with friends and foes.
Turkey has changed. During the last few months, Turkey has acted far more as an adversary than as an ally. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw a diplomatic temper tantrum when the UN’s Palmer Commission found largely in Israel’s favor with regard to Israel’s enforcement of a blockade against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In its wake:
- Erdoğan has promised the (U.S.-supplied) Turkish Navy would escort Turkish ships carrying supplies to Gaza in contravention of the lawful blockade.
- Egemen Bağış, a close Erdoğan aide who now serves as Turkey’s Minister for European Union Affairs, threatened to use the (U.S.-supplied) Turkish Navy against Cyprus, an EU member state.
- Turkish warplanes have bombed Iraqi territory, killing seven civilians, a strike for which Turkey neither made the apology nor paid the compensation it demands from others.
- Turkey has demanded an apology from Armenia, somewhat akin to Saddam Hussein demanding an apology from Kuwait, Russia from Georgia, or China from Tibet.
- Erdoğan has used his UN address to bash Israel in the crudest possible terms.
So what’s Obama to do? A strategically-minded president wouldn’t hesitate to use his leverage to assert American interests and coerce countries acting against them to change their behavior or face consequences. Obama, however, isn’t strategically-minded. He doesn’t understand diplomacy and would rather play a losing hand than the hand he was dealt.
In response to Erdoğan’s recent provocations, here is what the Obama administration has done or is doing:
- It continues its drive to supply Turkey with the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter without so much as reporting to Congress the vulnerabilities of technology transfer should the fighters be supplied.
- It has agreed to provide Turkey with Predators, even as Turks suggest they want to develop their own version, again suggesting the Turks mean to reverse engineer the product we supply them.
- Now, Francis “Frank” Ricciardone, Obama’s recess appointee to be ambassador to Turkey, has announced the United States would provide Turkey with three Super Cobra helicopters, a platform that Turkey could easily turn against Cyprus or Israel.
The United States and Turkey will share military relations so long as Turkey remains a NATO member. However, maintenance of military relations does not mean the United States should supply Turkey with weaponry it might share with Iran or use against American allies. Turkey’s change is ideological; it is not a country the United States can co-opt. It’s time for Congress to tell the White House: enough is enough. No more cutting edge weaponry for Turkey.