Commentary Magazine


Topic: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

What’s Motivating Erdoğan on Egypt?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the most outspoken international leader condemning the coup in Egypt and calling for the restoration of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Certainly, part of Erdoğan’s commitment to Morsi is ideological: Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party is, at its roots, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both share an ideological and religious agenda and hope to remake their societies fundamentally.

It would give Erdoğan too much credit to suggest his only motivation is religious. Erdoğan is no saint; he is vain, coarse, and has amassed an amazing amount of money far beyond his salary or religious alms. In the months before Morsi’s ouster, Turkish defense contractors cultivated Egypt. From Hürriyet Daily News:

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the most outspoken international leader condemning the coup in Egypt and calling for the restoration of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Certainly, part of Erdoğan’s commitment to Morsi is ideological: Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party is, at its roots, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both share an ideological and religious agenda and hope to remake their societies fundamentally.

It would give Erdoğan too much credit to suggest his only motivation is religious. Erdoğan is no saint; he is vain, coarse, and has amassed an amazing amount of money far beyond his salary or religious alms. In the months before Morsi’s ouster, Turkish defense contractors cultivated Egypt. From Hürriyet Daily News:

An Arab diplomat in Ankara said he expected “difficult times” in Turkish-Egyptian relations, which may disrupt economic relations too, unless Ankara and Cairo prefer to pursue a pragmatic line… In May Turkey granted Egypt a $250 million loan to finance Turkish-Egyptian joint defense projects. The loan, the first of its kind, intends to boost defense cooperation and Turkish defense exports to Egypt. Earlier, Egypt expressed an interest in buying the new ANKA Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles built by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). Egypt was one of the pioneers in unmanned aerial systems, fielding the Teledyne Ryan Model 324 Scarab high speed drone and SkyEye tactical UAVs since the early 1980s. The addition of a MALE platform will fulfill the gap offering better persistence, improved imagery and multi-payload capacity. The potential sale of six to 10 ANKA systems to Egypt was discussed during Erdoğan’s visit to Cairo last November… In a separate deal, Ankara had approved the sale to Egypt of six multi-role tactical platforms, MRTP-20 “fast-intervention crafts,” produced by the privately-owned shipyards Yonca-Onuk.

Erdoğan may be angry at the financial hit Turkey took in Egypt, but the episode should also be a wake-up call to the changing military balance in the Middle East. While the United States provides Turkey with high-end military platforms, Turkey has been building up a military industry which potentially can change the military balance in the region. The coup may have voided Turkish military contracts in Egypt, but it is an open question what Turkey has provided to Islamists in other Arab Spring countries.

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“I Thought So”: Of Turkey and Telekinesis

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following the path laid down by so many strongmen before him, has become so isolated from reality, surrounded by sycophants, and indulged in his own prejudices and fantasies that he is not only seeming increasingly mad, but down right unhinged: Think Muammar Gaddafi meets Vladimir Zhirinovsky meets Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The latest evidence? The increasing obsession of Erdoğan and those around him that his enemies are using telekinesis to destabilize Turkey. Here, for example is an article reporting on the Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board investigation into a recent spate of suicides at the Turkish military’s research and development arm:

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, following the path laid down by so many strongmen before him, has become so isolated from reality, surrounded by sycophants, and indulged in his own prejudices and fantasies that he is not only seeming increasingly mad, but down right unhinged: Think Muammar Gaddafi meets Vladimir Zhirinovsky meets Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The latest evidence? The increasing obsession of Erdoğan and those around him that his enemies are using telekinesis to destabilize Turkey. Here, for example is an article reporting on the Prime Ministry’s Inspection Board investigation into a recent spate of suicides at the Turkish military’s research and development arm:

The suspicious suicides of four engineers working at the Turkish corporation ASELSAN could have been caused by telekinesis, according to a report by the Turkish Prime Ministry Inspection Board. The report, presented to the Ankara Public Prosecutor in accordance with the ongoing investigation over the 2006-2007 suicides, claimed the victims could have been directed toward the suicides by way of telekinesis, citing the work done by neuropsychology expert Nevzat Tarhan.

As for those protests which stymied the prime minister’s plans to pave over one of central Istanbul’s last remaining green spaces? The answer, according to Erdoğan’s chief adviser, is telekinesis employed by Turkey’s enemies. And here’s that advisor, Yiğit Bulut, arguing on Turkish television that those nefarious Israelis are trying to kill Erdoğan with their mental powers.

On the count of three, we should all direct our telekinesis to Bulut himself. One, two, three: Oops, my horns keep getting in the way.

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Will Erdoğan End His Career in Prison?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may think he is riding high. Despite the recent Gezi protests, he remains popular among a large segment of society and, during his last election, he surpassed 50 percent of the vote. He may believe demography is on his side, for religious Anatolians upon whose support he relies have more babies than the more Europeanized, Mediterranean Turks who tourists falsely believe dominate the country based on interactions in historic districts of Istanbul and along the Mediterranean coast. Even though frustration with Erdoğan runs high throughout Turkey and anxiety about the true state of the Turkish economy has increased in recent months, the prime minister can take solace in the impotence of the opposition’s leadership.

Erdoğan at best sees himself as a combination between Russian President Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman sultan, and at worst has become unhinged. He appears above the law, shuttering opposition media willy-nilly to the point where Turkey now rests in the bottom 15 percent in world press freedom, behind such enemies of freedom as Russia, the Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and only just above Belarus and Egypt. The imprisonment of journalists, generals, and civil society activists has made a mockery of Turkish justice, making Midnight Express look like Turkish courts’ liberal, open, golden age. Erdoğan, who was imprisoned two decades ago for religious incitement, is far more interested in settling scores than he is in reforming or democratizing Turkey.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may think he is riding high. Despite the recent Gezi protests, he remains popular among a large segment of society and, during his last election, he surpassed 50 percent of the vote. He may believe demography is on his side, for religious Anatolians upon whose support he relies have more babies than the more Europeanized, Mediterranean Turks who tourists falsely believe dominate the country based on interactions in historic districts of Istanbul and along the Mediterranean coast. Even though frustration with Erdoğan runs high throughout Turkey and anxiety about the true state of the Turkish economy has increased in recent months, the prime minister can take solace in the impotence of the opposition’s leadership.

Erdoğan at best sees himself as a combination between Russian President Vladimir Putin and an Ottoman sultan, and at worst has become unhinged. He appears above the law, shuttering opposition media willy-nilly to the point where Turkey now rests in the bottom 15 percent in world press freedom, behind such enemies of freedom as Russia, the Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela, and only just above Belarus and Egypt. The imprisonment of journalists, generals, and civil society activists has made a mockery of Turkish justice, making Midnight Express look like Turkish courts’ liberal, open, golden age. Erdoğan, who was imprisoned two decades ago for religious incitement, is far more interested in settling scores than he is in reforming or democratizing Turkey.

The problem is few Turkish leaders are as secure as they come to believe. By imprisoning journalists, opposition parliamentarians, and generals for little more than their belief in secularism and Western-style liberalism, Erdoğan is creating a precedent for his own future. Erdoğan—and, according to U.S. diplomatic documents, some of his top cronies like Egemen Bağış and Cuneyt Zapsu—are corrupt; Erdoğan himself has more than a dozen suspended corruption probes against him that, theoretically, will restart once he loses his immunity.

