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Panel: U.S., E.U. Need to Work to Prevent Turkey’s Slide Away from the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow. Kremlin Photo

As Turkey grows closer with Russia and Iran and its leaders become increasingly autocratic, a panel of experts agreed the United States and the European Union need to use their security and economic leverage to pull Ankara back toward the West.

“The predominant challenge [in relations] is driven by [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s domestic political agenda” that include further changes in the Turkish constitution removing term limits on his presidency, Eric Edelman, a former United States ambassador to Turkey, said at the Brookings Institution on Monday. Erdogan and his nationalist party have been following events in China where term limits have been abolished for its president and now talked about in Russia following Vladimir Putin’s re-election, he said.

Erdogan’s agenda “ceaselessly stoke anti-Americanism in the press” owned by his in-laws and political allies, Edelman said at the Washington, D.C., forum. The agenda extends from how to manage the political and military situation in Syria, seizing foreign nationals of governments who object to Turkish policies on trumped-up charges down to an “attempt to export thuggery,” such as security guards beating protesters outside the ambassador’s residence in the United States in 2017.

Edelman’s advice: “Take a very transactional approach” in dealing with Erdogan’s Turkey. The transactional approach has been successful for Germany in the past and Russia now.

Edelman said this tack would be very different from that adopted by every U.S. administration since the early 2000s when “relations were thought too important to be distracted” by concerns over human rights, growing nationalism and autocracy and following a failed July 2016 coup the jailing of suspected plotters and political opponents.

Part of the anti-Americanism in Turkish media center on the United States’ refusal to extradite the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, now living in Pennsylvania. Ankara charges Gulen and his religious-political movement played a leading role in inciting the coup.

Kemal Kirisci, director of the Turkey Project, “The [European Union] has a bigger leverage than the United States … through economics.” He added 48 percent of Turkish products go to EU.

As to Ankara’s flirtation with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, “only 6 percent of Turkish overall exports” go to those three nations.

What is surprising, he and others noted was that though the United States and Turkey have been allies for more than 70 years there is very little cross-trade. Kirisci said Washington and Hanoi have stronger economic ties, despite having fought a decade-plus war in that time.

“Turkey has nowhere else to go” economically, even if Ankara and the E.U. remain at loggerheads over its admission to membership. That “is slowly sinking in … with the president.”

Stephen Szabo, of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, said, “We cannot lose Turkey” by having the United States, the E.U. and NATO pursue a policy of abandonment. German alone has 6,000 to 7,000 business operating in Turkey, plus it is host to a large Turk community inside its borders.

But agreeing with Kirisci, he said in answer to an audience question, “Turkey needs Germany more than Germany needs Turkey.”

In answer to another question, he said the feeling in Europe “is we want an E.U. that protects” the continent from a continuing influx of refugees from Syria, in particular, in the Middle East and across the Mediterranean from North Africa. As an example of a transactional relationship working, the agreement between the E.U.-Turkey does just that and provides a steppingstone to draw closer together.

Kirisci added that Turkey already houses 3.5 million refugees, primarily from neighboring Syria, while Europe hosts a million. “That needs to be recognized and that needs to be addressed” in further talks on a variety of issues.

On security, the U.S. air base at Incirlik remains important for NATO operations in Syria and as a forward presence against Russian adventurism in the Black Sea. At the same time, Amanda Sloat, at the Center on the United States and Europe said the United States, particularly, needs to recognize Ankara’s continued and very real concerns about Kurdish separatist groups operating inside and along its borders, including those fighting the Islamic State in Syria with strong U.S. military support.

She added it was important to remember that “Erdogan did start a peace process” with Turkish Kurds in 2017 that later broke down and renewed violence.

  • Ed L

    The predominant challenge [in relations] is driven by [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s domestic political agenda” that include further changes in the Turkish constitution removing term limits on his presidency. Erdogan demand that the Turkish borders go back to the Ottman empire boundaries of 1914. Perform genodice on millions of Kurkish People, as well as jail anyone who opposes Erdogan. Not to mention the death of all LGBT, Jews and Christians.

    • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

      Odd, no, that the trend is a series of presidents for life? Putin, Xi, Erdogan… Who is next?

      • SDW

        The Despot Club is growing its membership. So far we have V.V. Putin, Xi, Kim the third, al Assad, Hun Sen, and a few more on a smaller scale and wanabes, Erdogan has applied for membership now that he realises that the EU has just been playing Turkey like a violin and that a model despot next door has given him an opportunity to refine tactics used against the Armenians to obtain a final solution to the Kurdish problem he shares with Iraq and Iran. I don’t know who is the closer model for the PKK, Sinn Fein or the PLO, but they have just handed one favor after another to Erdogan and his extremist rival Gulen.

        Ne mutlu Kürdü diyene! [apologies for my bad Turkish.]

  • Zorcon, Fidei Defensor

    So a guy who just proclaimed he needs a army of Islam to destroy Israel needs to be helped not slip away from the West?

    Turkey, as a secular democracy, seems to be finished.

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    I just don’t understand why we don’t make a clean brake. Take back our stuff from Turkey, cease all support, and let them “slip away” — but they can’t have our money, military equipment, support, nor anything else of ours (F-35s, nukes, etc.) I have a real problem with countries slandering us in the press, complaining about us nonstop, but demanding more of our (yours and mine) money and stuff to help them live a better life of having a good time hating us. Forget that. See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya, peace suckas, we’ll take our stuff and go home.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      It is better to have a semblance of influence in Turkey rather than none at all.

      • Ser Arthur Dayne

        Respectfully, I disagree. You’re either with us or against us, in my humble opinion.

        • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

          Unfortunately the world is not that black & white!

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            I studied Political Science at a top-50 university and have considerable research, experience, and background in the field, so I am pretty sure I have a grasp on how the world works. And in case you didn’t notice, there is a new President of the United States who has been actively changing the way the US “does business”. But again, I respect your opinion and thank you for your time & discussion.

          • Dumbuk

            Turkey has many rights and power in the middle east. You cant just abandon Turkey. They could just easily turn around and take cyprus and greek isles. They do have a massive military u know.
            Deport 3.5 million refugees into Europe.
            Top 50 uni in poli sci is like saying u went to an online school. I also have a poli sci degree from ASU and I often wipe my as with it.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            Thank you for your profound insight.

          • Duane

            “Everything looks easy when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            Words to live by. You get it, the guy you’re arguing with doesn’t.

      • Duane

        Just ask Winston Churchhill how well it worked out for Britain and Anzus by telling Turkey (the Ottiman Empire, at the time) to go eff itself, as the usual suspect commenters are suggesting we do in this thread and elsewhere. Not only did the allies suffer their worst strategic defeat of WW1 at Gallipoli, thus lengthing the war by at least 3 years and resulting in millions of additional dead and maimed, but it was all 100% avoidable if the Brits had behaved better and not gone off halfcocked against the Turks.

        The Turks historically, for thousands of years, have been prickly, and unreliable, and a general pain in the butt for westerners. But they also sit at the crossroads of both civilization and physical geography, between Europe, Asia, and the Levant. They cannot be ignored, or told to go eff themselves if the West wishes to avoid any more unnecessary catastrophes such as we did with the Ottomans in 1915.

  • Mark

    Horses gone, no need to close barn door.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Europe and the US don’t have much in the way of leverage over Turkey.

    Quite the opposite.

    EU member states actually pay Turkey €6bn just so that Turkey doesn’t send more swarms of “refugees” across the Aegean.

    When that money stops, or when Erdogan feels the need to lash at the EU, then he opens the migrant tap.

    • Dumbuk

      6 billion for 3.5 million refugees over 5 years is less than 400 per refugee per year. Do u think u can live on 400 per year? It’s a damn joke.

      You pay Turkey for it’s military. You dont want it, great. Make it clear, and build ur own military/refugee centers.

      Instead of looking into how Turkey is ruining human rights. Take a look at living conditions for refugees in Europe.

      Human Rights are a joke in Europe

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        What’s your point?
        You seem angry.

        • Dumbuk

          Just tired of hearing none sense about Turkey.

