Commentary Magazine


Topic: Congressional Turkey Caucus

Congress Last Holdout to Break Turkey Embrace

Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

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Kudos to President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama entered office blind to the anti-democratic agenda that Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sought to impose on Turkey, even going so far as describing the Turkish strongman as among his most trusted friends. Never mind that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women skyrocketed. During a recent trip to Turkey, a female member of parliament waved off suggestions that the increased murder rate was simply because more people were reporting crimes; rather, she suggested, it was because Erdoğan’s constituents understood they could impose their savage notions of honor with impunity.

Turkish journalists and even former budget officials privately acknowledged and detailed how Erdoğan used Islamist backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to amass political slush funds, a practice I detailed here, and which history has proven correct. Erdoğan also reoriented Turkish foreign policy and society away from Europe and the West and into the Islamist world, a mission of which he placed Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in charge. It’s no coincidence that he appointed Davutoğlu to be his Medvedev now that Erdoğan is moving onto the presidency. At any rate, I’ve detailed Turkey’s change repeatedly in the pages of COMMENTARY, but I summarize most of them in this lecture delivered at the Chautauqua Institution last year.

Obama might be forgiven for not being aware of just how corrosive Erdoğan has been to Turkey’s democratic development and rule of law. After all, a succession of U.S. ambassadors to Turkey—Eric Edelman being a notable exception—had long carried water for Erdoğan. Had they acknowledged that Erdoğan wasn’t as progressive as they claimed, they might have condemned what they believed to be an enlightened notion of just what “moderate Islamism” could become. In recent months, many of these former ambassadors have gone silent, and some have even noticeably and publicly switched sides, for example by signing this letter. If they had previously defended Erdoğan publicly, their counsel to Obama and his aides was even more dismissive of the notion that Erdoğan was up to no good.

Well, that’s all past, it seems. As Erdoğan gears up for his presidential inauguration, the Turkish press notes the foreign dignitaries who will be attending:

Fifteen countries are to be represented at the level [of] president or heads of state, 6 countries at the level of parliament speaker, 12 countries at the level of prime ministers, 3 countries at level of vice presidents, 7 countries at the level of deputy prime ministers and around 40 countries at the level of ministers.

The highest American official? The chargé d’affaires at the embassy, a clear sign that the United States is not supportive of how Erdoğan acts and what his true agenda is.

Too bad that so many congressmen have not gotten the message, and still lend their names through their membership in the “Caucus on US Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans” (more often called simply the “Congressional Turkey Caucus”) to endorse a regime that supports Hamas, engages in anti-Semitic propaganda, allows international jihadists and perhaps even arms to cross unmolested into Syria, makes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attitude to the press look positively enlightened, and even lends assistance to Iranian sanctions-busting. Perhaps such positions could be expected of folks like Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a former member of the Nation of Islam and a cheerleader for more radical causes, or Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), who has flirted with groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations. But dozens of other congressmen should know better, and not allow themselves to be used by the Turkish government for its own propaganda purposes.

Congress so often takes the lead to seek to defend religious freedom, to ensure that the White House doesn’t subvert American national security in its rush to cement deals with regimes like Iran’s and Russia’s, and to try to prevent the State Department from allowing U.S. money to be used by terror-sponsoring groups. And yet when it comes to Turkey, it now trails behind even Obama and the State Department in recognizing just how destructive Turkey has become. It’s time to quit the Congressional Turkey Caucus; Istanbul is a lovely city, but the junkets membership allows do not enhance American security, diplomacy, and interests and are simply are not worth the price.

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Launching the Congressional Hellenic Caucus

According to JTA, the Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted the new Congressional Hellenic Caucus:

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Israeli ambassador in Washington hosted the launching of a new congressional grouping dedicated to improving Israeli-Greek-Cypriot ties. Attending the launch Wednesday were the co-chairmen of the newly established Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), as well as lawmakers including Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Greek-Cypriot-Israeli ties have become closer in recent years as tensions between all three nations and Turkey have intensified for varying reasons. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in his remarks at the dinner at his residence touted shared economic and strategic interests among Greece, Cyprus and Israel. 

The reception comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism—and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel—is a “crime against humanity.” In response to that statement, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States (and a former Turkish ambassador to Israel) said… Nothing. Requests by journalists for his reaction were ignored.

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According to JTA, the Israeli Embassy in Washington hosted the new Congressional Hellenic Caucus:

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Israeli ambassador in Washington hosted the launching of a new congressional grouping dedicated to improving Israeli-Greek-Cypriot ties. Attending the launch Wednesday were the co-chairmen of the newly established Hellenic-Israel Caucus, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), as well as lawmakers including Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Greek-Cypriot-Israeli ties have become closer in recent years as tensions between all three nations and Turkey have intensified for varying reasons. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in his remarks at the dinner at his residence touted shared economic and strategic interests among Greece, Cyprus and Israel. 

