Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Turkey relations

Twitter and Turkey’s Slide Into Dictatorship

The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been gradually chipping away at every vestige of democracy in that country for years. Independent press outlets have been suppressed and more journalists are in prison in Turkey than in any other place on earth. Political opponents of his AKP and much of the secular leadership of the military have been jailed, and demonstrators have been brutalized. Despite this terrible record the West, and in particular the Obama administration, have largely turned a blind eye to Turkey’s excesses. But by trying to ban the use of Twitter, Erdoğan may have finally picked a fight that he can’t win in the long run.

The Turkish government is standing by an order issued by a judge who is friendly to the prime minister to block the use of Twitter in Turkey. The reason for the effort is that social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, is the vehicle for spreading evidence of corruption by Erdoğan’s son and other prominent scions of the country’s Islamist elite. While social media plays an increasingly critical role in the spread of news throughout the free world, it is especially critical now in a country like Turkey because the mainstream press in that country has been effectively silenced by the dictatorial policies of the AKP and its leader. That forced the flow of information elsewhere and Erdoğan’s courts have responded with demands that Twitter and other venues remove the embarrassing content from their sites.

But by adopting a stand that undermines the notion that Turkey is a modern state that is ready to be integrated into the international economy and the European Union, Erdoğan may have worsened his problems rather than solve them. After 11 years in power during which he has ruthlessly wielded influence, the Turkish leader may have finally crossed the line that separates a feared dictator from a laughingstock. By banning Twitter, Erdoğan has begun to resemble a parody of a despot rather than the strongman who has transformed Turkey from a secular state to an Islamist tyranny.

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The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been gradually chipping away at every vestige of democracy in that country for years. Independent press outlets have been suppressed and more journalists are in prison in Turkey than in any other place on earth. Political opponents of his AKP and much of the secular leadership of the military have been jailed, and demonstrators have been brutalized. Despite this terrible record the West, and in particular the Obama administration, have largely turned a blind eye to Turkey’s excesses. But by trying to ban the use of Twitter, Erdoğan may have finally picked a fight that he can’t win in the long run.

The Turkish government is standing by an order issued by a judge who is friendly to the prime minister to block the use of Twitter in Turkey. The reason for the effort is that social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, is the vehicle for spreading evidence of corruption by Erdoğan’s son and other prominent scions of the country’s Islamist elite. While social media plays an increasingly critical role in the spread of news throughout the free world, it is especially critical now in a country like Turkey because the mainstream press in that country has been effectively silenced by the dictatorial policies of the AKP and its leader. That forced the flow of information elsewhere and Erdoğan’s courts have responded with demands that Twitter and other venues remove the embarrassing content from their sites.

But by adopting a stand that undermines the notion that Turkey is a modern state that is ready to be integrated into the international economy and the European Union, Erdoğan may have worsened his problems rather than solve them. After 11 years in power during which he has ruthlessly wielded influence, the Turkish leader may have finally crossed the line that separates a feared dictator from a laughingstock. By banning Twitter, Erdoğan has begun to resemble a parody of a despot rather than the strongman who has transformed Turkey from a secular state to an Islamist tyranny.

As the New York Times reports, his inability to suppress the incriminating information about his son and his regime has sent Erdoğan over the edge:

The shutdown, which Turks began to notice around midnight, occurred 10 days before local elections and came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at Twitter in an election rally in Bursa, a western town, on Thursday, saying that he did not care about international reactions if national security was at stake.

“Twitter, mwitter! We will wipe out roots of all,” Mr. Erdoğan declared in a campaign speech before the pivotal elections on March 30. “They say, ‘Sir, the international community can say this, can say that.’ I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the state of the Republic of Turkey is.”

Mr. Erdoğan had faced perhaps the biggest challenge in his 11 years in office when unidentified critics began using Twitter and YouTube to leak dozens of phone calls and documents that seemed to tie government officials and business circles close to the government to a graft inquiry that began last December.

One of the recordings purports to be of the prime minister himself telling his son to get rid of large sums of cash on the morning of Dec. 17, when the homes of three former ministers’ sons were raided. Mr. Erdoğan has repeatedly — and angrily — insisted that the recording was fake.

This is far from the first instance of Erdoğan’s dictatorial manner. He has run roughshod over all legal opposition and shut down journalistic outlets that were not in his pocket. But perhaps by taking on the popular social media in such an absurd and transparently self-interested manner, a turning point may be reached on international opinion of his regime.

