Win Means U.S. Must Cancel F-35 Sale to Turkey
By Caroline Glick
June 28, 2018
Erdogan’s AKP Justice and Development Party retained
control over the Turkish parliament (albeit in conjunction with the
ultranationalist, anti-Kurdish MHP party).
The results will not change the trajectory that Erdogan
launched Turkey upon some 15 years ago when he first rose to power. But what the
election does mean is that the obvious trends in Turkey’s domestic and foreign
policies will be reinforced and expanded in an unimpeded manner.
From the America’s perspective, all of these trends are
uniformly negative. As a result, it is time for a serious reconsideration of
U.S. strategic ties with its erstwhile, and increasingly antagonistic, fellow
Sunday’s election served as an endorsement of the
constitutional changes that Erdogan forced
through the Turkish parliament last year. Those reforms, which
transform Turkey into a presidential system and cancel the office of the prime
minister, provide Erdogan with unfettered power to govern by fiat. He can pass
law by decree, call for elections at any time, appoint anyone he likes to any
position he wishes, and declare a state of emergency whenever he wants for
however long he likes.
Under the circumstances, whether or not the AKP controls
parliament or not has become far less important than it was before the
constitutional amendments were passed. Under the reformed constitutional system,
the parliament is powerless to check Erdogan’s power.
Erdogan’s emasculation of the parliament is the final
stage of his seizure of absolute power. Over his 15 years in office, Erdogan has
assumed control of the Turkish media; banking
system; judiciary; civil
industries;, and, most recentlt, the military.
There is literally no independent power source capable of challenging his will.
So the question for foreign governments is: What is
Erdogan has made no attempt to hide his goals. He has
already transformed Turkey. When he rose to power in 2003, Turkey was the
secular republic republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the aftermath of
the fall of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I.
That secular republic no longer exists. Turkey is on the
fast track to become an Islamist state.
Erdogan’s new Turkish Islamist state harbors active
ambitions to reestablish
the Ottoman empire. To that end, Erdogan, a vituperative antisemite, has
become a major sponsor
of Hamas, the Palestinian terror group and Muslim Brotherhood branch that
controls the Gaza Strip.
During the Muslim Brotherhood’s year in power in Egypt,
Erdogan cultivated close ties with then-president Muhammed
For several years, Erdogan enabled the so-called “Islamic
State terror group to use Turkey as its recruitment
and logistical base. He also permitted Turkey to serve as Islamic
State’s economic hub. Most of its oil
sales were to Turkey. Arms and personnel en
route to Syria travelled through Turkey.
As for illicit oil sales, Turkey served as a major
Iranian oil and gas in defiance of UN Security Council sanctions
barring purchase of Iranian oil and gas exports.
Then there is Qatar. When last year the moderate Sunni
regimes, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, cut off diplomatic relations with Doha
and blockaded its borders, demanding that it shut down its often-radical Al
Jazeera satellite network, end its alliance with Iran, and stop sponsoring Sunni
jihadist groups (including Hamas, al Qaeda and Islamic State), Erdogan
rushed to Qatar’s defense. Turkish forces deployed to Qatar to protect the
regime. Erdogan expects that in return for his protection, Qatar will behave as
a Turkish vassal state.
As Turkey has cultivated jihadists as allies, Erdogan has
spurned Turkey’s traditional allies — Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
As for Europe, Erdogan has taken an active role in
undermining European societies through migration. Ahead of last year’s Turkish
vote to approve or reject his constitutional changes, Erdogan sent
representatives to Turkish communities in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands
to campaign among
expatriates to vote for the amendments giving him absolute power. When the
Europeans objected and Holland and Austria barred
Turkish officials from entering their territory ahead of the poll,
Erdogan condemned and threatened them. Ahead of Sunday’s vote, Germany,
Holland, and Austria all banned Turkish politicians from campaigning in their
territory. Erdogan against
The mass migration of Syrians and others to Europe was
largely a result of Erdogan’s will. He chose
to push them into Europe. Since he did so, he has been effectively
extorting European leaders, especially Germany, to finance his economy lest he
open the floodgatesof migration from the Middle East to Europe once again.
As for great power politics, under Erdogan, Turkey’s
relations with the U.S. have become frosty. As he cultivates mass hatred of Jews
in Turkey, so he has cultivated anti-Americanism. Television
shows, bestselling books, and other cultural outlets are geared towards
instilling deep-seated hatred for America among the Turks. And
it is working.
When Erdogan indirectly accused the
Obama administration — which went out of its way to embrace
and support him – of sponsoring the failed coup of July 2016, Turkish
public opinion was already primed to believe him. Since the coup — which was
defeated by Erdogan’s shock troops — U.S.-Turkish relations have gone from
bad to worse.