Many of those sentenced to prison on trumped-up charges and conspiracies will not likely end their lives or careers in prison, even if their immediate situation appears dire. Sometimes, the sultan wears no clothes. Unfortunately for Erdoğan, he has paved the way for his new set to be a prison uniform, probably sooner than he realizes.

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The Madness of King Erdogan

Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Hamas to Istanbul in 2006, shortly after the Islamist terrorist organization won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, Israel-Turkey relations have deteriorated.

Erdogan has repeatedly exploited the Palestinian issue to score propaganda points both at home and with Arab and Muslim audiences and has sacrificed a strategic alliance over his pride, especially after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in late 2008 and the Mavi Marmara affair. Why Erdogan would take cheap shots at Israel has been repeatedly discussed here and elsewhere and needs not be rehashed.

But as his vicious rhetoric increasingly flirted with anti-Israel language, there was little opposition inside Turkey to this aspect of Erdogan’s boisterous style on the international stage. Even when he brought his personal animus to a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres, whom he abruptly abandoned on stage in Davos, or when he sought revenge against Israel at NATO by seeking to exclude Israel from NATO-Mediterranean dialogue programs, or when he set up a kangaroo court against Israeli military personnel in Istanbul, few dared label this trend for what it was: political insanity and a self-inflicted wound.

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Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited Hamas to Istanbul in 2006, shortly after the Islamist terrorist organization won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority, Israel-Turkey relations have deteriorated.

Erdogan has repeatedly exploited the Palestinian issue to score propaganda points both at home and with Arab and Muslim audiences and has sacrificed a strategic alliance over his pride, especially after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in late 2008 and the Mavi Marmara affair. Why Erdogan would take cheap shots at Israel has been repeatedly discussed here and elsewhere and needs not be rehashed.

But as his vicious rhetoric increasingly flirted with anti-Israel language, there was little opposition inside Turkey to this aspect of Erdogan’s boisterous style on the international stage. Even when he brought his personal animus to a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres, whom he abruptly abandoned on stage in Davos, or when he sought revenge against Israel at NATO by seeking to exclude Israel from NATO-Mediterranean dialogue programs, or when he set up a kangaroo court against Israeli military personnel in Istanbul, few dared label this trend for what it was: political insanity and a self-inflicted wound.

As if one could act irrationally on one front while being reasonable on all other fronts, Turkish society continued to back Erdogan. After all, his regional policies appeared briefly to pay dividends–Turkey’s economy was booming, trade with Iran was booming, relations with Syria were thawing, and popularity across the Arab world for standing up to Israel gave Turkey the brief illusion it could regain its role of regional guide it lost at the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Madness, unfortunately, cannot be compartmentalized. Erdogan’s latest outburst–in which he, as Michael Rubin pointed out, accused Israel of being behind Egypt’s military coup while citing as the only evidence a public conversation between French intellectual Bernard Henri-Levy and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni from two years ago (when she actually was in opposition)–is the acne of a conspiratorial mind that has lost touch with reality. So was, incidentally, the incessant, obsessive accusation, voiced by Erdogan and some of his ministers back in June, that the Gezi Park protests were orchestrated by foreign agents.

Turks should open their eyes to the fact that Erdogan’s obsession with conspiracies are a reflection of a man who is incapable of seeing reality in the eyes–and the increasingly disastrous foreign-policy outcomes of his decisions are one with this mindset, to say nothing of the harm he has inflicted on Turkish democratic standards. Turkey’s decision to flirt with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, support Islamist rebels in Syria, throw the strategic relation with Israel to the dogs, and increase tensions over Cyprus are all backfiring.

It was easy to dismiss his anti-Israel posture as clever or eccentric when Turkey’s foreign policy appeared set to conquer one success after another. Now that it is all ending in failure, maybe Turkish society can see that a man who sees dark conspiracies everywhere will not serve his country well–and that the harm he did to the Israel-Turkey relationship is part and parcel of the damage he is causing to the country as a whole.

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Erdoğan’s Anti-Semitic Obsession

Presidents and diplomats have for decades described Turkey as a model. In 2004, for example, President George W. Bush stood before a crowd of journalists in Ankara and praised Turkey. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.” After the Arab Spring, politicians began to suggest that Turkey—with its supposed combination of Islam and democracy—might be a model for the Arab states in which Islamist parties sought for the first time to compete freely in elections.

Last week at the Chautauqua Institution, I gave a lengthy address suggesting that the notion of Turkey as a model for the Middle East was both wrong and dangerous, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a model in other ways: He has single-handedly shown how even Islamist leaders embraced in the West as the most moderate harbor noxious anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Almost two years ago, I wrote here about how Turkey was embracing the crudest anti-Semitism. Then, earlier this summer as Turks across the political spectrum rose up against Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, he lashed out at some mysterious “Interest Rate Lobby,” a not-too-subtle reference to international Jewry which Erdoğan believes controls the markets. Not to be outdone, he has now accused Jews of masterminding the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. That’s right: Those Jews control the Egyptian military.

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Presidents and diplomats have for decades described Turkey as a model. In 2004, for example, President George W. Bush stood before a crowd of journalists in Ankara and praised Turkey. “I appreciate so very much the example your country has set on how to be a Muslim country and at the same time a country which embraces democracy and rule of law and freedom.” After the Arab Spring, politicians began to suggest that Turkey—with its supposed combination of Islam and democracy—might be a model for the Arab states in which Islamist parties sought for the first time to compete freely in elections.

Last week at the Chautauqua Institution, I gave a lengthy address suggesting that the notion of Turkey as a model for the Middle East was both wrong and dangerous, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a model in other ways: He has single-handedly shown how even Islamist leaders embraced in the West as the most moderate harbor noxious anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Almost two years ago, I wrote here about how Turkey was embracing the crudest anti-Semitism. Then, earlier this summer as Turks across the political spectrum rose up against Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, he lashed out at some mysterious “Interest Rate Lobby,” a not-too-subtle reference to international Jewry which Erdoğan believes controls the markets. Not to be outdone, he has now accused Jews of masterminding the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. That’s right: Those Jews control the Egyptian military.

Let’s be blunt: If Erdoğan is a model, then he is a model for bigotry. Turkey has an anti-Semitism problem, and it is personified by its leader. Any of those who still seek to embrace Erdoğan or see him as a friend through whom the United States can work are effectively endorsing a worldview that is little different from Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi.

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Shameful Nobel Laureate

When Islamist radicals in Pakistan’s tribal territories shot 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai, the world condemned the senseless act of terrorism. The Pakistani Taliban had, like the Chechen Islamists who massacred children in Beslan nearly a decade ago, simply miscalculated that even those prone to support extremists and terrorists draw the line at targeting children (or, at least non-Jewish children).

In the wake of the assassination attempt on the young advocate for girls’ education, there was one so-called peace activist who was noticeably silent: 2011 Nobel Laureate Tawakkul Karman. Karman was selected not only because she was a Yemeni political activist—rising up courageously to challenge the dictatorship of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh—but also because she was affiliated with a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. The head of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee told the Associated Press, “Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.’ He added that ‘I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.’”

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When Islamist radicals in Pakistan’s tribal territories shot 14-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai, the world condemned the senseless act of terrorism. The Pakistani Taliban had, like the Chechen Islamists who massacred children in Beslan nearly a decade ago, simply miscalculated that even those prone to support extremists and terrorists draw the line at targeting children (or, at least non-Jewish children).

