The Trump administration is welcoming the Turkish prime minister when he deserves a cold shoulder
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is in town supposedly to re-set U.S.-Turkish relations, which have fallen to new lows. His efforts, however, are dead on arrival.
First, Yildirim is an irrelevant figure. He is to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan what Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is to Russian leader Vladimir Putin — that is, a hapless figurehead with no real power. In Turkey, Erdogan makes all major decisions and, increasingly, Turkish officials treat Erdogan’s son Bilal and his tax-avoiding, Islamic State-supporting son-in-law Berat Albayrak as de facto prime ministers, bestowing more honor and ceremony upon them than upon Yildirim.
Even if Yildirim was capable and if Turkish bodyguards don’t beat up the attendees at his various events, the problem in bilateral U.S.-Turkish ties would still remain with Erdogan. Consider Erdogan’s anti-American diatribe last week:
It is our right to bust the terrorists wherever they are. Now! Lots of places in Syria and Iraq are safe havens for terrorists. We have to get rid of these terrorist threats for us, not within our country’s borders but out of our borders in their centers. We don’t have to get permission from someone [the U.S.]. If the sovereign country [Iraq] controlling Qandil and Sinjar will not solve the problems in those areas, we will eradicate those places.
In Syria, from our 911 kilometer border between Cizre to Yayladag, wherever there is a terrorist center, it is our natural right to bust them by conducting military operations from air and land.
I have no doubt! I have no doubt! I trust you! I believe in you!
My Brothers! We don’t care which countries are behind these organizations. No legal country will put its military organizations and servicemen together with terrorists. According to us, anybody with terrorists is a terrorist. [Here, Erdogan calls the U.S. a terrorist entity because of its partnership with the Islamic State-fighting Kurdish militias].
My Brothers! We have a proverb; “Without a proper plan everything depends on good luck.”
Our last word to those who thought they have amused us till today by mentioning about alliance, strategic partnership, and alliance relations, is we will eradicate all the terrorist camps in Iraq and Syria. Let the world know. We are resolute about to drain the terror swamps outside of our borders. We could immediately expand our successful operations in Jarabulus, Al-Bab, and Idlib to other areas.
If anyone [the United States] who has something to protect in those areas, should get his precautions from now on. No heart-breakings then! My brothers! I know! There will be objections from some Western countries. They say and do nothing when the members of terrorist organizations conducting meetings and protests where our citizens live. No offense to what we said! Our ancestors had strong personalities.
So, while Yildirim, a powerless figure, dines with Vice President Mike Pence, his boss threatens the U.S. and its soldiers supporting Islamic State mop-up operations in Iraq and Syria. While the U.S. seeks to stabilize and calm the region, Erdogan threatens to launch an invasion of Iraq and Syria which, frankly, the Turkish military may no longer be capable of winning.
Sure, Turkey has grievances — the U.S. refusal to extradite U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen and the ongoing money laundering, sanctions-busting case against Reza Zarrab — but Erdogan’s complaints on both are tenuous.
Erdogan can blame the July 2016 coup attempt on his former collaborator, but he has yet to supply evidence proving Gülen’s personal culpability. Undoubtedly, some members of Gulen’s movement were involved in the coup, but then again, so too were many secular Kemalists who had nothing to do with Gulen, as well as some figures uncomfortably close to Erdogan himself. This is where credible figures such as columnist Sedat Ergin, who reserves all blame on the Gulen movement, go wrong.
As for Zarrab, Erdogan’s concern increasingly seems to be that the case may lift the veil on Erdogan’s personal corruption. As for Turkey’s complaints that the U.S. has partnered with the Syrian Kurds who themselves are an off-shoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party, guilty as charged. But it was Turkey’s actions — enabling foreign fighters to enter Syria and supplying and supporting Al Qaeda-affiliates and the Islamic State inside Syria — which necessitated the U.S. partnership with Syrian Kurdish militias in the first place.
The grievances the U.S. has with Turkey are far more substantive. Under Erdogan, Turkey has become a terror sponsor in all but name. Nor should Pence dignify any Turkish official with a meeting so long as Turkey continues to hold Americans hostage.
Indeed, the release of U.S. hostage Andrew Brunson and employees of the U.S. consulate in Istanbul should be pre-requisites to any meeting. That the Trump administration bestows honor on a representative of a regime that holds them makes Trump and Pence no different in their refusal to stand up for America than President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry who, for the sake of convenience, ignored Iran’s holding of U.S. hostage Bob Levinson.
It’s one thing to lament the decline of the U.S.-Turkish partnership; it’s quite another to humor the regime responsible for shattering it and sponsoring terrorism.
Yildirim never should have been invited to Washington. Even if he were sincere, he’s powerless. So long as Erdogan threatens American troops, supports terrorism, holds innocents hostage, and whips up anti-American incitement, Turkey’s leaders deserve nothing but a cold shoulder.