Turkey: Friend or Foe?

The most ignored feature of the 2016 election campaign, that in so many respects turned out to be unique, is that no one among the candidates tried to provide an answer to two seemingly simple but critically important questions.  The first:  which country or organization represents the main danger to the United States?  The second: is Turkey a friend or foe of the United States in regard to general developments in the Middle East, and to the Syrian Crisis in particular?

The relationship between Obama and the president of Turkey, Erdoğan, has a long and complex history.  It started during the spring of 2009, when the young and totally inexperienced president of the United States, Barack Obama, chose Turkey as the first country to visit, keeping with his vision of a brand new relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.

We are well familiar with the multitude of facts that lead every unbiased observer to the inevitable conclusion that a constant feature of Obama's political actions was a combination of ignorance and arrogance.  As an example, when all military experts expressed their definite opposition to the idea of the complete withdrawal of the American military contingent from Iraq, Obama disregarded all advice, and these detachments left Iraq.

The beginning of the de facto alliance between Obama and Erdoğan was created in 2009.  The most important questions that emerge are, was Obama totally ignorant of the fact that Erdoğan was (and still is!) a hardcore Islamist, who was closely allied to Hamas and to the soon to be Islamic president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi?  Or, rather, was the connection with Erdoğan a deliberate attempt of Obama to establish and develop close ties with Islamic friends of the Turkish statesman, particularly with the rising star Morsi?

In either scenario, the strategy and the actions of Obama didn't look good.  Under the first, the president looked like an ignorant politician, while under the second one, Obama had committed an impeachable offense by acting against the national interests of the United States.

As far as Secretary Hillary Clinton is concerned, being a devoted employee of Obama, she was just blindly following her boss.  Even more, besides the numerous occasions when Obama's secretary of state was praising Erdoğan's Turkey as a loyal friend and ally of the United States, she gave a joyous high five to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu (the current prime minister of Turkey, who succeeded Erdoğan on August 28, 2014), during their meeting in Abu Dhabi back in 2011.  In one of his statements, Obama indicated that he considered Erdoğan one of the five international leaders among his best friends.

During the same year of 2011, an unexpected huge dark cloud appeared over the idyllic Obama-Erdoğan relationship.  It was kept almost a state secret in the United States, but it was an undeniable truth that Erdoğan sided openly with the jihadists.  For years, the Turkish authorities were allowing unrestricted access of jihadist volunteers coming from all over the world to Syria.

Even the most superficial glance at the disposition of ISIS forces would reveal that they were concentrated in close proximity to the Turkish military detachments across the border.  On some occasions, those forces could be located almost within walking distance of the Turkish military units.  Neither Obama nor Hillary bothered to offer any comment, not to speak of taking certain action against the jihadists.  With time, this situation became untenable, and the Obama administration offered its uncertain and limited support to the Kurdish forces resisting the Islamic assault.

In May of 2013, Erdoğan paid an official visit to Washington that, at least theoretically, offered an opportunity for the president of the United States to address the issue involving the Turkish support for the jihadists in Syria.  Evidently, however, not only did Barack Obama have any issues with the Turkish policy on this topic, but even more, he was totally supportive of Erdoğan.  As Obama said in welcoming the Turkish politician to the White House, "[t]his visit reflects the importance that the United States places on the relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdoğan."

The same speech contained an excerpt that would have been extremely shocking to Americans if the media had been ready to report it.  "[A]s always, among the topics where I appreciate your advice is close to our hearts ... is how to raise our daughters well."  Given the fact that as a hardcore Islamist, Erdoğan is raising his daughters as most conservative Muslims do, it leaves room for the question: is the president of the United States ready to impose the rough Islamic dress code for women on his own daughters?

To be sure, neither President Obama nor his secretary of state, Clinton, made any attempt to defend the numerous victims of the increasing authoritarian trend in the internal policy of Erdoğan.  There were, however, many representatives of the American political elite, including the governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty; senators Norm Coleman and Charles S. Robb; and a score of diplomats, who had expressed their concern about the negative trend in the politics of Erdoğan.  In an open letter to the president, dated February 20, 2014, the authors of this remarkable document, which was totally ignored by the media, declared that "in the meantime the damage to Turkish democracy keeps worsening. We believe it is important now to make it clear, privately and publicly, that Prime-Minister Erdoğan's autocratic actions and demagoguery are subverting Turkey's political institutions and values and endangering the US-Turkey relationship."

Now, during the final days of the Obama administration, President Erdoğan once again visited Washington.  This time he got the cold shoulder from his former ardent partner.  The dream of joint visit, to go to Maryland, where a huge mosque waited to be inaugurated by both presidents, remained unfulfilled.

Even Erdoğan's visit to Washington in March of 2016 was able to capture the attention of the press.  It turned out that the security people around the Turkish president assaulted some compatriots considered enemies of Erdoğan, who had come uninvited.