In the wake of the assassination attempt on the young advocate for girls’ education, there was one so-called peace activist who was noticeably silent: 2011 Nobel Laureate Tawakkul Karman. Karman was selected not only because she was a Yemeni political activist—rising up courageously to challenge the dictatorship of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh—but also because she was affiliated with a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. The head of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee told the Associated Press, “Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.’ He added that ‘I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.’”

Karman did not hesitate, however, to condemn the Egyptian government’s crackdown in Cairo—even before the recent violence. She found no time to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood’s targeting of Christians or ousted President Mohamed Morsi’s abuse of power, but violence perpetrated against Islamists was, for the Nobel Laureate, another thing entirely.

Herein lies the problem: For too many affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates, there exists different standards for Islamists and for non-Islamists. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—himself leading a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group—famously exculpated indicted war criminal Omar Al-Bashir because the Koran cleared the Sudanese Islamist president. Karman delegitimized herself when she refused to speak up for an innocent school girl targeted by militant Islamists. If she wants us to believe she is an honest broker and carries any weight in her support for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood now, she should be quickly disabused of that notion.

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The Peace Process’s Turkey Problem

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.

Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.

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As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.

Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.

While visiting Israel in March, Obama personally twisted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arm to get him to apologize and pay compensation for Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Since the flotilla sought to break a blockade that even the UN recognizes as legal, and since the Turkish casualties occurred only because an “organized and violent” group of Turks attacked Israel’s boarding party with “iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots” (to quote the UN’s report on the incident), wounding several soldiers and capturing and abusing three, most Israelis considered an apology unwarranted: The soldiers opened fire only in self-defense. Nevertheless, Netanyahu agreed, even making the telephoned apology in Obama’s presence.

In exchange, Turkey was supposed to return its ambassador to Israel, end its show-trials (in absentia) of senior Israeli officials, and otherwise restore normal relations. Five months later, not only has none of this happened, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made clear last month that it never will, because Turkey has appended two new conditions that weren’t part of the deal: Israel must agree that it committed a “wrongful act” (in the original apology, whose wording was carefully negotiated, Israel acknowledged operational errors but not legal wrongdoing), and it must end the Gaza blockade.

Yet Obama hasn’t breathed a word of criticism for this new Turkish stance, much less exerted any pressure on his good friend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep his side of the bargain. So Israel made concessions upfront, the other side pocketed them and then reneged on the promised quid pro quo, and Obama didn’t utter a peep. That hardly encourages Israel to do the same on the Palestinian front.

Clearly, this isn’t the first time Obama has broken a promise to Israel. He reneged on his predecessor’s oral agreement to let Israel continue building in the settlement blocs, outraging even leftists like Haaretz editor Aluf Benn by denying the agreement’s very existence; he reneged on his predecessor’s written promise that any Israeli-Palestinian deal must leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders”–a promise Israel paid for by vacating every last inch of Gaza and evicting every last settler–instead publicly declaring that the border must be based on the indefensible 1967 lines; and he reneged on UN Resolution 242, which also promised Israel both defensible borders and the right to keep some of the territory captured in 1967, thereby abandoning the position of every U.S. government since 1967. All this taught Israelis that his successors might similarly scrap any promises he makes Israel today.

But in the Turkey case, he’s shown that he won’t even uphold his own promises to Israel. And that makes the conclusion inescapable: Any cession of real security assets like territory in exchange for American guarantees is a losing proposition for Israel.

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Rally Shows Erdoğan Doesn’t Get It

At a rally in Germany, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism minister Ömer Çelik sought to rally the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) masses:

“You brought the AKP [Justice and Development Party] to power in 2002 to establish your will and your vision. We have gone through junta plots and assassination plots against the AKP. But we all know: First God, then comes the nation,” Çelik said

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At a rally in Germany, Turkey’s Culture and Tourism minister Ömer Çelik sought to rally the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) masses:

“You brought the AKP [Justice and Development Party] to power in 2002 to establish your will and your vision. We have gone through junta plots and assassination plots against the AKP. But we all know: First God, then comes the nation,” Çelik said

There certainly is more to the story than the newspaper lets on. Germany castigated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of his brutal and extra-legal crackdown on protestors in Gezi Park, a crackdown which continues to this day. Eighty thousand Turks rallied in Germany against Erdoğan, an important sign of how Turks feel considering Turks in Germany tend to be more religious than many of their counterparts inside Turkey. Erdoğan, true to his character, was defiant.

Erdoğan addressed the rally by video in which Çelik spoke. The implication of the rally was clear on a number of levels:

  • First, make no mistake: The AKP might embraces the wrappings of democracy, but it disdains any system which puts people above God.
  • Second, Erdoğan and senior AKP officials have on numerous occasions urged Turks not to assimilate into Europe. By rallying his supporters inside Germany, he is subtly warning German authorities that, should they not change their posture to him, he can mobilize his masses in other ways. The Germans may not want to admit that, but it is Erdoğan’s clear intention.
  • Lastly, it’s time to put any hope that peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) will succeed. The AKP may believe they can overcome national animosity by putting Islam above nationalism, but there’s no indication that the Kurds are willing to stop embracing nationalism as their chief identity.

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Erdoğan’s Disdain Extends from Jews to Blacks

Every Tuesday, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses his Justice and Development Party (AKP) cohorts. Speaking before a friendly audience, he often lets his guard down and lets the real Erdoğan shine through. Alas, increasingly it’s apparent that the real Erdoğan is not only an anti-Semite—ranting and raving about Jews or some amorphous “interest rate lobby”—but also a racist.

Criticizing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the center-left and secular Republican Peoples Party (CHP), Erdoğan declared, “Kılıçdaroğlu is striving every bit he can to raise himself from the level of a black person to the level of a white man.” The Turkish word—ZenciErdoğan used is often used in a derogatory way.

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Every Tuesday, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses his Justice and Development Party (AKP) cohorts. Speaking before a friendly audience, he often lets his guard down and lets the real Erdoğan shine through. Alas, increasingly it’s apparent that the real Erdoğan is not only an anti-Semite—ranting and raving about Jews or some amorphous “interest rate lobby”—but also a racist.

Criticizing Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the center-left and secular Republican Peoples Party (CHP), Erdoğan declared, “Kılıçdaroğlu is striving every bit he can to raise himself from the level of a black person to the level of a white man.” The Turkish word—ZenciErdoğan used is often used in a derogatory way.

President Obama has described Erdoğan as one of the few leaders with whom he has developed bonds of trust. On a policy level, Erdoğan has worked to undercut sanctions on Iran and has embraced groups like Hamas and Hezbollah designated by the U.S. government to be terrorists. On a personal level, he has exposed himself as an anti-Semite and now a racist. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to explain just what he sees in the Turkish premier. And perhaps it’s time for the Congressional Turkey Caucus—several members of which are also in the Congressional Black Caucus—to ask Erdoğan just what he meant when he described his chief political opponent in decidedly racist tones.