This is, after all, the same man President Obama described as his best friend among foreign leaders. While other Western heads of state were not quite so fulsome in their praise for Erdoğan, the result was the same, as the AKP’s excesses at home and its support for Hamas in Gaza were ignored because of Turkey’s membership in NATO and its role in supporting opposition to the Assad regime.

While the United States has slowly started to edge away from Erdoğan, Washington needs to do more now than merely state its displeasure with the antics of the president’s friend. The same applies to Turkey’s bid for EU membership. Relations with this increasingly despotic Islamist state need to be put on hold until the country and its dictator come to their senses.

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Stop Intelligence Sharing with Turkey

Evelyn beat me to the punch this morning highlighting David Ignatius’s bombshell column reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan purposely blew an Iranian spy ring to spite Israel. The fact that Turkey would betray to Iran citizens who were working to shed light on a nuclear program that Iranian diplomats claims is transparent and peaceful is outrageous. Most of these Iranians likely died horrendous deaths. And Evelyn is right that the revelation “should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be.”

The implications of Turkey’s actions go far beyond simply Iran’s nuclear program, however. This part of Ignatius’ column is especially scandalous, for it shows the lack of seriousness with which President Obama treats national security:

The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however. Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials.

Today, Turkey has become more an enemy than an ally.

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Evelyn beat me to the punch this morning highlighting David Ignatius’s bombshell column reporting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan purposely blew an Iranian spy ring to spite Israel. The fact that Turkey would betray to Iran citizens who were working to shed light on a nuclear program that Iranian diplomats claims is transparent and peaceful is outrageous. Most of these Iranians likely died horrendous deaths. And Evelyn is right that the revelation “should also lead to mass resignations from the Congressional Turkey Caucus, if Congress is as serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear program as it has hitherto shown itself to be.”

The implications of Turkey’s actions go far beyond simply Iran’s nuclear program, however. This part of Ignatius’ column is especially scandalous, for it shows the lack of seriousness with which President Obama treats national security:

The Turkish intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan, is also suspect in Israel because of what are seen as friendly links with Tehran; several years ago, Israeli intelligence officers are said to have described him facetiously to CIA officials as “the MOIS station chief in Ankara,” a reference to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. The United States continued to deal with Fidan on sensitive matters, however. Though U.S. officials regarded exposure of the Israeli network as an unfortunate intelligence loss, they didn’t protest directly to Turkish officials.

Today, Turkey has become more an enemy than an ally.

COMMENTARY has previously warned about Fidan and his pro-Iranian proclivities. For the United States, however, the fact that Obama has been willing to share state-of-the-art technology and secrets with the Turkish regime so willing to betray them to China and Iran raises questions about his strategic judgment. Under Erdoğan and Fidan, Turkey has been taking U.S. technology and working to reverse engineer it for their own economic benefit. Turkey is a liability. Trusting Turkish officials with intelligence would be about as wise as renewing Edward Snowden’s security clearance.

Given Turkey’s pivot to China, Iran, and Hamas, it may also be time to reconsider Turkey’s position in NATO. The indefatigable David Schenker, a scholar who has unlike so many in Washington never compromised principle for access, had the foresight to call for NATO to reconsider Turkey’s membership years ago. Not only has Turkey held the alliance hostage to its own diplomatic and ideological whims, but it has also threatened NATO defense in an unconscionable way.

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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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Don’t Be Fooled by Kurdish Peace Process

Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, he told a news conference, “We welcome the PKK’s commitment to lay down its arms. We discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms … including the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades,” he said, adding, “No peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination.”

Kerry would be foolish, however, to believe that Turkey’s current outreach to the PKK is about peace, or permanent reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds. Rather, two other factors are at play, both of which suggest that political cynicism and greed rather than sincerity are at the root of Turkey’s rush to negotiation with the Kurdish group.

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Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, he told a news conference, “We welcome the PKK’s commitment to lay down its arms. We discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms … including the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades,” he said, adding, “No peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination.”

Kerry would be foolish, however, to believe that Turkey’s current outreach to the PKK is about peace, or permanent reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds. Rather, two other factors are at play, both of which suggest that political cynicism and greed rather than sincerity are at the root of Turkey’s rush to negotiation with the Kurdish group.