          If EU and US treated Turkey well, we wouldnt be here right now. And losing Turkey means handing Europe to Russia.

          We’ll just wait and see.

          • Ser Arthur Dayne

            One of my personal points is, why should we (as the US) “treat Turkey well” … why should I have to work to give your country money? Really it’s ridiculous. Your own points prove mine. You don’t like us, but demand we take care of you because you said so. Well, have fun with Russia and good luck with your invasion of Greek islands and all that expelling refugee stuff. Good luck buddy. We’re good, you just go ahead and do your own thing, but without any USA money, military, or stuff.

          • Dumbuk

            1. Im American.

            2. No one is asking US to give money

            3. Turkey would be ok with everything u said. It just wants to clear its borders from PKK- a fanatik kurdish group also known as YPG. It wants to be able to drill oil rigs in Northern Cyprus which has been controlled by Turks for 40+ years.

            US is not a problem for Turkey.

            I think US and Turkey need to be paid for providing military protection for the world.

          • Ed L

            So you don’t care if the Turks kill over 30 million Kurdish along with Christians, Jews and LGBT in that region

          • Dumbuk

            Lol… Why would Turks kill Christians, Jews, LGBT or Kurds in that region. This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Stupid people should not be allowed to talk.

            Turks have a problem with a group called PKK which represents about less than 10% of Kurds.

            Pkk is like KKK to Americans. Kurds arent the problem, PKK is.

            Stop making this a religious war. People dont even care about religion anymore.

            BTW, here is a kicker for u. My grandmother was Kurdish. Makes me 25% Kurd (Ethnicity wise)

          • Ed L

            So why are turkish troops killing YPG in AFRIN and other parts of Syria. Your part Kurdish Then you go tell Erdogan you are kurdish. Bet a dollar to donuts he will throw you in jail just like the has thrown any Turkish politican (who is kurdish) in jail. good thing he threw the majority of his fighter pilots in jail. They were accused of coup plotting. Plus Erdogan has jail lawyers, judges, for critizing his policies. Plus closed all but the state run news agency. In addition recent laws in turkey make anyone who is subspected of LGBT activity to be jailed. Erdogan is not a progressive leader he is a hard line islamic who was removed from his Mayor position and jailed for spouting hardline islamic talk. He said he be good and when he came back from his trip in 2016 said there was an attempted coup againist him. One of the things Erdogan was have those who jailed him. Jailed with no trial and they have not been seen since. from the state department: Turkey – Level 3: Reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory. Under the current State of Emergency, security forces have detained individuals suspected of affiliation with alleged terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated. U.S. citizens have also been subject to travel bans that prevent them from departing Turkey. Participation in gatherings, protests, and demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey can result in arrest. The Government of Turkey has detained and deported U.S. citizens without allowing access to lawyers or family members, and has not routinely granted consular access to detained U.S. citizens who also possess Turkish citizenship.

          • Dumbuk

            1. I dont like Erdogan.
            2. Erdogan has tons of Kurdish followers. Who r very loyal to him over pkk and afrin.
            3. Air force did plot and lead the coup. I was for the coup until I found out Gulen was behind it. Why trade one religious nut job for another. One guy I like less than Erdogan is Gulen.

            So I am not against him tossing 150k people into jail. He is cleaning up Gulen, PKK, and other none sense from the country.

            Reasons I dont like him is due to his religuous acts.His acts against Ataturks legacy and destroying of Kurdish villages against its borders.

            I understand why he is destroying those villages, but I dont think its humane. Although it isnt much different from how EU is handling the Refugees. We live in a world where humanity has long been absent. It is sad and pathetic.

          • On Dre

            You are insane. The ‘Gulenist’ didnt plot a coup. If only because any coup plotter of any nationality would do such a obvious rookie job. So you are not against tossing 150k people in jail? Are you really going to tell us that it took 150,000 people to plot the worst coup in history? Sounds more like you dont mind turning a blind eye towards authoritirians.
            – HDP party leaders…in jail.
            – Indy media…in jail.
            – The Turkish pilot who shot down the Russin Su…in jail.

