Once NATO’s formidable eastern anchor, Turkey is increasingly becoming a major problem for Washington policymakers and a contributor to the Mideast chaos.
The change is all the remarkable since at the outset of the Obama Administration, the President saw then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as one of his closest international friends. And, indeed, in 2009 Obama went to Turkey to make the first of two Mideast seminal speeches offering apologies to the Muslim world for what he saw as past U.S. mistakes with an invitation for cooperation.
But in late August Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter publicly was calling on now President Erdogan “…to control the border, the long border that they have with both Syria and Iraq …. It’s overdue, because it’s a year into the campaign [against Daesh, or ISIL], but they’re indicating some considerable effort now, including some — allowing us to use their airfields. That’s important, but it’s not enough.”
If truth be told, it took nine months of torturous negotiations to get Erdogan’s permission to the use NATO bases in Turkey for the relatively feeble American bombing campaign against Daesh, now considered a threat to stability in the region and rapidly becoming a coordinating body for worldwide Islamic terrorism.
Traffic through that border has included volunteers for the Daesh [ISIL] forces and a flood of Muslim refugees crossing into Greece and the EU. There are even suggestions that elements in Turkish intelligence aided Muslim groups fighting the shaky government of Syria’s Basher al Assad, sabotaging the faltering Obama’s so far unsuccessful effort to create an anti-Assad Syrian force to counter the growing strength of Daesh and other Muslim groups.
Since Obama’s visit, however, Erdogan has taken Turkey down a divisivepath breaking off Ankara’s longstsanding military alliance with the Israelis. Erdogan has permitted Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling Gaza which Washington calls terrorists, to operate out of Turkey, and Erdogan has made an outrageous anti-Semitic remarks picked up by sympathetic media.
Erdogan – who once said democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination – has pushed a creeping Islamization eroding the mandatory secularist heritage of modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Attaturk. He moved to the presidency, hoping to create an authoritarian presidential system. But in June elections, his Justice and Development Party [AKP] failed to get the necessary majority to change the constitution, and he has now called new snap elections for November – after refusing to negotiate in good faith for a coalition.
Whipping up war hysteria, by abandoning the effort to reach an agreement with Turkey’s huge Kurdish minority – a radical part of which fought a bloody three decades war with the government – he apparently thought to get a new mandate. But the polls indicate he may again fall short. A sagging economy whose liberalization had bolstered Erdogan’s rule won’t help.
His whirling dervish foreign policy – which once saw itself as Neo-Ottoman, restoring the old Turkish empire in the region – is in tatters. And he has become a major deterrent for American goals in the area; not least, since the most effective fighters against Daesh have been the Kurdish minority inside Syria and the Peshmergah, hardened veterans of Iraq’s regional Kurdish government.
Erdogan – and the other countries which split the Kurdish peoples in the region – fear Kurdish military successes could eventually produce an united independent Kurdistan. The Iraqi Kurdish regional government, pumping oil out through Turkey [including to Israel], is already a relatively prosperous and semi-independent. And so long as Obama does not commit more American ground forces against Daesh, is probably the only hope of Washington to contain if not “degrading and eventually destroying” Daesh [ISIL], what he once dubbed “the varsity” team in the area.
Meanwhile, despite optimistic statements out of the Obama Administration, the military situation in the area is deteriorating, almost as rapidly as Turkey’s home front, with Obama’s critics predicting his Iranian negoaitions will produce a nuclear armed Persia, Turkey’s traditional enemy.