The reception comes against the backdrop of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s declaration that Zionism—and, by extension, the existence of the State of Israel—is a “crime against humanity.” In response to that statement, Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States (and a former Turkish ambassador to Israel) said… Nothing. Requests by journalists for his reaction were ignored.

As to the Congressional Turkey Caucus, chaired by Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Steven Cohen (D-TN), and Gerry Connolly (D-VA)? It has yet to issue any statement, although several members did enjoy a reception at the Turkish ambassador’s house. But there has apparently been no statement from the caucus about the recent actions of the Turkish government or the statements of its prime minister.

Congratulations to Representative Bilirakis and Deutch for starting this caucus. Realism requires the United States regularly assess its interests in the region and recognize that U.S. policy is ready for a recalibration. Neither caucus should be about a popularity contest between Greece and Cyprus on one hand, and Turkey on the other, but rather about how to strengthen U.S. national security. Let us hope, therefore, that the Hellenic Caucus will speak up should it ever need to react to provocations from Athens, in a way that the Turkey Caucus has never been willing to do.

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Erdoğan: Zionism “Crime Against Humanity”

Speaking at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Let’s put aside the fact that, when they argue for the criminalization of “Islamophobia,” Erdoğan and his fellow travelers seek to ban not discrimination against Muslims, but rather criticism of the more radical outliers of radical Islamism. Hence, pointing out that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent would be considered a hate crime. Erdoğan makes no secret of his antipathy of free speech: That is why the Turkish media has descended from relative openness to somewhere below Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Zimbabwe in terms of free press.

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Speaking at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared, “It is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Let’s put aside the fact that, when they argue for the criminalization of “Islamophobia,” Erdoğan and his fellow travelers seek to ban not discrimination against Muslims, but rather criticism of the more radical outliers of radical Islamism. Hence, pointing out that under Erdoğan, the murder rate of women in Turkey has increased 1,400 percent would be considered a hate crime. Erdoğan makes no secret of his antipathy of free speech: That is why the Turkish media has descended from relative openness to somewhere below Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Burma, and Zimbabwe in terms of free press.

Zionism is, simply put, a belief that the Jewish people have the right to an independent homeland in what is now Israel. One doesn’t need to like the Israeli government to be a Zionist, nor does Zionism have anything to do with supporting or opposing a two-state solution. (I am a Zionist who supports a two-state solution, for example, and I have little opinion on Israeli politicians or diplomats, as I neither study them nor interact with them). To be anti-Zionist, however, is to believe that Israel should cease to exist, to be eradicated. Declaring Israel and the Israeli people to be illegitimate is, simply put, the same as declaring that they should be expunged. This isn’t like Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990 and denying Kuwaitis an independent state because Saddam had declared Kuwait an Iraqi province, and therefore Kuwaitis to be Iraqis. He did not question their right to exist like Erdoğan does the Israelis.

Perhaps this explains Erdoğan’s embrace not of Palestinian statehood, but of Hamas—an organization dedicated to the eradication not only of Israel but also of Jews. It is why Erdoğan defended an aid who donated money to an al-Qaeda charity. It is why the new generation of Turkish diplomats who have arisen from religious seminaries, rather than the secular system which Erdoğan has tried to dismantle, have gone so far as to endorse al-Qaeda openly. Anti-Semitism runs deep in Turkey’s government and, increasingly, its diplomatic corps.

What does Erdoğan’s outburst mean for the United States? Given the UN secretary general’s silence in the face of Erdoğan’s attempts to take the United Nations back to its “Zionism is Racism” days, perhaps it’s time for President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to question their uncritical embrace of the United Nations. Obama has also listed Erdoğan as one of his top foreign friends. Perhaps the White House would care to explain that endorsement and upon what it is based? Kerry will be in Turkey tomorrow. It will be interesting to see whether he bothers to bring up incitement to genocide with his host. Most shameful, however, is the behavior of the U.S. Congress. As Erdoğan embraces Hamas and spews anti-Semitism, and as Turkish diplomats defend al-Qaeda, where are our congressmen? At the Turkish embassy, enjoying free food and giving the Turkish government a photo-op about which Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, can brag on his twitter account.

It is very important that the honorable men and women of the U.S. Congress know for what they are lending their names when they join groups like the Congressional Turkey Caucus.

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Will Turkey Expose NATO Secrets to China?

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

Turkey is currently considering bids to upgrade its air defense system. While a member of NATO since 1952, the Islamist leadership in Turkey has made clear it no longer sees itself bound by the responsibility to protect NATO secrets nor the Turkish leadership factor into its decisions NATO’s security requirements.

Should Turkey decide to go with the Russian S-300 or Chinese HQ-9 it will have two choices: either have its air defense system disconnected from systems involved in NATO, or perhaps betray NATO secrets. If Turkey will not commit to protect sensitive information impacting U.S. defense, it remains curious why the Obama administration seems intent to go ahead with a sale of the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey. Alas, as always, the Congressional Turkey Caucus remains silent.

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