The Congressional Turkish Caucus or, the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans as it is formally called, is one of the larger congressional groupings dedicated to the promotion of good relations with another country. Its 150 plus members represent 45 out of 50 American states, and support a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership.
Alas, as so often happens with such caucuses, the members are either asleep at the switch or forget that good relations must be two-way. In recent years, Turkey’s behavior has been problematic at best, but in recent weeks, its government’s behavior has again deteriorated. President Obama may count Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends, but it doesn’t seem to get the United States much. The marquee examples of the Turkish-American partnership are the Turkish agreement to host an anti-ballistic missile radar system on Turkish territory, and Turkey’s willingness to participate in the Afghanistan conflict.
There is less to both than meets the eye, however. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has suggested Turkey’s commitment to the U.S. anti-ballistic missile radar based in Turkey may only last two years. And, if one considers Turkey’s support for ethnic Uzbek Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and that perhaps as many Turks fight for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as part of the Taifetul Mansoura group as support the ISAF mission, then the whole is considerably less than the parts. Still, we should thank the Turks for their assistance, even if it is not as impressive as diplomats often discuss.
The Turkish leadership remains as anti-Semitic as ever, and in the last couple of weeks, Turkey has doubled down on policies which both undercut freedom of press at home, and its willingness to cooperate with its international commitments toward Iran. Take press freedom: According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Turkey now ranks behind Russia and Venezuela in terms of press freedom. So what does Erdoğan do? As his party writes a new constitution for Turkey, it includes provisions which further roll-back press freedom. Better that, Erdoğan figures, then put up with the annoying habit of journalists to question him or refuse to act as party public relations flak. The reaction from the Congressional Turkey Caucus? Silence.
Perhaps the most immediate national security strategy the United States now faces is the challenge posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hoping to avoid both an Iranian nuclear breakout and a military strike that will destabilize the region, Western countries have implemented a robust set of sanctions against the Iran oil trade, sanctions which Turkey says it hopes to comply, if only it is given some more time. Now word comes that rather than scale back its Iran trade (a trade which has increased more than ten-fold since Erdoğan came to power), Turkey has been bypassing sanctions on currency transactions by paying for Iranian oil with gold. The reaction from the Congressional Turkey Caucus? Silence.
Turkey is a lovely place to visit, and many congressmen like to spend their taxpayer-provided per diem in the fish restaurants of Istanbul, and in that cosmopolitan city’s five-star hotels. But, being a congressman shouldn’t just be about access to swank junkets; rather, it should be about using one’s position to further American strategic interests. Alas, rather than use their posts to encourage Turkey to act responsibly as both a partner and a democracy, the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus now blindly lend their support and endorsement to a government whose respect for civil liberties and whose foreign policy leaves much to be desired. Just as some former officials have sullied their name flacking for Venezuela and Libya, Caucus Co-Chairs Virginia Foxx (R-NC); Ed Whitfield (R-KY); Stephen Cohen (D-TN); and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) may soon find blind support for a country undermining U.S. security and disdainful of Western values has a price.