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Time for U.S. Jews to Take Action on Turkey

Two recent comments by Turks encapsulate everything that’s wrong with Washington’s Turkey policy. One is Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay’s astounding accusation yesterday that the “Jewish diaspora” is behind last month’s massive anti-government protests. The other is a protester’s tweet quoted by Istanbul-based journalist Claire Berlinski: “Let me take this opportunity to thank Erdoğan’s international cheerleaders for the monster they’ve co-created.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has many international cheerleaders, but the biggest has long been President Barack Obama, who famously declared him one of the five world leaders he trusted most. Obama repeatedly touted Erdogan as a positive force in the Middle East and an exemplar of how to combine Islam and democracy.

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Two recent comments by Turks encapsulate everything that’s wrong with Washington’s Turkey policy. One is Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay’s astounding accusation yesterday that the “Jewish diaspora” is behind last month’s massive anti-government protests. The other is a protester’s tweet quoted by Istanbul-based journalist Claire Berlinski: “Let me take this opportunity to thank Erdoğan’s international cheerleaders for the monster they’ve co-created.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has many international cheerleaders, but the biggest has long been President Barack Obama, who famously declared him one of the five world leaders he trusted most. Obama repeatedly touted Erdogan as a positive force in the Middle East and an exemplar of how to combine Islam and democracy.

This was always fatuous: Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists are neither a positive force in the Middle East nor an exemplar of democracy, and Erdogan’s government routinely spouts anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bile. But as Atalay’s comment shows, the chickens are now coming home to roost: Lest anyone has forgotten, the largest Jewish Diaspora by far is in America. In other words, Ankara’s newest conspiracy theory is primarily aimed at U.S. citizens.

This is a well-known historical pattern: Anti-Jewish animus always expands to new targets if left unchecked. Thus by giving the Erdogan government’s venom a pass and praising the premier lavishly, U.S. policymakers simply encouraged the poison to spread. Now, Erdogan is biting the very hands that fed him, turning not just on U.S. citizens–and specifically some of Obama’s strongest supporters–but on the international media (which also numbered among his cheerleaders until recently) and various unspecified foreign governments that Ankara sees as part of the conspiracy.

Moreover, by encouraging these excesses, Washington alienated the many ordinary Turks who oppose their premier’s less lovable traits, and especially his growing authoritarianism: Not only does Erdogan’s government lead the world in jailing journalists; it just suppressed peaceful protests so brutally that more than 7,000 people were wounded, many seriously, along with four killed.

As the abovementioned tweet shows, most Turks believe this violence was enabled by Erdogan’s “international cheerleaders,” who led him to believe that anything he did would get a free pass. And as Berlinski noted, his Turkish victims won’t soon forgive America for this–meaning this policy has done incalculable damage to America’s long-term interests.

But while the protests forced many journalists and governments to finally recognize the truth about Erdogan, there’s been one glaring exception: America. As Berlinski noted elsewhere, other embassies in Turkey tweeted regularly about the protests, but the U.S. mission stuck to fatuous irrelevancies like “#SecKerry‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ on #LGBT‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ Pride Month: No matter where you are, and no matter who you love, we stand with you.” Worse, at the height of the crackdown, U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone even lavished praise on Erdogan’s government, declaring, “There is no difference between us and the government of Turkey” regarding “the principles that we share of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly” (if that were true, American citizens should worry).

The message was clear: As far as the leader of the free world is concerned, Erdogan still has a free pass: His government is free to continue using massive violence against his own citizens, and free to spout anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against American citizens.

This should be a wake-up call for American Jews: They haven’t been trying to foment protests in Turkey, but it’s high time for them to start doing so in America. By pressuring the president they helped elect to finally stop encouraging Erdogan’s excesses, they would serve the long-term interests of America, Turkey and Jews everywhere. It’s hard to think of a bigger win-win than that.

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Awarding Olympics to Istanbul Would Discourage Reform

I have written before about the International Olympic Committee’s fast approaching decision about which city to award the 2020 Summer Olympics. There are three finalists: Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo. At the core of my initial criticism was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was framing Turkey’s right to host the Olympics in terms of religion: Turkey would be the first Muslim-majority country to host the games. That would have set a negative precedent in which religious quotas rather than other host qualities become a predominant factor. Regardless, the point should be moot for other reasons: Dubai is the front runner for 2024 and is also majority Muslim, but unlike Turkey, its ruler has not framed the city’s bid in religion.

I also admittedly have been cynical about Erdoğan’s broader motivation: according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, the prime minister has used his position to amass great wealth. The billions in construction contracts that would accompany an Istanbul Olympics could propel Erdoğan—a man who already has more than a dozen corruption cases against him—into the ranks of the world’s richest man.

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I have written before about the International Olympic Committee’s fast approaching decision about which city to award the 2020 Summer Olympics. There are three finalists: Istanbul, Madrid, and Tokyo. At the core of my initial criticism was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was framing Turkey’s right to host the Olympics in terms of religion: Turkey would be the first Muslim-majority country to host the games. That would have set a negative precedent in which religious quotas rather than other host qualities become a predominant factor. Regardless, the point should be moot for other reasons: Dubai is the front runner for 2024 and is also majority Muslim, but unlike Turkey, its ruler has not framed the city’s bid in religion.

I also admittedly have been cynical about Erdoğan’s broader motivation: according to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, the prime minister has used his position to amass great wealth. The billions in construction contracts that would accompany an Istanbul Olympics could propel Erdoğan—a man who already has more than a dozen corruption cases against him—into the ranks of the world’s richest man.

When I criticized Istanbul’s case, however, on Erdoğan’s illiberal policies, correspondents pointed out that the International Olympic Committee has never associated the hosting of the Olympics with an endorsement of any particular country’s human rights situation. That’s true historically, as the 1936 Berlin, 1980 Moscow, and 2008 Beijing games demonstrate, and it is also the case with regard to the 2014 Sochi winter games and the Dubai 2024 bid. But in the post-Cold War era, there has also been an undercurrent that the Olympics might improve society or encourage continued liberalization. That certainly was a factor in the Beijing award.

Alas, as the IOC’s September 2013 decision looms about the 2020 Games, they should recognize that, in the aftermath of the Gezi Park protests, confirming the 2020 Olympics on Istanbul could do serious harm to Turkey. Rather than recognize that the protests are largely a reaction to his own autocratic style, Erdoğan has doubled down on both his own intolerance, endorsement of police brutality, and bizarre anti-Semitic conspiracies. No longer, it seems, is the “Interest Rate Lobby,” as Erdoğan now labels his imagined Jewish conspiracy, just targeting Turkey. Rather, it has Brazil in its sites as well. Nor are the Jews the only conspirators with which Erdoğan now obsesses: On August 5, a judiciary whose independence Erdoğan has eroded will render judgment against dozens of former military officers, journalists, and other officials whom Erdoğan has patched together in a convoluted conspiracy that doesn’t pass the most basic of smell tests. To cap it off, rather than investigate the police abuse which helped sparked Turkey’s recent unrest, Erdoğan has endorsed it.

Turkey is in a fragile state: The Gezi protests have exposed long-simmering fissures which will only worsen if Erdoğan can use the 2020 Olympics as his excuse to bulldoze over political opponents and civil society. Nor are the Kurdish peace talks going well. While Turks celebrated a peace process announced with the long-outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) just two days before the International Olympic Committee’s official visit to Istanbul, both Turks and Kurds are beginning to recognize that the agreement was not just for the PKK to lay down its arms, but that the PKK seeks equally momentous decisions on Turkey’s end, including the release of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and eventual confederation between Turks and Kurds inside Turkey. If the Turks are not prepared to meet such demands, violence could return to Turkey in the run-up to the Olympics. Istanbul, after all, is now the city with the largest Kurdish population in the world.

