Thursday, June 13, 2019

Let's Just Try to Be Friends--and Worry About Adding Benefits Later

Are harsh American words over the S-400 issue playing into Erdogan's hands? Oh please, the idea that Erdogan's policies rise or fall on our words is nonsense. What's the alternative? Acting like there is no problem and hoping Erdogan comes to his senses? Erdogan is no partner. And we can't even be friends with benefits at this stage.

It is common for American critics of American policy to deny agency to other countries. In that view, countries look closely at what we do or don't do and then decide on a policy. Which brings us to American policy on Turkey:

Americans don’t understand that all their tough talk about leveling sanctions against Turkey if the Russian arms sale goes through only plays into Turkish leaders’ hands politically, a panel of experts said Wednesday.

Speaking at a forum on Ankara-Washington relations hosted by the Hudson Institute in Washington, Hudson fellow Blaise Misztal said that, to President Tayyip Erdogan and his political coalition partners, “sanctions and kicking you out of NATO is a winning policy” because it fuels long-standing and growing anti-Americanism in their nationalist-leaning array of parties.

Since 2014, and particularly after a failed coup attempt in 2016 that many Turks believe was known in Washington before it was launched, Erdogan “is becoming closer to [Vladimir] Putin, [Bashir al] Assad, Iran and China” to burnish his nationalist credentials, Misztal said.

I really think a lot of knowledge of the other state leads those experts to wrongly think they know exactly why their policies are constantly trimming and tacking to reflect our decisions and statements (or non-decisions or lack of statements). This dismissal of their agency--their ability to make decisions on their own--is a common flaw in analysis. Heck, I do it too much I'm sure when I worry signs of our weakness can encourage other leaders to take advantage of us. There is some truth that foreign leaders react to and take into consideration our power and interests. But it is not the only factor. And states can find excuses for why our power and interests don't really matter.

And this charge about our tough talk ignores that Bush was quiet with Turkey despite lack of support on Iraq in 2003 which was an early signal of the rise of the Islamists who were supplanting the Ataturk legacy of a secular Turkish government; and ignores that Obama courted Erdogan as an example of a "tame" Islamist who would forge an example of a pro-Western and Islamist state (which means I find it nearly impossible to believe that Obama knew anything about a coup attempt in Turkey or would have supported it. Remember, Obama thought he could turn Shia Islamist Iran into a regional partner via the Iran nuclear deal! Does it really make sense he'd take action against Erdogan?).

The fact is that it has fallen on Trump to deal with a Turkey under Erdogan who is rejecting America, NATO and the West in favor setting a neo-Ottoman path as an independent Middle Eastern power that courts Russia as a counter-force against their once-allies.

In theory, I'm fine with the idea that we should speak softly and carry a big stick. But I think we are doing that. If we can't say "boo" to Erdogan out of fear of driving him away, the end result is that Turkey gets the F-35 and deep knowledge of NATO defenses as a valuable asset to trade to Russia or China in support of restoring Ottoman glory days (as Erdogan sees it).

Selling F-35s to Erdogan's Turkey and pretending there is no problem with his foreign and domestic policies; and pretending there is no need to say or do anything against Erdogan isn't going to save Turkey for NATO and the West.

Only Turks can do that and we have no excuse for giving in to Erdogan and letting Erdogan strut as the strong man standing up to NATO and America successfully.

We have an Erdogan problem and not an S-400/F-35 problem.

We need to deny Turkey the F-35 regardless of the ultimate S-400 purchase decision, and move to minimize NATO contacts with Turkey--quietly--to reduce the losses that come from Turkish Islamization and outreach to Russia under Erdogan. In time, pro-Western forces may regain influence in Turkey and allow those conduits to be opened again.

Remember, the physical distance from Russia since NATO won the Cold War (and the Russian military weakness that followed) that allows Turkey to reach out to Russia more safely despite a history of warfare between the two means that we can stiff-arm Turkey while it goes Islamist without worrying we make Turkey vulnerable to an invasion by Russia.

It's time to quietly stop thinking of Turkey as an allied partner and instead try to remain friends. Maybe benefits can follow some day and a new partnership with a more reliable and more Western-oriented Turkey can be built. Being nice to Erdogan is no way to do that.

At this point, maybe America and Turkey need to take a break in our relationship