On June 25, we awoke to the somber news that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had secured a victory in Turkey’s presidential elections. The reason this news is so grim is because he is a very dangerous man who wants to establish a Turkish Islamist caliphate, as he has simultaneously been eroding human rights inside Turkey and grabbing more power for himself.
On April 17, 2017, Erdoğan held a referendum that greatly expanded and consolidated the powers of the presidency, eliminating the office of prime minister, meaning foreign policy is now part of his portfolio.
In the meantime, he has arbitrarily arrested approximately 50,000 people, including dissidents, intellectuals, professors, journalists and anyone that he might possibly conceive of as being in the opposition. The prisons in Turkey are so full of dissidents that they have released common criminals and convicted felons onto the streets.
A dear friend and colleague, Aykan Erdemir of the Foundations of Defense of Democracies, who had been a member of the opposition in the Turkish Parliament, told me that every Saturday night his friends gets together over Turkish coffee and read the newspaper to see who, among their friends, will be arrested—and whether or not they can make bail.
Among those arrested is Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American who has is in his second year of a seven-year sentence. The Turkish government contends that his evidence is based on the testimony of a “secret witness.” There is absolutely no habious corpus in Turkey, and no attorney working on Brunson’s behalf that can see the “evidence” and defend his client.
Turkey has one of the lowest rankings in the world in terms of freedom of press. The regime continues to trample on the right of its citizens, including freedom of speech, of association, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Turkey is also now the world’s No. 1 jailer of journalists.
In particular, the Christians of Turkey, who are a tiny minority, have been under increasing assault. Anyone who cannot trace his roots back to Sunni Islam is under suspicion, which has resulted in a flurry of violent attacks against Christian churches throughout this newly xenophobic country.
In foreign policy, we have seen Erdoğan’s forces enter into Syria and massacre what had been an autonomous Kurdish canton of Afrin. Throughout Europe, we are seeing the emergence of cash-rich Turkish, Islamist parties. Erdoğan is emerging on the continent as a defender of a sense of victimization of Muslims against Islamophobia.
And in Jerusalem, in an attempt to win influence among the Palestinians, the Turkish autocrat has been showering the natives of eastern Jerusalem with funds. In an article in last week’s Haaretz, officials from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority expressed concern that Turkey is trying to establish itself as “the guardian of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Muslim world.”
He has also called for an “Islamic army to invade Palestine.”
What emerges is a picture of a totalitarian brute with imperialistic designs. What is equally disturbing is that Turkey under Erdoğan has already purchased the all-powerful S-400 long range, anti-aircraft defense system. He has been cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has worked to prevent the Russian-Iranian constellation from leaving Southern Syria.
All of this does not fit the usual description of an “ally.”
Yet Lockheed Martin plans to sell Turkey 100 F-35 Lighting II fighter jets—one of the most sophisticated stealth fighter jets yet to be developed.
Congress has weighed in, in both chambers. On the House side, the National Defense Authorization Act specified that before the transfer of F-35s is made to Ankara, both the U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense must write a report that Turkey is behaving as an ally. The Senate side seeks to hold up Turkey’s possession of the S-35s unless it revokes its purchase of the S-400s, so it does not threaten NATOs defense capabilities and put an end to detaining American citizens.
The bill has yet to go to Conference Committee to be law.
Because Turkey is a member of NATO, many people would still like to regard it as an “ally.” Yes, it is formally in NATO. However, NATO (which has no mechanism to expel a member), had originally been established during the Cold War for smaller countries to defend one another against the Soviet threat.
From the way things appear now, Turkey appears to be far closer to Russia than to its other NATO partners. And America certainly does not want our most sophisticated stealth jet fighter ending up in Russian hands.
Yet despite the congressional action, on June 21, Lockheed Martin held a roll-out ceremony presenting the Turks with two F 35s. The jets will be remaining on American soil for at least a year while Turkish pilots are trained to use it.
That gives us a bit of time for folks to wake up to sample Erdoğan’s particular brew of Turkish coffee.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, D.C.