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Big League National Security

Rosenthal: Is Turkey NATO’s Trojan Horse?

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Below is this week’s column by national security writer Terence Rosenthal.

At a Sept. 6 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding Turkey, future diplomacy between the U.S. and Turkey was discussed. The panel voiced concern on how the Erdogan regime is swiftly moving toward full authoritarianism. This includes dismantling democratic elements, purging anti-Erdogan officials, and human rights violations against proponents of democracy and individual freedom.

The U.S. and Turkey are arriving at a key juncture. Western Officials involved in military and diplomacy are pondering what will happen to the U.S. alliance with Turkey after key battles ensue against ISIS, and leadership in Syria is determined.

The Turkish relationship with NATO and the U.S. will be put to the test as events play out in Deir ez-Zor, Syria. This is a key event, as U.S. and Kurdish forces will likely converge with Syrian-Russian-Iranian allied forces as they pursue ISIS in this territory. Western officials are also discussing the capacity with which the U.S. will supply weapons to Turkey if Erdogan maintains current human rights abuses.

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Many are in a quandary on how the U.S. will address imprisonment of American and European tourists and expatriates as possible blackmail for the extradition of a Pennsylvania-based preacher, Fethullah Gulen. The Erdogan regime has blames Gulen and his followers in Turkey for the 2016 coup attempt. Among those imprisoned is U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson, arrested in October of 2016.

Since last year’s coup attempt, an estimated 2,500 journalists have lost their jobs. Many journalists and academics have also been imprisoned. The Erdogan regime has been quick to label any statement against the government an act of terrorism. In Turkey, those labeled as terrorists, or guilty of subversive activity may be held in detention for indeterminate lengths of time.

Some have stated that Erdogan has overplayed his power regarding NATO. Earlier this year, Turkey restricted German officials from visiting and inspecting their NATO soldiers stationed at Incirlik Air Base.

In the beginning of the ISIS conflict, Erdogan barred the U.S. from using its air base in Turkey. While the U.S. was fighting ISIS in Kobani, Turkish armed forces offered tepid support.

In addition, when the U.S. enlisted Kurdish support in Syria and Iraq, Turkish forces have often been an impediment to fighting ISIS. Many argue that the Erdogan regime, once fervent supporters of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, had little problem with ISIS if it was not infiltrating Turkish territory. In fact, in 2016, it was revealed that Turkey was purchasing oil from ISIS.

Perhaps the Erdogan regime is playing a double game regarding his connection with the West versus its newest relations with Russia and China. In 2013, Turkey considered purchasing a Chinese missile system. Last year, the Turks courted the Putin regime, welcoming Russian aid after the failed coup attempt. In addition, Turkey has agreed to the construction of Gazprom’s Turkstream pipeline. Meanwhile, some officials have discussed alternatives to Incirlik Air Base if Turkey continues its current human rights abuses and quashing of democratic institutions. Using air bases in Cypress or Jordan may be the viable alternative. Although deploying from Cypress and Jordan may cost a bit more, it may come with less opposition strategically.

Meanwhile, some officials have discussed alternatives to Incirlik Air Base if Turkey continues its current human rights abuses and quashing of democratic institutions. Using air bases in Cypress or Jordan may be the viable alternative. Although deploying from Cypress and Jordan may cost a bit more, it may come with less opposition strategically.

Some are considering the prospect of Turkey being ousted from NATO, or the Erdogan regime leaving NATO voluntarily to join China, Russia, and their regional surrogates.

From a military standpoint, Erdogan’s worst enemies are the Kurds, not Russia or Iran. If Russia guarantees pacification of Kurdish territories, Turkey may choose to leave NATO.

Erdogan may have more in common with Putin and Xi than he does with the West.

NATO officials are waiting to see if Turkey improves its human rights record, and makes a legitimate effort to fight ISIS with the Kurds.

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