The first factor that influences Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s behavior is the 2020 Summer Olympics. The announcement on Nowruz, the traditional Persian and Kurdish New Year’s celebration, came just days before a team from the International Olympic Committee came to survey Istanbul, one of three finalists for the 2020 games. Erdoğan seeks the games not only to propel Turkey—and himself—further onto the world stage but also because the Summer Olympics could provide him with a financial bonanza. Sponsoring the Olympic Games might be a money loser to many countries, but the prime minister has not been shy about directing major development contracts to a firm run by his son-in-law. Erdoğan has gone from being a humble politician with a humble salary to a millionaire, many times over. Explaining away his wealth as the product of gifts presented at his son’s wedding is not convincing. The International Olympic Committee will make its decision in September. Whatever they decide—and Istanbul is likely the frontrunner—as soon as the decision is made, Erdoğan no longer needs to pretend to pursue peace.

The second factor is Erdoğan’s own political future. Erdoğan is currently overseeing efforts to rewrite the constitution and convert Turkey to a presidential system in which the president, rather than the prime minister, will hold sway. This would give Erdoğan perhaps two more terms of perhaps five to seven years each. Erdoğan figures he needs Kurdish support to support a new constitution with a strong presidential system. As soon as the new constitution is approved, however, Turkey’s Kurds again become expendable.

Too often, American officials imagine that peace partners are sincere. Erdoğan has been quite vague about what concessions he will be willing to make to the Kurds, and whether any of the Kurds’ basic aspirations will be met. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, for example, seeks federation. That is not likely something Erdoğan could deliver, even if he were so willing. 

Let us hope that Secretary of State John Kerry recognizes that with insincere interlocutors, talk is more about the process than the peace, and often more about the money and personal power than achieving a final settlement. That was certainly the case with Yasir Arafat and it also appears to be the major factor at play with Turkey’s prime minister.

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Turkey’s Dangerous Game in Gaza

There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.

NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that. 

LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?

NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?

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There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:

LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.

NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…

LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.

NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that. 

LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?

NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?

In the end, irritated by Lee’s persistence, Nuland conceded as follows: “We of course agree that rhetorical attacks against Israel are not helpful at this moment.”

When the Syrian government last week condemned “the heinous atrocities committed by the enemy Israeli army against the Arab Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” there were howls of grim laughter. But when Erdogan says much the same, there is an embarrassed silence. “If we ignore what Erdogan says about Israel,” the logic here suggests, “perhaps we can persuade ourselves that he didn’t actually say anything at all.”

What Erdogan said, in fact, sounded suspiciously like a call for jihad against Israel. Addressing an Islamic conference in Istanbul, he labeled Israel as a “terrorist” state. He continued: “Israel is committing ethnic cleansing by ignoring peace in this region and violating international law. It is occupying the Palestinian territory step by step.” And then came the kicker: “Sooner or later, Israel will answer for the blood it has shed so far.”

Why, then, is Turkey being treated differently? In large part, it’s because Western policymakers have a habit of ignoring inflammatory rhetoric when it comes from states that are regarded as allies. Turkey is a member of NATO; it continues to seek full membership of the European Union; and for the last century or so, its government has been informed by an uncompromisingly secular set of values. One speech doesn’t change any of that.

Except, of course, that it’s not just one speech. Under Erdogan’s rule, the long-established alliance between Turkey and Israel has crumbled. It was the Turkish Islamist Foundation, the IHH, that organized the flotilla to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza in May 2010, during which Israeli naval commandoes attempting a peaceful landing on one of the ships were set upon with iron bars and knives. Earlier this month, a Turkish court began the trial, in absentia, of four senior IDF officers–Generals Gabi Ashkenazi, Amos Yadlin and Avishai Lev, and Admiral Eliezer Marom–for, among other indictments, “inciting murder through cruelty or torture.”

In that same period, Turkey has arguably become Hamas’s most important ally, insofar as few other Muslim states enjoy as much political clout in the west. In September 2011, as Erdogan embarked on a tour of Arab countries, his portrait hung alongside hundreds of Turkish flags deployed throughout the Gaza Strip. And this week, Erdogan announced that he plans to send his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Gaza. As one Turkish outlet reported, this decision followed Erdogan’s public criticism of the Arab League “for not taking effective steps in the face of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians.”

There are those who argue that Turkey’s hostile stance toward Israel, far from boosting its leadership ambitions in the Islamic world, marginalizes it instead. Writing in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the Israel academic Ehud Toledano observed:

Beyond statements of harsh condemnation against Israel and enthusiastic support for Hamas, Erdogan and Davutoglu can do practically nothing…Without the diplomatic capability to talk to Jerusalem, and having lost all trust within Israeli political circles, the Turkish prime minister can only sit in Cairo and watch how President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt mediates a cease-fire and negotiates a long-term arrangement between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian guarantees, to boot. You need to talk to both sides if you want to be able to do that – Morsi, a president from the Muslim Brotherhood no less, can; Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey, cannot.