Someday Istanbul will host the Olympics, and it will do so with a charm and a friendliness that few other cosmopolitan cities can match. That day cannot come during Erdoğan’s tenure, however, for should the International Olympic Committee choose Istanbul when they meet in Buenos Aires on September 7, they will ensure that the 2020 Olympics will be associated with strife, not celebration.

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AJCongress Must Revoke Erdoğan’s Award

On January 26, 2004, the American Jewish Congress presented Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with its “Profiles of Courage” award for promoting peace between cultures. In a press release, the AJC reported:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday told the American Jewish Congress that Turkey will stand firm to eradicate terrorism worldwide, offers security to its Jewish citizens, and will work to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Nothing could be farther from reality. Erdoğan has become Hamas’s leading cheerleader, a promoter of terrorism, and a force for instability in the region. It should have been clear at the time, however, that Erdoğan was insincere. After all, Erdoğan already had a history of embracing rabid anti-Semitism and harboring conspiracy theories during his tenure as Istanbul’s mayor.

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On January 26, 2004, the American Jewish Congress presented Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with its “Profiles of Courage” award for promoting peace between cultures. In a press release, the AJC reported:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday told the American Jewish Congress that Turkey will stand firm to eradicate terrorism worldwide, offers security to its Jewish citizens, and will work to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Nothing could be farther from reality. Erdoğan has become Hamas’s leading cheerleader, a promoter of terrorism, and a force for instability in the region. It should have been clear at the time, however, that Erdoğan was insincere. After all, Erdoğan already had a history of embracing rabid anti-Semitism and harboring conspiracy theories during his tenure as Istanbul’s mayor.

The fact that Erdoğan filters everything through a religious lens became clear to me in 2005. After I had published an article about Erdoğan’s shady finances, a Turkish Jewish businessman in Istanbul contacted a Turkish Jew in Washington to tell me that Erdoğan was upset. I responded that if Erdoğan was upset, he might contact the Turkish embassy and have them, in turn, contact me care of the American Enterprise Institute. That Erdoğan thought that the proper way to do business was through religious channels, and that he saw American Jews as Jewish first and not as “real Americans,” quickly became clear in subsequent conversations. Alas, Erdoğan is not alone among Turkish officials and senior diplomats who, even if not sincere in their religious bias, certainly understand that the way to get ahead during Erdoğan’s tenure is at best to be silent and at worst try to outdo each other in their theories about world Jewry, dual loyalty, and the like.

Some in American Jewish organizations may take solace in the fact that Turkey was not historically anti-Semitic. Indeed, the basis of the Turks’ historical warm attitude toward Jews had to do with the fact that during the Ottoman Empire, Jews did not rebel the way so many others did. A little known fact about World War I was that so many Turkish Jews fought at Gallipoli, as the bulk of the Ottoman army was fighting the Russians on the eastern front when the ANZAC offensive began. Incitement takes its toll, however. President Barack Obama may toast Erdoğan, and the 135 members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus may run interference for Turkey’s worst excesses, but a decade of constant media incitement by Erdoğan’s state-controlled television and Erdoğan-endorsed film companies has, effectively, wiped out centuries of tolerance that Turkey has exhibited toward Jews, if not Armenians, Kurds, and others.

In recent weeks, Erdoğan has doubled down on bigotry. This culminated last week when the newspaper he uses as his proxy accused yours truly and the American Enterprise Institute of fabricating an elaborate plot culminating in the Istanbul protests. Never mind that the story is false. To Erdoğan and his followers, the Jews are like the Borg from Star Trek, all interconnected and occasionally ensnaring non-Jews like Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Ambassador John Bolton in our nefarious plots.

Now, it’s perhaps a bit too much to expect that the White House would ever condemn such nonsense outright, even if anti-Semitism is often the canary in the coal mine warning of far greater problems. Nor should anyone ever expect the State Department to stand on the side of moral clarity, as Ambassador Francis Ricciardone’s statement made clear to all those Turks on the receiving end of police abuse and, alas, the new generation of Turks.

Perhaps the lesson for the American Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations should be this: Base awards on lifetime achievement, not only wishful thinking. The risk of bestowing legitimacy on platforms that run contrary to the AJCongress’ mission is otherwise too great. The AJCongress’ award to Erdoğan not only did not stop Erdoğan’s anti-Semitism, but rather it for too long provided cover for it. Perhaps the organization can now mitigate the damage it has caused—and also deflate Erdoğan’s buffoonery—by publicly revoking its award.

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Could Turkey Fall Below Iran in Press Freedom?

Even before the current protests, Turkey was already “the world’s largest prison for journalists,” its press freedom ranking had plummeted, falling below even Russia, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Burma. Since the protests erupted, however, Turkish authorities have grown increasingly aggressive toward the press. Not only have foreign journalists been attacked, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned his animus toward twitter, declaring the 140-character social network site to be “a menace to society.”

While I’ve written before about how Erdoğan has been confiscating television stations and media companies—including sending his Brownshirts to do the job as he stood next to President Obama in the Rose Garden last month—he appears intent to actually accelerate efforts to close any media companies that dare report critically about him, his increasingly unstable personality, or the brutal crackdown that Erdoğan appears ready to make the new normal.

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Even before the current protests, Turkey was already “the world’s largest prison for journalists,” its press freedom ranking had plummeted, falling below even Russia, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Burma. Since the protests erupted, however, Turkish authorities have grown increasingly aggressive toward the press. Not only have foreign journalists been attacked, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned his animus toward twitter, declaring the 140-character social network site to be “a menace to society.”

While I’ve written before about how Erdoğan has been confiscating television stations and media companies—including sending his Brownshirts to do the job as he stood next to President Obama in the Rose Garden last month—he appears intent to actually accelerate efforts to close any media companies that dare report critically about him, his increasingly unstable personality, or the brutal crackdown that Erdoğan appears ready to make the new normal.

He has, for example, used the media commission he controls to level outrageous fines against channels which reported events in Taksim Square or elsewhere as they were occurring. No longer is the sultan content to simply limit his jihad to Bart Simpson. The logic for the government fines was that the television channels showed violence which could harm children. The irony, of course, is that the violence was occurring on the street outside their homes, and children were breathing the gas that Erdoğan ordered fired. Fortunately, for those kids, Turkey has nearly exhausted its supply of tear gas, having fired well over 120,000 canisters, although the Turkish government has issued an emergency tender for 100,000 new gas canisters.

Now Turkish diplomats will insist that Turkey has a free press, and that is true so long as freedom is defined as being free to report all the news that Erdoğan approves and nothing more.

The question now, of course, is whether it is possible for Erdoğan to drive Turkey even lower in international press freedom rankings. It seems the answer is, unfortunately, yes. It is quite possible that, in the coming year, Turkey could find itself ranked below even Belarus, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Turkey will likely remain above Iran… for now. But after a few more years of Erdoğan, who knows? Erdoğan, however, will not care. His priority—it should be clear—is fealty to the sultan, not freedom or democracy.

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Why Do 135 Congressmen Endorse Turkey’s Crackdown?

