Time for the U.S. to Stop Treating Turkey As an Ally

By Shep Gerszberg 

This past week, the Turkish military launched an offensive against Kurdish forces this week, firing artillery across its border into the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin. This assault is mainly against U.S.-backed Kurdish troops who make up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces currently fighting against ISIS in Syria. According to Turkey, these strikes are targeting terrorist groups due to their link to the Kurdistan Workers Party, considered to be a terrorist group by Turkey.

After these incendiary and dangerous assaults by Turkey against U.S.-allied troops fighting to avoid a ISIS controlled Syria, its time to face the truth, Turkey is no ally, no democracy and should be treated as neither.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a long history of imprisoning political and media opponents. The constitutional changes he pushed through are extraordinarily anti-democratic, and all of that is in addition to erratic behavior that includes demanding the arrest of a German comedian for mocking him and the arrest of an NBA player for criticizing him. Erdogan is not a rational or responsible member of the world community, and treating him as such is a disservice to his current and potential victims.

The truth is Erdogan is no different than the Ayatollahs of Iran, the Kim Jungs of North Korea, or Putin in Russia. All of them are the same breed of irresponsible and dangerous members of the world community who put all of us in danger through their actions. The sanctions that we put on those countries should be put on Turkey as well.

But this is where it gets complicated, as foreign policy always is. Anyone who tries to pass an issue off as simple is either lying to you or does not fully grasp the complexity of the situation.

This brings us to this week’s attacks, attacks that Turkey reiterated just this Wednesday, that would continue no matter what criticism they face.

This is a major crisis for a multitude of reasons. First, Turkey has said that they are in contact with Iran and Russia who have given them permission to carry out these attacks. The fact they went to these countries for permission shows how far they are from being responsible allies of the U.S. and how removed they are from their role as a member of NATO, an organization created to check Russian power.

This brings us to the other issue at play here, NATO. Because Turkey is a NATO member, this creates a serious issue for NATO. Beyond the fact that a NATO state has all but gone rogue. The U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria are fighting back against the Turkish assault. They are going to continue to fight back against Turkish assault. Article 5 technically requires us to go in there and defend turkey–from U.S.-allied Kurdish forces.

Either say Article 5 does not matter or attack troops that we have allied with and armed. Both are problematic. Turkey has put the U.S. and the entire NATO alliance in a troublesome position. They have acted like a rogue state, attacked U.S. allies, harmed attempts to ensure that ISIS does not gain a foothold in Syria, and all the White House can say is that the U.S. understands Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” and is “committed to working with Turkey as a NATO ally.”

That is not enough. That is a cop-out by the current administration and they know it. It is time for the U.S. to act like a superpower again. It is time for us to actually take action when U.S. interests are threatened. Obama’s inaction in the face of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s crimes is what got us into this mess with Syria, and now the Trump administration seems poised to repeat those mistakes with Turkey. It is time for us to act.

This is an unprecedented issue and requires unprecedented steps. The U.S. should begin an official inquiry into looking for locations that can replace the current airfields we have in Turkey. Following that process we should immediately move to suspend Turkey from NATO pending further review.

Additionally, we should increase our arms sales to the Kurdish troops fighting ISIS in the region and condition a lessening of those arms sales on a Turkish retreat. If they continue to refuse to back down, the U.S. should use other punitive measures such as threatening recognition of Kurdish independence and right to statehood or even sanctions. Turkey need to be forced to back down here.

Erdogan and Turkey have not acted like allies, rather they have acted like enemies. They have acted like a dictatorship and it is hypocritical of us not to treat them as such. We should treat them the same way we treat Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

This is not a simple issue, and while I support drastic action, I am not trying to pretend it is not complex. There are massive amounts of U.S. interests at play here: U.S. airbases in Turkey, other NATO allies and how they feel, diplomatic relations with Turkey, and the role they play in the region.

But if we let them stomp all over us here, then where does it end? What does U.S. protection mean anymore if we allow U.S.-allied Kurdish troops to be attacked with no punitive action? Do we allow any rogue state dictatorship to have full rights as a U.S. ally if they have enough things we want?

On a practical note, these Kurdish troops are helping us fight off ISIS in the region. If we allow them to be forced out of that fight, either through being slaughtered or by being forced to fight, Turkey, as well as ISIS, will cripple our ability to stop ISIS.

We let Turkey intimidate us into not recognizing the Armenian Genocide, we ignore the unacceptable actions of their leader, but it is time for the U.S. to draw a line in the sand. If Erdogan insists on acting like an enemy of the U.S., let him be treated as one and find out how uncomfortable that position can be.

About Shep Gerszberg 7 Articles
Shep Gerszberg is currently an intern at the Jewish Policy Center. Aside from The National Discourse, his work has appeared in Kol HaBirah and other outlets. He has also interned with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the New York State Affordable Housing Commission. He is a junior at the George Washington University studying international affairs, Middle East studies, and conflict resolution, specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Afghanistan conflict, and the Pakistan-India conflict. He can be reached at shepgerszberg@gmail.com.