Trump's Congratulatory Call to Erdogan Is Bad; His and NATO's Lack of Urgency on Turkey's Authoritarianism Is Even Worse

It's past time for NATO to reconsider Turkey's membership.


President Trump called Turkey President Recep Erdogan to congratulate him and his ruling party on a narrow win for a constitutional referendum that will change the country's system of government from a parliamentary to a presidential one in a way that will also leave the presidency with fewer checks and balances—reinforcing Trump's preference for an authoritarian style of government while also illustrating why he was correct not to treat NATO as a sacred cow during the 2016 election, even though he's come to do so as president.

American presidents call dictators all the time—U.S. foreign policy has gone a long way from George Washington's warning against "permanent alliances" and Thomas Jefferson's promise of "honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none," arriving in the opposite place, with all kinds of entangling alliances with dishonest friends, while NATO is as permanent alliance as it gets. There is not even a formal mechanism to eject a country that, say, is sliding toward authoritarianism or pursuing an aggressive foreign policy that increases its risk of the kind of attack that might trigger Article V, the mutual self-defense guarantee.

Turkey's transformation into an authoritarian government did not start with the results of Sunday's election, which was highly criticized by election monitors on the ground. The Turkish government's crackdown on a free press had been ongoing for years, and accelerated last summer after a failed coup attempt. During the referendum campaign, Erdogan likened his European NATO allies to Nazis for not permitting his government to electioneer in favor of the referendum in their countries.

More worryingly, Turkey has been repeatedly accused of providing support for ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria, especially those fighting the Kurds, with whom the U.S. and other NATO members involved in the war on ISIS have allied. Earlier this year, Turkey lobbied the U.S. unsuccessfully to drop Kurdish forces from the forces organized to take Raqqa from ISIS.

Turkey is just an Article 5 invocation away from throwing the kind of monkey-wrench into NATO's mechanics that observers worried Trump would when he refused to say that the U.S. would come to the aid of a NATO country that was under attack.

Article 5 has only been used once, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Since then, the U.S. has embarked on a foreign policy that has helped put it and its allies at risk. ISIS, a self-styled state, emerged from the chaos fueled by an ill-advised invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has taken advantage of the conditions created by U.S. interventions from Afghanistan to Libya to set up shop. ISIS-aligned fighters have carried out a number of high profile terror attacks in Europe, including France and Belgium. Both are NATO members.

Article 5 wasn't invoked after the ISIS terrorist attack in Paris on November 15, 2015, despite France President Francois Hollande calling the attacks an "act of war" and the use of Article 5 offering, as Ilya Somin pointed out in The Washington Post, a legal justification for the war the Obama administration was already waging on ISIS.

Trump's appropriation of non-interventionist stances on issues like NATO, U.S. alliances with authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia, and military interventions in places like Libya and Iraq was unconvincing, in part because of the general fluidity of every other political position he took, in part because of his consistent admiration for authoritarian leaders, and in large part because of his expressed, genuine-seeming desire to "blow the shit up out of ISIS."

In this context, Trump's heel-turn on NATO shouldn't be surprising. It's a lot easier to escalate the U.S. wars he inherited, and start his own, without also trying to challenge the international status quo.

But recent developments in Turkey show why just such a challenge is important. U.S. foreign policy is guided by decisions made after World War 2 and during the Cold War, of which Turkey's membership is a relic. During the presidential campaign, Trump promised serious reflection on the U.S.'s role in the world. His promise was false, but that reflection continues to become more necessary by the day.

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  1. Christ, what an asshole. Or a bunch of assholes.

    And who decided having Turkey in NATO was a good idea?

      1. Never mind. For some reason I thought they joined much later than they did. Maybe I’m thinking of their wanting to join the EU.