There is another interpretation, however. Firstly, that Turkey now believes that leading political and diplomatic resistance to Israel is a better fit for its neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Secondly, that Turkish leaders have been persuaded that combative rhetoric will fuel Western anxieties about the country’s radicalization, and that consequently the Americans and the Europeans will become more amenable toward Ankara than they already are.

If that is indeed Turkey’s game, we should not be playing along. Reporters attending Nuland’s next State Department briefing might, therefore, want to seek additional clarification.

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Turkey’s Iftar: No to Israel, Yes to Hamas

Two days after the Turkish press reported that Israeli diplomats would not be invited to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s traditional iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) dinner, Erdoğan showed that he may stand against tolerance but he does not stand against terrorism: He made Khalid Mishaal, the leader of the most militant faction in Hamas, his personal guest at an iftar dinner.

President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is friendliest. Given Erdoğan’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, and his repeated support for not only Hamas terrorists, but also an Al Qaeda financier, perhaps it is time for Obama to describe why he embraces Erdoğan above most others. Then, again, perhaps it’s time for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and the other members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus to also explain against such a backdrop why they also shill for such an anti-American, anti-Semitic leader.

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Two days after the Turkish press reported that Israeli diplomats would not be invited to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s traditional iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) dinner, Erdoğan showed that he may stand against tolerance but he does not stand against terrorism: He made Khalid Mishaal, the leader of the most militant faction in Hamas, his personal guest at an iftar dinner.

President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is friendliest. Given Erdoğan’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, and his repeated support for not only Hamas terrorists, but also an Al Qaeda financier, perhaps it is time for Obama to describe why he embraces Erdoğan above most others. Then, again, perhaps it’s time for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and the other members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus to also explain against such a backdrop why they also shill for such an anti-American, anti-Semitic leader.

And perhaps it’s also time for the U.S. Congress to ask why Obama is diverting helicopters and equipment so sorely needed to protect American troops in Afghanistan to Turkey for Turkey’s supposed fight against terrorism, when Turkey’s prime minister is so blatant in his support for terrorism–so long as the terrorists kill Americans and Jews rather than Turks.

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Silence From Congressional Turkish Caucus

The Congressional Turkish Caucus or, the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans as it is formally called, is one of the larger congressional groupings dedicated to the promotion of good relations with another country. Its 150 plus members represent 45 out of 50 American states, and support a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership.

Alas, as so often happens with such caucuses, the members are either asleep at the switch or forget that good relations must be two-way. In recent years, Turkey’s behavior has been problematic at best, but in recent weeks, its government’s behavior has again deteriorated. President Obama may count Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends, but it doesn’t seem to get the United States much. The marquee examples of the Turkish-American partnership are the Turkish agreement to host an anti-ballistic missile radar system on Turkish territory, and Turkey’s willingness to participate in the Afghanistan conflict.

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The Congressional Turkish Caucus or, the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans as it is formally called, is one of the larger congressional groupings dedicated to the promotion of good relations with another country. Its 150 plus members represent 45 out of 50 American states, and support a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership.

Alas, as so often happens with such caucuses, the members are either asleep at the switch or forget that good relations must be two-way. In recent years, Turkey’s behavior has been problematic at best, but in recent weeks, its government’s behavior has again deteriorated. President Obama may count Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends, but it doesn’t seem to get the United States much. The marquee examples of the Turkish-American partnership are the Turkish agreement to host an anti-ballistic missile radar system on Turkish territory, and Turkey’s willingness to participate in the Afghanistan conflict.

There is less to both than meets the eye, however. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, has suggested Turkey’s commitment to the U.S. anti-ballistic missile radar based in Turkey may only last two years. And, if one considers Turkey’s support for ethnic Uzbek Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and that perhaps as many Turks fight for al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as part of the Taifetul Mansoura group as support the ISAF mission, then the whole is considerably less than the parts. Still, we should thank the Turks for their assistance, even if it is not as impressive as diplomats often discuss.

The Turkish leadership remains as anti-Semitic as ever, and in the last couple of weeks, Turkey has doubled down on policies which both undercut freedom of press at home, and its willingness to cooperate with its international commitments toward Iran. Take press freedom: According to Reporters Without Frontiers, Turkey now ranks behind Russia and Venezuela in terms of press freedom. So what does Erdoğan do? As his party writes a new constitution for Turkey, it includes provisions which further roll-back press freedom. Better that, Erdoğan figures, then put up with the annoying habit of journalists to question him or refuse to act as party public relations flak. The reaction from the Congressional Turkey Caucus? Silence.

