What to do with Turkey?

Paulo Filgueiras/UN Photo

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, addresses the UN in New York, September 2007.

Article Highlights

  • .@PewResearch ranks Turkey as most anti-American country

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  • Reporters Without Borders ranks press freedom in #Turkey lower than Zimbabwe and Venezuela @pressfreedom

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  • To the future president: Should #Turkey remain in NATO, asks @mrubin1971

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This post is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22nd.

Turkey was a key American ally throughout the Cold War. As one of only two NATO countries to share a border with the Soviet Union, Turkey proved pivotal not only to the defense of Europe but also for American interests in Asia. The Turkish army fought alongside U.S. troops in Korea. Americans embraced Turkey not only for its strategic role, but also for its values. The Turkish government was decidedly Western-leaning. Turkey may have been majority Muslim, but most Turks saw their future tied more to the West than the Middle East.

Over the past nine years, however, Turkey has changed. No longer can Turkey be called a democracy. The Pew Global Attitudes Project now ranks Turkey as the most anti-American country it surveys. Reporters Without Frontiers ranks Turkish press freedom below even Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than even China and Iran. As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sought to Islamize society, Turkish women have lost both their equality and safety: The murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent since Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party took power.

"No longer can Turkey be called a democracy."--Michael Rubin

Erdoğan has reoriented Turkey’s foreign policy as well. Turkey now not only embraces the Arab world, but it allies itself with its more radical factions: Turkey endorses Hamas, Hezbollah, Sudan’s genocidal dictator Omar al-Bashir, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Whereas a decade ago, the alliance between Turkey and Israel stabilized the Eastern Mediterranean, today diplomats worry that Turkey’s antagonism toward both Israel and Cyprus could lead to military conflict in the region. In September 2010, Turkey raised eyebrows at the Pentagon when it held secret war games with the Chinese air force without first alerting Washington. Because Turkey increasingly is the obstacle to NATO consensus, its future in the defensive alliance may now be open to question.

Any new president will be faced with serious decisions regarding Turkey. Should Turkey remain in NATO? If so, should the United States share its next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Predators, and AWACS aircraft with Turkey? Lastly, if Erdoğan fulfills his promise to use the Turkish navy to challenge Israel’s blockade of Gaza, leading to a fight between two traditional American allies, on whose side will the White House be, and what actions would the new president take?

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI

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