        1. The EU rebuffing Turkey from joining in the early 2000’s is probably what made it possible for Erdogen to win power

    1. Realpolitik is a stone cold motherfucker.

    2. WW already covered it, but their strategic geographic position (both the link between Europe and the Middle East and also their control of the straits between the Mediterranean and Black Seas) means that they’ll always have a spot at the table as long as they want it.

  2. What is to be done with Turkey, though, since we have military installations there and nuclear weapons? It’s bizarre, again, how the Russia conspiracists are now insisting that we break ties with Turkey? You can’t be pro-war with Russia and want to break-off from Turkey.

    This has been a slow-moving ice burg that didn’t develop overnight, as you mention. Fault belongs to the past three administrations

    1. we have military installations there and nuclear weapons?

      We pulled our nukes out of Turkey after the Cuban missile crisis.

  3. Trump congratulating him was monumentally fucking retarded. It’d be like congratulating Maduro on getting the Supreme Court to reinstate the legislature there.

    1. That’s would have been the sanders administration.

      1. Is it just me or has the whole what would [former president/opposing candidate] line of thought completely evaporated?

        Someone pointed out the other day that they know more Trump people who would change their vote in light of current events. I think some of it is TDS, but it seems like some of it is a complete lack of the media to play some of the roles they’ve conventionally played. It seems excessively coincidental that for at least three presidencies we’ve wondered ‘what would Clinton/Gore/Bush/Dole/Kerry/Obama/etc. do?’ but because Trump’s presidency is completely unprecedented, we don’t give two shits that the (now apparently radioactive) Clinton Dynasty would have us in the exact same place, if not worse.

        1. Who Would Clinton Have Congratulated? Maybe the re-elected PM of India.

        2. “Everything I do is presidential, because I’m the president.”

    2. American presidents tend to congratulate a lot of tyrants when they have nuclear bases there

  4. reinforcing Trump’s preference for an authoritarian style of government

    Honestly, i don’t think it’s that complicated or philosophical. Trump might enjoy exercising a bit of authoritarianism himself in order to Get Stuff Done and Make America Great Again, but i doubt it rises to the level of an ideology that he wants to see adopted by other countries.

    1. Trump has a history of praising strongmen and authoritarian tactics. While I too am hesitant to call any thought in Trump’s brain ‘ideological’, it’s clearly more than just a personal thing.

  5. My fantasy world would do away with embassies, ambassadors, treaties, overseas military bases, everything. We’d take the world as it is, and they’d take us as we are. Some despot wants aid? Play the PR game — TV ads with Sally Struthers or Sean Penn, lobbying corporations, extortionate tariffs, their call. Same despot doesn’t want aid to his enemies? More PR games.

    Instead of the flip-flop we get now from elections changing the Current Occupant, any assistance from the public would change depending entirely on circumstances and PR flacks.

    But the primary benefit would be no more entangling alliances. Turkey goes autocratic? They lose some donors, gain others, but all are volunteer donors, not conscripted by thieving taxation.

  6. I agree with just about everything here, but I would like to bitch about calling the invasion of Iraq “ill-advised”, as though it were somehow not really George Bush’s fault, just the fault of some anonymous, “bad” advisors. The invasion of Iraq was entirely unnecessary, staggeringly wrong-headed, justified by constant, malicious deceit, and stunningly bungled in execution. Sometimes, U.S. foreign policy isn’t just “ill-advised”; sometimes, it’s vicious, unprincipled, and bloody.

  7. Apparently the Kurds are in the way.

    1. Are you proud of yourself for that one?

      1. You bet your tuffet I am.

  8. That picture looks like he and Obama are about 2 seconds away from starting a heavy make-out session. There’s definitely a “creepy Joe Biden” vibe to it, only gay (NTTAWWT).

  9. General Cheeto sides with another authoritarian. Who is surprised again?

  10. How about converting NATO into a purely European defense system? It cannot be done overnight. Russia is a threat to her immediate neighbors and European NATO members need time to reallocate budget priorities. I think 10 years is a good timeframe.

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