The descent of Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration into a brutish tyranny is rapidly becoming a problem which The White House will have to face. That the Washington Brookings Institution almost canceled Erdoğan’s speech after his security detail manhandled American and Turkish reporters is illustrative of what has been happening in Turkey for months.
Now the London-based Amnesty International documents Erdoğan’s expulsion of refugees back into Syria – including unaccompanied small children – among the degeneration of Ankara policies. Obviously this violates Erdoğan’s blackmail of the Western European powers to halt the flight of refugees to Greece in exchange for massive payments to bolster a flagging Turkish economy. Some 2.7 million migrants have reached Europe since the Syrian conflict began; another 151,104 crossed the Aegean from Turkey to Greece this year alone while 366 drowned trying. Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency warned that Greece’s overburdened asylum system is close to a collapse, further adding to its continuing economic crisis.
Turkish and EU leaders in March agreed on a deal curbing the influx that has plunged Europe into its biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. And the Turks are hosting some 2.7 million Syrian refugees. But the new agreement with the Europeans, principally Germany, is supposed to allow one legitimate Syrian refugee to migrate to Europe in exchange for every migrant [not necessarily a true refugee] Ankara takes back. This all will cost the Europeans $3.3 billion, ostensibly to pay Ankara’s costs. Germany has already said it will take the first Syrian refugees with children in this strangest of new developments.
Whatever the outcome of the refugee pact, however, what has to concern Washington policymakers is Erdoğan’s internal policies and his relationship with his terrorists in the region. He has turned his back on his earlier effort to negotiate the decades-long insurgency, resulting from Ankara’s refusal to acknowledge the aspirations of its huge Kurdish minority. That’s doubly complicated by the fact that Ankara is waging a campaign against the Kurds inside Syria who are Washington’s only successful weapon against the Basher Al Assad government, ostensibly as much a target for the Turks as the U.S. and its allies.
Pres. Obama in the early days of his administration sought to ignore Erdoğan’s Islamicist past; the President even saying he was one of the few foreign leaders with whom he had intimate relations. The relationship has soured with Erdoğan following increasingly Islamicist policies at home and playing footsie with both Hamas and Hezbollah, both on Washington’s terrorist list and Israel’s mortal enemies.
When Erdoğan turned up for an international meeting in Washington last week, the White House first refused to see him shuffling him off to Vice Pres. Joe Biden as a diplomatic snub. But then, in typical Obama fashion, the President accorded him a private session on the edges of the international meeting on nuclear proliferation.
There’s little hope Sec. of State John Kerry’s international peace conference on Syria is going to make much progress soon. Germany’s idea of swapping open access to Turkey’s 75 million people by dangling eventual EU membership doesn’t yet seem likely to produce better policy in Ankara. As an important NATO power, with that treaty’s importance again growing with renewed Moscow aggression [despite candidate Donald Trump’s warped understanding of international affairs], finding a U.S. strategy to handle Erdoğan and his critical role in the Mideast chaos is dire.