Perhaps the most immediate national security strategy the United States now faces is the challenge posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hoping to avoid both an Iranian nuclear breakout and a military strike that will destabilize the region, Western countries have implemented a robust set of sanctions against the Iran oil trade, sanctions which Turkey says it hopes to comply, if only it is given some more time. Now word comes that rather than scale back its Iran trade (a trade which has increased more than ten-fold since Erdoğan came to power), Turkey has been bypassing sanctions on currency transactions by paying for Iranian oil with gold. The reaction from the Congressional Turkey Caucus? Silence.

Turkey is a lovely place to visit, and many congressmen like to spend their taxpayer-provided per diem in the fish restaurants of Istanbul, and in that cosmopolitan city’s five-star hotels. But, being a congressman shouldn’t just be about access to swank junkets; rather, it should be about using one’s position to further American strategic interests. Alas, rather than use their posts to encourage Turkey to act responsibly as both a partner and a democracy, the members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus now blindly lend their support and endorsement to a government whose respect for civil liberties and whose foreign policy leaves much to be desired. Just as some former officials have sullied their name flacking for Venezuela and Libya, Caucus Co-Chairs Virginia Foxx (R-NC); Ed Whitfield (R-KY); Stephen Cohen (D-TN); and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) may soon find blind support for a country undermining U.S. security and disdainful of Western values has a price.

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What Price Friendship?

If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.

Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.

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If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.

Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.

To court Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Obama effectively throws Great Britain under the bus and suggests merit in her claims to the Falkland Islands. To support the “reset” with Russia, the Obama administration basically allowed Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to dictate terms for the START Treaty; and to better relations with Iran, Obama has ceded Iran not only the right to enrich uranium despite hard-fought UN Security Council resolutions declaring the opposite, but with a nod and a wink decided to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, basically putting Iran within a week of building a bomb whenever its leaders choose to take that step. That Iranian powers-that-be make clear they will never allow rapprochement with Washington is simply a fact Obama chooses to ignore.

Obama’s embrace of Turkey has been little better: To win Erdoğan’s friendship, Obama not only turned a blind eye to the Turkish populists’ efforts to curtail civil rights and liberties but also his embrace of terrorism and religious incitement. While Obama can point to Turkey’s participation in Afghanistan, the Turks have hardly been onboard with American goals there. To win Erdoğan’s embrace, Obama has had to turn a blind eye toward the prime minister’s loathing of Israel, a deep-rooted hatred which now interferes with U.S. and NATO core interests. With an intelligence chief who openly sympathizes with Iran, and a military which seeks to reverse engineer American technology, military cooperation with Turkey comes at a high price. The only silver lining radar system is a different story, but even that cooperation is less than meets the eye.

The 2012 presidential election will be far more about the economy than foreign policy. Governor Mitt Romney is staking a clear position vis-à-vis both Iran and Israel, but when it comes to countries like Turkey, it might be time for him to explain whether maintaining the ties between Washington and Ankara are worth the cost.

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Iran Isolated? Not According to Turkey

We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

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We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”

Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.

Iran is scheduled to begin a new round of talks with the European Union-led group that is seeking to find a way to keep President Obama’s “diplomatic window” with Tehran open. The Europeans and the Americans have both stated they will not allow this latest opening to be used as a delaying tactic by the Iranians. But the Iranians are giving every indication they are prepared to call the West’s bluff about an oil embargo. By securing ongoing trade relationships with Turkey and China, Iran hopes to weather the storm should the Europeans and Americans make good on their threat of imposing the tough sanctions they have talked about for years but never enforced.

While Obama has boasted of his success in isolating Iran, events such as Erdoğan’s visit to Tehran gives the lie to the notion that the coalition he has assembled actually means business. More to the point, so long as Iran can count on its neighbor Turkey and an economic dynamo such as China to continue to trade with it, it need not worry about the consequences of continuing to stall the West on the nuclear issue.

The president is thought to have achieved a tacit understanding with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that diplomacy be given more time to work before they consider a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Whether that is true or not, the spectacle of Obama’s close friend embracing Ahmadinejad and promising to work together with him to thwart the West’s “arrogance” ought to give pause to anyone who continues to buy into the administration’s optimism about diplomacy. With Turkey beside them, the Iranians, who have always doubted Obama’s resolve, may believe they have little to fear.

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