Losing Turkey

01/06/2016 11:18 am ET | Updated Jan 06, 2016
  • David L. Phillips Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights

The Obama administration must see Turkey under the reign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for what it is, not how it used to be, or how Washington wishes it were. It is time for steely-eyed realism about Erdogan. Following are the facts:

Erdogan is authoritarian.
He recently praised "Hitler's Germany," mentioning Hitler in the context of his own tenure.

Erdogan blocks independent media.
Presently, 34 journalists are in jail for various charges including "insulting the President." According to Journalists without Borders, Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries on press freedom.

Erdogan attacks freedom of expression.
Peaceful demonstrators protesting the destruction of Gezi Park were attacked with truncheons, tear gas, and water cannon in 2013. Police brutality sparked protests in 60 cities, which were violently suppressed.

Erdogan targets Turkish citizens.
In October, Erdogan re-started a civil war with the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in a cynical ploy to gain support from nationalist voters. Erdogan promised to "cleanse" Turkey of militants. Since October, 260 civilians have been killed. A curfew has been declared in municipalities across Turkey's Southeast. Cizre has been destroyed.

Erdogan undermines the rule of law.
Erdogan dismisses calls for decentralization and enhancing local government, in accordance with Council of Europe standards, as a Trojan horse for Kurdish separatism. He flaunts the rule of law and makes a mockery of the balance of powers. To Erdogan, constitutional reform is really about establishing a de-jure executive presidency.

Erdogan supported ISIS.
The National Intelligence Agency provided weapons, money and logistical support to jihadis, transiting to Syria. Wounded ISIS fighters receive free medical care in Turkish hospitals. Though Turkey now proclaims its opposition to ISIS, the infrastructure for supporting Islamic terrorism is still in place.

Erdogan exports Islamism.
Turkey's foreign policy in the Balkans promotes a neo-Ottoman agenda, aimed at expanding its influence in former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey exports Islamism under the guise of cultural cooperation, building mosques and financing Islamic unions and institutions in the Western Balkans.

Erdogan undermines NATO.
He refused access to Incirlik Air Force Base, a NATO facility, to attack ISIS in Syria and Iraq for almost a year. When he cut a deal to allow use of Incirlik, Erdogan intensified attacks against Kurds, even those living in Turkey, under the guise of counter-terrorism.

Erdogan targets US allies fighting ISIS.
He ordered air strikes against Syrian Kurds who have established a buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. Syrian Kurds are America's best and most effective ally fighting ISIS in Syria.

Corruption is widespread.
Three ministers faced allegations of fraud and were forced to resign in 2013. Erdogan's family members are allegedly involved in corrupt dealings, including profiting from ISIS oil smuggled out of Syria, and contravening sanctions against Iran.

The Obama administration turns a blind eye to Erdogan's travesties. It has been a long time since Turkey was the indispensable eastern flank of NATO bordering the Soviet Union. The world has changed, and so has Turkey. Under Erdogan's hegemonic rule, Turkey no longer holds Western values nor does it serve US interests.

The Obama administration must review and modify its approach to Turkey. Washington's deplorable silence makes it complicit in Erdogan's crimes.

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights. He is a former Senior Adviser to the Obama administration. He also served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Experts to the State Department during the Clinton and Bush administrations.

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