It’s always risky when congressmen affix their names to organizations which sound both innocuous and harmless, because they seldom are. It used to be common practice, for example, for articulate and beautiful young ladies to ask congressmen (and European Union parliamentarians) to sign petitions calling for democracy or human rights in Iran. Few congressmen realized before it was too late that the sponsor of the petition was actually the Mujahedin al-Khalq, a creepy and authoritarian cult which at the time the United States still considered to be a terrorist organization.
Now, the same issue applies in a different way to Turkey: Take, for example, the 135 members of congress who count themselves as “members of Caucus on US Turkish Relations & Turkish Americans,” better known in Congress as the Turkey Caucus. The Turkish Coalition of America explains that the Turkey Caucus “is a bi-partisan platform for members of Congress to focus on US-Turkish relations and issues that concern Turkish Americans.” Now that sounds innocent enough and, indeed, as Turkey Caucus co-chair Gerry Connolly explained at a congressional hearing several years ago examining “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction,” Turkey hosts an American military base and the two countries cooperate in Afghanistan.
The problem is this: While congressmen like Connolly may believe they are signing up to the Turkey Caucus to celebrate bilateral cooperation, the Turkish government looks at the Turkey Caucus in a very different way. Namik Tan uses the Turkey Caucus membership numbers to suggest American officials support if not endorse Turkey’s policies. That might not be a problem if Turkey’s policies included support for NATO or support for freedom of the press. Alas, however, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s current policies include arbitrary arrests, police violence, launching tear gas into hotels and consulates, attacking the free press, launching anti-Semitic diatribes, and ordering the arrest of medical personnel. Perhaps men and women like Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)—to take four members at random—truly believe their membership encourages secularism and democracy. Or, more cynically, perhaps they enjoy the wining and dining Turkish authorities arrange on trips to Istanbul or Ankara as a reward for membership.
Either way, however, the price is not worth it. The Turkish government utilizes their names and faces to imply endorsement of noxious practices which the good men and women should condemn, not excuse. The White House may be relatively silent, but if the members of the Turkey Caucus truly believe in U.S.-Turkish relations, they should suspend if not resign their membership. They might still support partnership on a case-by-case basis, but no longer should they offer blanket support to Erdoğan’s government.