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.

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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.

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Turkey’s Terrorism Confusion

One of the bedrocks of the U.S.-Turkey partnership has been U.S. provision of so-called counter-terrorism assistance to Turkey. In theory, the counter-terrorism assistance is meant to allow Turkey to counter its Kurdish insurgency, long led by the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK. However, for the past three months, the Turkish government and PKK have been in active peace talks and the truce between them has held.

I have written before about how a lack of a universal definition of what terrorism is hampers the fight against it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will label the PKK as terrorists, but somehow say that Hamas is not a terrorist group. Indeed, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer pointed out, Erdoğan took time out from managing the state response to protests by liberals, secularists, trade unionists, educators, and others to meet with senior Hamas leaders today.

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One of the bedrocks of the U.S.-Turkey partnership has been U.S. provision of so-called counter-terrorism assistance to Turkey. In theory, the counter-terrorism assistance is meant to allow Turkey to counter its Kurdish insurgency, long led by the Kurdistan Workers Party, better known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK. However, for the past three months, the Turkish government and PKK have been in active peace talks and the truce between them has held.

I have written before about how a lack of a universal definition of what terrorism is hampers the fight against it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will label the PKK as terrorists, but somehow say that Hamas is not a terrorist group. Indeed, as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer pointed out, Erdoğan took time out from managing the state response to protests by liberals, secularists, trade unionists, educators, and others to meet with senior Hamas leaders today.

The problem has become even more striking in Turkey today. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s minister for European Union affairs and a close Erdoğan aide, has said that anyone who protests against the government in Taksim Square should be considered terrorists.

It is clear that Erdoğan’s definition of “terrorist” has less to do with violence and true terrorism and more to do with political opposition to him personally. As such, the provision of any lethal assistance or other counter-terrorism aid, such as provision of drones to Turkey, is inappropriate and should be stopped. The damage to U.S. policy of appearing to side with Erdoğan’s crackdown is simply too great, and against U.S. interests.

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Obama’s Turkish Crucible

Turkish police stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul tonight, clearing the park of protesters in a brutal show of force. For those who hadn’t quite gotten the message that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had adopted authoritarian methods, the images of the massive use of force against peaceful demonstrators illustrates the way the Islamist government was prepared to suppress dissent. Erdoğan’s arrogant dismissal of criticism and willingness to both attack and delegitimize anyone who dares stand up against him may seem fairly familiar to those who have followed the protests that swept through the Middle East in recent years. But unlike previous chapters of this saga, this Turkish Spring is generating a confused as well as equivocal response from Washington.

We’ve previously noted the way the Turkish protests have highlighted President Obama’s hypocritical and often selective support for freedom abroad. While Obama pushed hard to force Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak out of power, his silence about the effort to stop Erdoğan’s culture war aimed at completing the Islamicization of Turkey has been conspicuous as well as ominous. But the difference between the two situations only highlights the importance of the administration’s willingness to give Obama’s friend Erdoğan a pass for his authoritarian behavior.

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Turkish police stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul tonight, clearing the park of protesters in a brutal show of force. For those who hadn’t quite gotten the message that the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had adopted authoritarian methods, the images of the massive use of force against peaceful demonstrators illustrates the way the Islamist government was prepared to suppress dissent. Erdoğan’s arrogant dismissal of criticism and willingness to both attack and delegitimize anyone who dares stand up against him may seem fairly familiar to those who have followed the protests that swept through the Middle East in recent years. But unlike previous chapters of this saga, this Turkish Spring is generating a confused as well as equivocal response from Washington.

We’ve previously noted the way the Turkish protests have highlighted President Obama’s hypocritical and often selective support for freedom abroad. While Obama pushed hard to force Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak out of power, his silence about the effort to stop Erdoğan’s culture war aimed at completing the Islamicization of Turkey has been conspicuous as well as ominous. But the difference between the two situations only highlights the importance of the administration’s willingness to give Obama’s friend Erdoğan a pass for his authoritarian behavior.

Obama has been blamed for Mubarak’s fall, but that conclusion was always more of a myth than anything else. Though the president could be said to have administered the coup de grace to the longtime dictator and U.S. ally when he pushed for his exit, Mubarak’s regime was doomed no matter what Washington did or didn’t do during his last days in power. Despite his desire to claim some influence on the Arab Spring, both the president and the United States were largely marginalized throughout the last two years in Egypt and events elsewhere in the region. Yet though Obama has sought to stay out of the drama unfolding in Turkey, he actually plays a far more important role there.

President Obama has claimed that Erdoğan is among his best friends in the ranks of fellow international leaders. The Turkish prime minister has reciprocated the president’s affection and, as the Associated Press noted today, Obama is understood to be the one foreign counterpart that has any influence on Erdoğan. That impact of that influence has been exaggerated as the so-called rapprochement Obama brokered between Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has not restored the old alliance between those two nations or in any way ameliorated the campaign of hate Turkey has been waging against Israel. So far it seems that the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has been a one-sided affair, with Obama getting very little from his friend.

But this is the moment when Obama can redeem himself. Having posed as a friend of freedom for the past two years while actually facilitating the rise to power of Erdoğan’s Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt, the president can speak up at a crucial moment when Turkey’s future is still hanging in the balance.

Absent an American switch to a stance of vocal opposition to Erdoğan’s repressive tactics and bold imposition of Islam on a heretofore-secular nation, Turkey’s ultimate fate is not in doubt. Though Erdoğan was democratically elected, his policies to suppress freedom of the press and discourage opposition are making that distinction meaningless. If left unchecked, more than a historic park will be demolished by the time the prime minister is through. While it is true the U.S. is counting on Erdoğan to counter-balance the influence of Iran in the region, the conversion of this NATO ally into an Islamist state is a threat to American influence as well as the freedom of Turkey.

President Obama must understand that while speaking up against Erdoğan will not be without cost, keeping silent will be even more costly. Erdoğan’s Turkey is no role model for the region. American credibility is on the line in the wait for Obama to speak out on Turkey. If he keeps silent, neither the Turks who suffer under Erdoğan nor other nations looking to see if the U.S. really stands for liberty anymore will ever forget it.

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Erdoğan Doubles Down; To Destroy Botanical Garden

Protests continue across Turkey, with some violence reported overnight, and police brutality continuing. The Turkish police have begun to arrest those using Twitter to announce protests. And the government has been holding counter-rallies, sometimes using Photoshop to fill in the crowds.

Rather than cool tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to throw fuel on the fire. The spark for the unrest was, of course, the prime minister’s determination to destroy a small urban park in order to build a shopping mall or, perhaps, a mosque. What started out as an environmental protest morphed into something far larger, largely in response to the prime minister’s arrogance and police crackdown.

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Protests continue across Turkey, with some violence reported overnight, and police brutality continuing. The Turkish police have begun to arrest those using Twitter to announce protests. And the government has been holding counter-rallies, sometimes using Photoshop to fill in the crowds.

Rather than cool tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to throw fuel on the fire. The spark for the unrest was, of course, the prime minister’s determination to destroy a small urban park in order to build a shopping mall or, perhaps, a mosque. What started out as an environmental protest morphed into something far larger, largely in response to the prime minister’s arrogance and police crackdown.