As he has cultivated hatred for America at home, Erdogan
has gone to great lengths to cultivate closer ties to Russia. Russia has supported Turkey’s
assaults on the Kurds in northern Syria. And Turkey has signed a deal to
purchase Russia’s S-400 surface to air missile system. The latter deal lit
every possible red light in Washington. As a NATO ally, Turkey is required to
purchase systems that are interoperable with NATO platforms. The S-400 is not
interoperable. Moreover, if Erdogan chooses to, once he receives his order of
100 F-35 combat fighters, he will be able to share the stealth technology with
Russia and China and thus endanger the viability of the U.S.’s
Moreover, given his strategic ambitions, there is every
reason to be concerned that Erdogan will deploy his F-35s against U.S. allies.
Cognizant of Erdogan’s anti-Americanism — which, among
other things, is manifested in the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew
Brunson on trumped up charges of involvement with the coup attempt — earlier
this month the Senate overwhelmingly
passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill for 2019 that
bars the Pentagon from carrying out its deal with Turkey to sell Erdogan’s
regime the F-35s.
Last week, the U.S. officially transferred the
first two aircraft to Turkey. To a certain extent, the plane delivery was more
apparent than real. The planes were transferred from a base in Texas to a base
in Arizona, where Turkish flight crews and ground operators are being trained to
use them. The training could last for as long as the U.S. wishes. And until it
is completed, the F-35s will not be transferred to Turkey.
But the fact that they were formally transferred the week
before Erdogan was elected the all-powerful neo-Ottoman leader of Turkey makes
clear that the U.S. government has either not come to terms with the reality of
Erdogan’s Turkey, or that it has come to terms with reality, but hasn’t
figured out how to deal with it.
Some defense experts believe that Erdogan is not seeking an
alliance with Russia through the S-400 purchase. They argue that Erdogan’s
motivation is political, not strategic. He wants good relations with Russia,
they say, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to remain in NATO, or that he
shouldn’t be viewed as a long-term ally.
The problem with this view is not that it is wrong. Maybe
it’s wrong. Maybe it’s right.
But assuming that is true, it doesn’t outweigh two other
facts. First, Erdogan is using the S-400 system purchase to extract concessions
from the U.S. just as he is using the hostage Brunson as a means of cutting a
deal with Washington on things he wants.
Presently, Turkey risks
penalties for violating renewed U.S. sanctions against buying Iranian
oil. Erdogan may try to trade Brunson or the S-400 for an end to sanctions talk.
Then there are the Kurds. Turkey is demanding that
the U.S. abandon its Kurdish allies in Syria and transfer control over the
Kurdish enclaves in eastern Syria — including the town of Manbij, where U.S.
Special Forces operate jointly with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic
Forces — to Turkish control. He could be trying to trade the S-400 for the
These prospects would amount to little more than extortion.
Why would the U.S. sell its top warplane to a regime that seizes U.S. hostages,
busts UN sanctions, and demands that the U.S. abandon its closest allies in
The second problem with the lenient view of Erdogan’s
relations with Russia is that it ignores the wider context in which Erdogan is
acting. He cares much less about superpower rivalries, and even his future in
NATO, than he does about rebuilding the Ottoman empire in the Middle East. And
every action the U.S. takes to empower him, whether by betraying the Kurds to
appease him, or by taking his suggested “compromise”
deals over the S-400 purchase seriously, fuel his ambitions and his
capacity to advance them.
Turkey’s Middle East goals, in and of themselves, are
deeply hostile to U.S. interests. All of Erdogan’s plans and beliefs align him
with jihadists against moderate regimes that are actively fighting jihadists.
While it is important to be deeply concerned about the
S-400 purchase in and of itself, when it is understood as part and parcel of
Erdogan’s regional ambitions, it becomes an even greater cause for alarm.
Because even in the unlikely scenario that Erdogan cancels the deal, the basic
trajectory of Turkish strategic policy will continue to be diametrically opposed
to America’s most basic regional interest of fighting and defeating the forces
of radical Islam. This will not change, because Erdogan himself is a radical
Islamist who supports jihad.
Some senior Pentagon officials continue to hope that the
Turkish military will save the day. But that is a false hope. The generals who
would have checked Erdogan’s ambitions are all in
jail or dead.
After Sunday’s elections, Erdogan is Turkey. His
positions are Turkey’s positions. And Erdogan’s position is that he should
be an Ottoman emperor at war with America’s allies and directing America’s
It would be a mistake to let him lead the charge with a hundred F-35s.