Turkey’s rash decision to shoot down a Russian plane for allegedly violating its airspace isn’t likely to trigger World War III. But Ankara has demonstrated where it stands. With the Islamic State and against the West. The justification for Turkey’s membership in NATO and America’s defense guarantee for Ankara long ago passed. Turkey’s irresponsible action proves that it is no U.S. ally.
The Obama administration’s war against the Islamic State is turning into another interminable conflict that serves the interests of other nations far more than America. U.S. policy has been impossibly incoherent, attempting to do everything: oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, shove aside next door Iran, defeat vicious jihadist insurgents, promote ineffectual “moderate” forces, convince the Gulf States to act against the extremists they’ve been supporting, promote diplomacy without participation by Damascus and Tehran, and convince Turkey to serve U.S. rather than Islamic interests.
While Russia’s September entry into the war outraged Washington, Moscow showed clarity and realism. Russia simply sought to bolster Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad against insurgents dominated by radical Islamists. Ironically, this approach was far more likely than the administration’s confused policy to advance America’s core interest of defeating ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliates such as al-Nusra. The U.S. had little choice but to accommodate Moscow, despite nutty proposals from some Republican presidential candidates to shoot down Russian planes.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan played the fool when his military downed a Russian aircraft, involved in striking territory controlled by al-Nusra. The two governments’ accounts conflict, but no one believes the Putin government had the slightest hostile intent against Ankara. Downing the plane was gratuitously provocative and not necessary for Turkey’s defense. The objectives likely were to interfere with Moscow’s operations against Islamic radicals and/or discourage future Russian strikes against Ankara-backed Islamists. The action obviously was contrary to Washington’s interest, which would be caught in any escalation between Russia and Turkey. Yet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “we stand in solidarity with Turkey and support the territorial integrity of our NATO ally, Turkey.”
It’s not enough to “discourage any escalation,” as President Barack Obama insisted. Washington should absorb the bitter lessons of Turkey’s perfidy and drop the alliance relationship.
Turkey is a growing threat to Western interests and values
Ankara never has been a true friend of the West. Turkey was a useful ally during the Cold War, though it always seemed readier to go to war with Greece than the Soviet Union. (In 1974 Ankara seized 37 percent of the island of Cyprus and war with Athens was narrowly averted.) In those years Turkey was only vaguely democratic. The regime punished anyone whose liberal sentimentalities conflicted with the hyper-nationalist “Kemalist” philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the founder of modern Turkey (later named Ataturk, or “Father of the Turks”). The public veneration of Ataturk mimicked the North Korean Kim dynasty’s personality cult.
President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, sweeping away a coalition of feckless, corrupt, and discredited parties. Initially then-Prime Minister Erdogan played the liberator. But once he pushed the military back in its barracks and won his third election he dropped the liberal gloss, sacrificing most of Turkey’s human rights advances. He gained control of the police and judiciary; conducted multiple mass conspiracy trials; and attacked independent journalists, opposition politicians, and business critics. He has pushed, unsuccessfully so far, to establish an authoritarian presidency along the lines, ironically, of that created by Russia’s Vladimir Putin.