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What does it mean to make America great? Republicans and Democrats can debate on economics, tax policy, education, healthcare, and the best way to revive American infrastructure. Partisan polemics and political games aside, both sides of those debates are deeply patriotic and remain motivated by the same goals: a desire to see America succeed.
Even in this hyperpartisan era, there are still red lines. No politician suggests sharing our latest space technology with China and, even against the backdrop of passionate debate about the decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, no one would suggest giving American nuclear secrets to Iran. Nor would even the most passionate anti-Trump senator bless providing North Korea with the blueprints for America’s ballistic missiles.
How ironic, then, that President Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appear so sanguine about providing the next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Turkey, a country which was not only complicit with the Islamic State, but which also betrayed U.S. intelligence to it. The U.S. and Turkey could even go to war in the not-so-distant future.
Indeed, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there is hardly an American enemy to which Turkey did not leak intelligence or partner with in order to subvert U.S. security. The U.S. intelligence community reportedly worries about the close ties with and sympathies to Iran maintained by Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence service. It was Fidan who allegedly leaked to Iran the identities of Israeli agents working in Iran to counter its nuclear program.
Under Erdogan, Turkey also held air force war games with China without first informing the U.S. or NATO. More recently, Turkey’s moves to import Russia’s S-400 anti-air defense system threatens to betray NATO codes and systems to the Russian military.
Erdogan has personally endorsed a designated al Qaeda financier and has stood behind Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and almost every other radical Sunni Islamist group. He has not only urged war against Israel, but also increasingly threatens other NATO members like Greece. Top aide Egemen Bagis has even threatened to use the Turkish military against Americans.
Under such circumstances, why would the U.S. trust Turkey with a military platform upon which the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Air Force will rely for the next several decades and which contains technology which Russia, Iran, and other enemies of the West are desperate to access? This is an issue long coming (I first testified in Congress on the topic of the provision of the F-35 to Turkey in 2010). But time is running out. Last week, the F-35s designated for Turkey made their first test flight in Texas.
Turkey is due to receive the first of up to 100 F-35s in just more than one month. While three U.S. senators have threatened to hold up delivery so long as Erdogan holds U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson hostage, the danger of providing F-35s to a country like Turkey run far deeper than just Erdogan’s embrace of hostage diplomacy and his hostility to religious freedom. The notion of Turkey having F-35s should not be an issue of one man’s imprisonment but rather recognition that Turkey is a security risk.
Immediately prior to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the U.S. sold to Iran multiple F-14s — at the time, America’s top aircraft. Today, Iran still flies them. Perhaps the Carter administration had an excuse: No one saw the Islamic Revolution coming. But Turkey is not Iran. Its revolution has been slow. It has not occurred in days or weeks, but rather in years. There is no excuse to discount the reality of what Turkey has become.
If Trump and his administration or, more broadly Congress, allow delivery of F-35s to Turkey, they will be betraying U.S. intelligence to America’s enemies and putting American lives at risk. That is not how anyone on either side of the aisle can claim to be making America great.
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