Turkey is a schizophrenic country. Throughout its history it has alternately viewed itself as both European and Asian. By being “European” this means a secular government and free market economy, or what passes as such in a Muslim country. By “Asian,” one means Muslim. Born of the ashes of the defeated Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the country became a military backed secular democracy of sorts. In 2002, Tecip Erdogan’s AKP Party rose to power on a promise of reforms. His party has largely achieved its most major reform by lessening the role of the military in Turkish politics and the political structures.
The confounding nature of Turkey as it applies to the United States is its membership in NATO. NATO was founded to thwart and address an overwhelming threat at the time- an expansionist Soviet Union and the spread of communism in Europe. Turkey became the necessary protection on Western Europe’s southern flank against the Soviet Union. But, the primary reason for NATO fell apart with the break up of the Soviet Union.
The result of this is that NATO has devolved into an “alliance” in search of a problem and overwhelming threat. Is Putin or ISIL an overwhelming threat akin to communism? These are questions that need answers first. Instead we see NATO being used to draw members into local hot spots far removed from Europe or North America. For example, the United States dragged Europe into Afghanistan while Europe dragged United States into Libya. As it stands now, neither is a stunning success for NATO. Likewise, Syria threatens to drag both the United States and Europe into that hot spot and the main instigator is Turkey.
Erdogan had it in for Bashir Assad long before civil war broke out in Syria. His solution is to arm the rebels fighting Assad, establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria and eventually oust Assad. He also wants NATO to do the heavy lifting here. This is a nation with a 500,000 man strong military with sophisticated weaponry and war planes that is more than adequately prepared to do the job themselves. The fact is that the Syrian civil war is Turkey’s problem, not NATO’s.
Some have argued that Erdogan’s recent actions are the result of the European Union dragging its feet on Turkey’s admission. Robert Gates, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all stated such. But, the fact remains that the only time Turkey truly looked west was during the Cold War. In other times, they acted in their own self interest. With the end of the Cold War, that interest seems to be a reconciliation with its Muslim brothers. Despite their commercial relationship with Israel, they have funded Hamas which is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s demise. They have cozied up to the mullahs in Iran and they have cracked down on dissidents in Turkey. They are a haven for the Muslim Brotherhood. Over 100 journalists are in prison on trumped up charges.
They also are responsible more than anyone else for the birth of ISIL. Because they were a huge booster of the “rebels” in Syria trying to oust Assad, they created the morass that exists there today, including the refugee problem, while allowing foreign fighters to cross their border with impunity to join the jihad in Syria. Even after ISIL became a major destabilizing force in Iraq and Syria, those borders remained porous while stolen oil and contraband was brought in to Turkey with nary an attempt to stop it. Some border towns were described as supply depots for fighters joining the jihad in Syria. Yet, Erdogan did nothing. Regarding the EU and NATO, there is yet another confounding issue- Cyprus. In 1974, Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus with the excuse of protecting the Turkish minority there. They have remained there to this day. If this sounds familiar, it should since this is the very reason and tactic used by Putin in the Crimea. How can NATO or the EU present a united front against Russia in the Ukraine when when of its members does the same in Cyprus?
Thus far the only entity willing to take on ISIL with any success are the Kurds. Turkey’s opposition to and repression of the large Kurdish population is a bigger threat to Ankara than ISIL, in their view. While they fight each other, both are kept at bay and cannot concentrate on Turkey. And although Erdogan has said he seeks a peaceful solution to the Kurdish situation, many leaders are still in jail. While the Kurds fought ISIL in Kobane within sight of Turkish tanks, they did nothing other than allow some Iraqi Kurdish fighters access through their country.
But, Turkey cannot play this standoff game forever. Should ISIL win against the Kurds, then they clearly have their sights on parts of Turkey also. The “L” in ISIL stands for Levant and southeastern Turkey is in that geographical region. Should ISIL consolidate its power in Iraq and Syria, rest assured they will push into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. While it may be true that ISIL has about 25,000 men and the Turkish milirary 500,000, now is the time for that half a million man military to act. Should ISIL be defeated or held in place, then there will still be the Kurdish problem in Turkey. Erdogan’s solution is some kind of politically autonomous area while the Kurds want their own state. The latter is doubtful, but while there is an ISIL out there occupying the Kurds, there is no urgency for Erdogan to act either way.
Journalists and diplomats captured by ISIL have said that Turkey is in their sights and that Erdogan is “an enemy of Islam.” There is even a reported ISIL brigade made up of only Turkish fighters. Instead of pleading to NATO to act, Turkey should be handling this problem on their own and no one in NATO will be upset if they do. Turkey has helped create the monster that they now want the West to help destroy.
In that troubled part of the world known as the Middle East, alliances are fleeting and every actor major and minor acts in their own self-interest. Some of that interest is settling old scores against each other, or the West. None of these governments except Israel are true democracies. These are people who have lived under repressive military or religious dictatorships with no concept of liberty and, quite frankly, I do not think they really care. Because in the Middle East, religion trumps liberty at every turn and its a region where the United States should tread softly besides protecting its only true ally- Israel. As borders become obliterated and made obsolete, the United States must insure the borders of only one country there.