It’s against this backdrop that the announcement that Erdoğan will confiscate an eight-decade-old botanical garden and transfer it to the Istanbul mufti’s office seems like he is extending his middle finger to liberals, secularists, and the general public. According to Hürriyet Daily News:

On May 29, [Rector Yunus] Söylet wrote on Twitter that the Religious Affairs Directorate had been demanding the garden from the university for the past eight years following a question from a student. The university did not respond to the Hürriyet Daily News’ request for information on the issue. After Söylet’s remarks, a number of students, academics and activists gathered at a panel in Istanbul to discuss the significance of the garden for science and to voice their demands that the garden be maintained. Several academics are still waiting for a response from the rector’s office for an appointment in which they expect to express the importance of the garden to science. Istanbul University’s Alfred Heilbronn Botanic Garden was established near Süleymaniye Mosque in 1933, by Alfred Heilbronn and Leo Brauner, two Jewish professors who escaped Nazi Germany for Turkey. Erdal Üzen, an academic who has worked at the garden for many years, says the uprooting of such plants would cause damage to them. The botanical garden in Süleymaniye includes around 3,000 different plant species and 1,000 different tree species that function as a record of all the species found in Anatolia. The Turkey’s Biologists Association’s Istanbul bureau head, İlbay Kahraman, warned that the uprooting would cause great damage to the school and garden.

Once again, the Turkish prime minister demonstrates the confusion many Islamists and Middle East potentates hold regarding the difference between democracy and majoritarianism. As the spiteful Erdoğan doubles down, let us hope that the White House and State Department will dispense with the notion that Erdoğan’s Turkey is any longer a model once and for all.

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Why Do Academics Downplay Repression?

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—the NGO of the Society of Friends or Quakers—won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, largely for its work with refugees, children, and prisoners of war during both World Wars I and II. The AFSC stayed neutral—a principle which it embraced strictly at the time—but by the 1970s, the AFSC had allowed leftism to trump pacifism. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the politicization of the AFSC and its moral unbearing than how it shilled for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—an episode discussed at length in Guenter Lewy’s Peace and Revolution, until evidence of that group’s murder of a million citizens became insurmountable. Why politics blinded AFSC officials to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge up until that group’s public exposure, however, is something that the Society of Friends has never adequately explained.

Another episode—albeit one not involving genocide—involves the many American foreign policy thinkers who were willing to give the Islamic Republic of Iran if not a pass on human rights prior to the 2009 post-election unrest than at least a blind eye. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen—who traveled to Iran and wrote many columns more critical of American policy than that of the Islamic Republic—only had his epiphany about the true rottenness of the Islamic Republic after he witnessed the 2009 unrest. Likewise, prior to 2009, anti-Iran sanctions activist Trita Parsi hardly even paid lip service to Iranians’ human rights and only after the elections did he decide he would no longer dine with Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In reality, however, there has been no substantive difference between the Islamic Republic pre-2009 and post-2009. Evin Prison might be full now, but it was not empty in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s. While many liberals and progressives mark 2009 as the turning point in their assessment of Iran, there has been little introspection as to why they were willing until then to give such a repressive government the benefit of the doubt.

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The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—the NGO of the Society of Friends or Quakers—won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, largely for its work with refugees, children, and prisoners of war during both World Wars I and II. The AFSC stayed neutral—a principle which it embraced strictly at the time—but by the 1970s, the AFSC had allowed leftism to trump pacifism. Perhaps nothing symbolizes the politicization of the AFSC and its moral unbearing than how it shilled for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge—an episode discussed at length in Guenter Lewy’s Peace and Revolution, until evidence of that group’s murder of a million citizens became insurmountable. Why politics blinded AFSC officials to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge up until that group’s public exposure, however, is something that the Society of Friends has never adequately explained.

Another episode—albeit one not involving genocide—involves the many American foreign policy thinkers who were willing to give the Islamic Republic of Iran if not a pass on human rights prior to the 2009 post-election unrest than at least a blind eye. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen—who traveled to Iran and wrote many columns more critical of American policy than that of the Islamic Republic—only had his epiphany about the true rottenness of the Islamic Republic after he witnessed the 2009 unrest. Likewise, prior to 2009, anti-Iran sanctions activist Trita Parsi hardly even paid lip service to Iranians’ human rights and only after the elections did he decide he would no longer dine with Iran’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In reality, however, there has been no substantive difference between the Islamic Republic pre-2009 and post-2009. Evin Prison might be full now, but it was not empty in the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s. While many liberals and progressives mark 2009 as the turning point in their assessment of Iran, there has been little introspection as to why they were willing until then to give such a repressive government the benefit of the doubt.

The current unrest in Turkey continues the pattern. The protests which have now spread to dozens of Turkish towns and cities have deeper roots than the destruction of a small urban park. Perhaps it’s understandable that so many former U.S. ambassadors to Turkey pooh-poohed the erosion of basic freedoms in Turkey; after all, so many used their Turkish connections as golden parachutes after their retirement from the Foreign Service or, perhaps they feel more nobly, as sources to fundraise for various think tanks or academic programs in which they now sit. Others say quite openly—in private—that the need for access or worries about family remaining in Turkey leads them to temper criticism of the AKP. Some Turks self-censor out of fear for their jobs, while others cravenly act as propagandists, providing cover for the Turkish government’s war on the press in exchange for privilege and access.

When political Islamism is added to the mix, too many are willing to dismiss the erosion of liberty in order to stay on the correct side of political correctness. Here, for example, are two Turkey analysts a week before the nationwide protests began lamenting how analysts—with special snark reserved for yours truly—might utilize news of Erdoğan’s war on beer to promote the narrative (which they believed false) that Erdoğan might be trying to impose his social will and Islamize secular Turkey. Since the protests erupted, there has not been subsequent introspection about why they were so anxious to dismiss a repression which so many Turks so clearly felt and which so many now protest against.

It is a tragedy that so many American officials and analysts equate acquiescence to the erosion of liberty with sophistication and prioritize heeling to conventional wisdom with open and honest analysis of data. Too many countries—Iran, Turkey, China, Iraqi Kurdistan and Russia—use access as leverage to temper the criticism of analysts and academics.

When it comes to Iran and Turkey, there is also the bubble factor: Many of those traveling to Tehran remain in relatively cosmopolitan northern Tehran rather than Islamshahr or the Western neighborhoods in which so many Revolutionary Guardsmen live. And when it comes to Turkey, there is nothing more corrosive to good analysis than those congressional delegations or tourists that might visit central Istanbul or Ankara, but never visit Sultanbeyli or Kayseri where few tourists venture but Islamism is on full display.

Let us hope that after Cambodia, Iran, and Turkey, those enjoying Western freedoms will understand how tenuous such freedoms are. Whether motivated by some perverse form of Communism as in Cambodia or by political Islam as in Iran or Turkey, or by some other ideology, it does not take much for politicians to grow impatient with resistance to their ideology or agenda. The Khmer Rouge made no secret of their disdain for democracy, but both Ayatollah Khomeini—in the months before his return to Iran—and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan understood how powerful the rhetoric of democracy could be when trying to achieve the opposite aim and so cultivated a coterie of useful idiots along the way.

Perhaps if there’s any lesson, therefore, the default position for analysts should be skepticism: Analysts of Turkey, Iran, Egypt, or anywhere else should always assume liberty to be under threat unless the governments’ actions prove the opposite. Nor should analysts ever acquiesce to constraints against individual freedoms in the name of religion.