            All the hallmarks of a dictator. Yes, we live in a world where humanity is absent. Its because people like you look the other way when inhumanity rises.

          • Duane

            The Turks, even if they wished such an implausible and ridiculous outcome as you described, would still be starting from a helluva long way behind Vlad Putin, who sponsored and committed the genicidal murder of more than 600 thousand Syrians, a very large proportion of whom we women, children, and the aged, and drove 11 million Syrians from their homes.

    • Duane

      Actually, we collectively do have a lot of leverage with the Turks. Most of Turkey’s exports go to the EU. We could always just arm the Kurds and the YPG and let them duke it out with the Turks, which would totally consume Erdogan’s government and destabilize Turkey. And without NATO, Turkey would be easy pickins for Putin, who would give anything to take over the Dardenelles and full control over the Black Sea.

      But the Turks have entered another one of their pricklish and difficult periods. Eventually this too will pass, as long as we don’t do something stupid like telling the Turks to go eff themselves, as the dummies here propose to the great delight of Vlad Putin.

  • Ed L

    The United States of America needs to recoginze the Kurdish People like they should have done back in 2003. But the Bush Administration reneged. Now Erdogan’s domestic political agenda which includes the invasion deep into Syria Territory using Turkish troops and syrian milita which is made up of Al Qaeda and ISIS factions. That was in newsweek and business weekly. I am for buying the greek island of Kapathos or Kossos making them US Terrority and establish a 200 mile economic. Maybe call upon God to deliver an Earthquake to the Dardanelles and close the black sea

    • On Dre

      Our foreign policy is still very much geared toward those of those who sell us oil…the house of Saud. Expect no change from Bolton who is itching for a fight with Saudi’s arch enemy Iran. We shouldnt be anywhere near this fight. The cost of the Iraq invasion could have put tesla’s and solar panels on every home coast to coast. We have sided with an ideology that differs from ISIS in only that they will do business with US oil companies.

      With Obama and the YPG we broke away from only supporting religious whahabbist in the region. In fact, we supported secular forces who are much more aligned with our own values; equality. The US would not support secular forces before only because most of them wanted to nationalize the oil profits for their own citizens benefit. Our alternative has been to have the Sauds et al support non ISIS muslim extremist in the region. The FSA in syria is a perfect example. The FSA in Afrin now is Al Queda – Al Nusra. They are, of course, backed up by Erdogen who is an enemy of equality. He openly calls for ethnic cleansing of the afrin area to return arabs and not the kurds. Unforthenly, the ISIS fighting kurds now depend on the moral integrity of the white house to not sell them out to religious Saudi extremist.

  • Tanner Wade

    Time for the West to take back Constantinople.

    • On Dre

      You have Erdogen’s facism on one side. I’ve been seeing the flip side here with those who dream of a new “crusade”.
      Instead of looking to the future where we are peacful there are those who look to the past to renew ways of making us fight. Dumbasses all around.

  • Eagle115

    I hope we don’t sell this guy F-35’s. He will give some to the Russkys.

  • Ed L

    IS Russian and Turkey cooperation possible? What is really creepy is that over the last 6 or more years new Russian TV and Movies that protray the Great Patrotic War that have been made available to the west and can be seen on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. The thyme behind the shows is Russian Nationalism. What is Putin doing? Erdogan has also been avocating a strong Nationalism in Turkey using the Ottman Empire as a vehicle for promoting an intense emotion among the Turkish People.

    • SDW

      Demonising another country, nostalgia for some historic greatness, and passionate outrage at centuries old offenses are long standing techniques for despots to mask increased repression at home.

      • pingouin dédé

        Like usa ?

        • SDW

          I don’t think any country is without sin in this regard but the USA, at least, doesn’t refer back to centuries old offenses. That said, many of the immigrants and their descendants often hold those grudges. For decades the USA was the primary source of money coming into the Irish Republican Army.

          Your point is well taken. Everyone must be on alert to anything resembling the manipulations I mentioned even though not all criticism is demonizing and a little nostalgia can be a good thing in appreciating what our ancestors accomplished. It is when hate crowds out history that demagoguery wins.