Iran and, alas, Egypt may now be too far gone, but the Turkish Spring provides hope that liberals will fight for their rights. Let us hope that they will have as much support for the cause of liberty as their opponents did when they sought to roll back freedoms.

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Erdoğan Threatens Vigilante Justice

Anger continues to rise in Turkey, where protests now rock more than 80 Turkish towns and cities. Like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before him, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears defiant in the face of the protestors’ demands. At its core, Erdoğan and his supporters justify their actions in the fact that he won 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. In his mind, therefore, he has a popular mandate for anything he does—from meddling in an essentially local matter like the paving over of Gezi Park, to imprisoning opposition parliamentarians, to confiscating newspapers and television stations.

Alas, while fellow analysts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argue that Erdoğan is likely to survive the protests (and I largely agree with him), Erdoğan’s own statements suggest the worst may yet be to come. While Erdoğan has pushed less volatile AKP members like President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan’s radical but more polite deputy Bülent Arınç in front of the cameras in recent days, their attempts to mollify the demonstrators have been overshadowed by Erdoğan’s barely concealed threat that he was “barely holding back the 50 percent” that voted for him from coming onto the street to take on the pro-democracy protestors.

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Anger continues to rise in Turkey, where protests now rock more than 80 Turkish towns and cities. Like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before him, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears defiant in the face of the protestors’ demands. At its core, Erdoğan and his supporters justify their actions in the fact that he won 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. In his mind, therefore, he has a popular mandate for anything he does—from meddling in an essentially local matter like the paving over of Gezi Park, to imprisoning opposition parliamentarians, to confiscating newspapers and television stations.

Alas, while fellow analysts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argue that Erdoğan is likely to survive the protests (and I largely agree with him), Erdoğan’s own statements suggest the worst may yet be to come. While Erdoğan has pushed less volatile AKP members like President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan’s radical but more polite deputy Bülent Arınç in front of the cameras in recent days, their attempts to mollify the demonstrators have been overshadowed by Erdoğan’s barely concealed threat that he was “barely holding back the 50 percent” that voted for him from coming onto the street to take on the pro-democracy protestors.

Indeed, it appears that some AKP members are already taking to the streets to confront violently those protestors who seek a more liberal and/or secular Turkey. After videos emerged in Izmir of police grabbing and handing protestors to others dressed in civilian clothes that would proceed to beat them, the governor of Izmir explained that the videotaped civilians were actually undercover police, but they had simply forgotten to bring their “police” vests which they are supposed to wear in such cases. Such an explanation does not seem credible, however, since those beating the demonstrators were not using batons, but crude wooden sticks, and many of them wielding the sticks and pipes against the protestors seemed to be no more than 16 or 17 years old. One of the so-called undercover police was further identified as a member of an AKP youth wing who had recently been ousted after tweeting, “One day we will bring down Ataturk’s Tomb, inshallah.”

Two years ago Cengiz Çandar, a pro-AKP journalist known to carry water for Erdoğan, criticized me harshly for referring to “Erdoğan’s Brownshirts,” and declared, “Freedom of speech is part of the daily routine in Turkey. Western attacks on the Turkish government smack of a dubious agenda.” Mr. Çandar, if you doubt Erdoğan’s Brownshirts exist, perhaps it’s time to hop out of the government car and turn on the television. In any dictatorship, there are—unfortunately—no shortage of journalists who will protect rulers who in turn privilege them.

Fortunately, such journalists often keep one finger to the wind to make sure they can ingratiate themselves. Çandar today is comparing the Taksim protestors to a “velvet revolution.” Let us hope that as the edifice of fear crumbles, other journalists will also prioritize truth over privilege. Not only will the Turkish people be better off, but so too will be the state of Turkish journalism.

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Turkish Spring Update: Erdoğan Doubles Down

One of the more interesting things about the Arab Spring protests in Egypt was that the protestors did not initially seek Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster: Rather, their chief demand was for Mubarak to fire the interior minister. It was only Mubarak’s ham-fisted response that caused both the crowds and their demands to grow.

Likewise, the protests in Taksim Square started small: Locals opposed the government’s desire to cut down a small park to erect a shopping center; after all, central Istanbul already lacks green space. As often occurs in Turkey, the government failed to solicit local opinion regarding its proposed redevelopment. That the prime minister had become so involved in a local building project also raised eyebrows, where such micromanagement is usually a sign of financial interest. (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has increased his wealth exponentially in ways that salary does not account for since he took office; his explanation that his new wealth came from wedding gifts paid to his son is risible.) The character of the protests changed, however, when the Turkish police attacked protesters with considerable violence, not only using excessive tear gas and water cannons on non-violent protestors, but wounding students, journalists, and even parliamentarians. What was a local protest quickly became national, with crowds gathering in Ankara and government thugs attacking protestors elsewhere. Erdoğan’s pronouncements that the protestors were marginal characters only added to popular outrage.

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One of the more interesting things about the Arab Spring protests in Egypt was that the protestors did not initially seek Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster: Rather, their chief demand was for Mubarak to fire the interior minister. It was only Mubarak’s ham-fisted response that caused both the crowds and their demands to grow.

Likewise, the protests in Taksim Square started small: Locals opposed the government’s desire to cut down a small park to erect a shopping center; after all, central Istanbul already lacks green space. As often occurs in Turkey, the government failed to solicit local opinion regarding its proposed redevelopment. That the prime minister had become so involved in a local building project also raised eyebrows, where such micromanagement is usually a sign of financial interest. (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has increased his wealth exponentially in ways that salary does not account for since he took office; his explanation that his new wealth came from wedding gifts paid to his son is risible.) The character of the protests changed, however, when the Turkish police attacked protesters with considerable violence, not only using excessive tear gas and water cannons on non-violent protestors, but wounding students, journalists, and even parliamentarians. What was a local protest quickly became national, with crowds gathering in Ankara and government thugs attacking protestors elsewhere. Erdoğan’s pronouncements that the protestors were marginal characters only added to popular outrage.

While Erdoğan eventually had Turkish forces withdraw, like Mubarak he appears not to have learned the right lessons. Erdoğan has officially backed down from the mall project. So what to replace it? A mosque. Now that Erdoğan has banned alcohol sales within 100 meters of any mosque, it appears as if he is preparing to build mosques every 200 meters. His announcement is the equivalent of sticking up his middle finger at Istanbul’s secularists and liberals.

He also appears prepared to turn his animus toward Twitter, branding the communications tool “a troublemaker.” It may seem illogical to the American audience that Erdoğan could try to crack down on Twitter, but he may believe he has President Obama’s backing. After all, when Erdoğan visited Washington, Obama welcomed him with an op-ed not just in any Turkish paper, but in Sabah—a once-opposition paper that Erdoğan seized and handed to his son-in-law. And, as Obama stood beside Erdoğan in the White House “Rose Garden,” the Turkish prime minister’s henchmen were at it again, seizing more opposition media.

Erdoğan is arrogant, crude, and—at heart—an autocrat. He may believe himself invincible. If he is not careful and if he does not begin to respect the rule-of-law and recognize that he is accountable to the Turkish people, he might find himself going the way of Mubarak, Tunisian President Ben Ali, or Yemeni President Saleh.

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