The American president didn't care about the scandalous behavior of his former best friend.  The only fact that seemed to matter to Obama was the bitter realization that Erdoğan would still be in power even after Obama left office.

Georgy Gounev teaches ideology and strategy of radical Islam in the Emeritus Program of Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, Calif.  He is the author of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J. and London (Great Britain), 2014.

The most ignored feature of the 2016 election campaign, that in so many respects turned out to be unique, is that no one among the candidates tried to provide an answer to two seemingly simple but critically important questions.  The first:  which country or organization represents the main danger to the United States?  The second: is Turkey a friend or foe of the United States in regard to general developments in the Middle East, and to the Syrian Crisis in particular?

The relationship between Obama and the president of Turkey, Erdoğan, has a long and complex history.  It started during the spring of 2009, when the young and totally inexperienced president of the United States, Barack Obama, chose Turkey as the first country to visit, keeping with his vision of a brand new relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.

We are well familiar with the multitude of facts that lead every unbiased observer to the inevitable conclusion that a constant feature of Obama's political actions was a combination of ignorance and arrogance.  As an example, when all military experts expressed their definite opposition to the idea of the complete withdrawal of the American military contingent from Iraq, Obama disregarded all advice, and these detachments left Iraq.

The beginning of the de facto alliance between Obama and Erdoğan was created in 2009.  The most important questions that emerge are, was Obama totally ignorant of the fact that Erdoğan was (and still is!) a hardcore Islamist, who was closely allied to Hamas and to the soon to be Islamic president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi?  Or, rather, was the connection with Erdoğan a deliberate attempt of Obama to establish and develop close ties with Islamic friends of the Turkish statesman, particularly with the rising star Morsi?

In either scenario, the strategy and the actions of Obama didn't look good.  Under the first, the president looked like an ignorant politician, while under the second one, Obama had committed an impeachable offense by acting against the national interests of the United States.

As far as Secretary Hillary Clinton is concerned, being a devoted employee of Obama, she was just blindly following her boss.  Even more, besides the numerous occasions when Obama's secretary of state was praising Erdoğan's Turkey as a loyal friend and ally of the United States, she gave a joyous high five to the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu (the current prime minister of Turkey, who succeeded Erdoğan on August 28, 2014), during their meeting in Abu Dhabi back in 2011.  In one of his statements, Obama indicated that he considered Erdoğan one of the five international leaders among his best friends.

During the same year of 2011, an unexpected huge dark cloud appeared over the idyllic Obama-Erdoğan relationship.  It was kept almost a state secret in the United States, but it was an undeniable truth that Erdoğan sided openly with the jihadists.  For years, the Turkish authorities were allowing unrestricted access of jihadist volunteers coming from all over the world to Syria.

Even the most superficial glance at the disposition of ISIS forces would reveal that they were concentrated in close proximity to the Turkish military detachments across the border.  On some occasions, those forces could be located almost within walking distance of the Turkish military units.  Neither Obama nor Hillary bothered to offer any comment, not to speak of taking certain action against the jihadists.  With time, this situation became untenable, and the Obama administration offered its uncertain and limited support to the Kurdish forces resisting the Islamic assault.

In May of 2013, Erdoğan paid an official visit to Washington that, at least theoretically, offered an opportunity for the president of the United States to address the issue involving the Turkish support for the jihadists in Syria.  Evidently, however, not only did Barack Obama have any issues with the Turkish policy on this topic, but even more, he was totally supportive of Erdoğan.  As Obama said in welcoming the Turkish politician to the White House, "[t]his visit reflects the importance that the United States places on the relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdoğan."

The same speech contained an excerpt that would have been extremely shocking to Americans if the media had been ready to report it.  "[A]s always, among the topics where I appreciate your advice is close to our hearts ... is how to raise our daughters well."  Given the fact that as a hardcore Islamist, Erdoğan is raising his daughters as most conservative Muslims do, it leaves room for the question: is the president of the United States ready to impose the rough Islamic dress code for women on his own daughters?

To be sure, neither President Obama nor his secretary of state, Clinton, made any attempt to defend the numerous victims of the increasing authoritarian trend in the internal policy of Erdoğan.  There were, however, many representatives of the American political elite, including the governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty; senators Norm Coleman and Charles S. Robb; and a score of diplomats, who had expressed their concern about the negative trend in the politics of Erdoğan.  In an open letter to the president, dated February 20, 2014, the authors of this remarkable document, which was totally ignored by the media, declared that "in the meantime the damage to Turkish democracy keeps worsening. We believe it is important now to make it clear, privately and publicly, that Prime-Minister Erdoğan's autocratic actions and demagoguery are subverting Turkey's political institutions and values and endangering the US-Turkey relationship."

Now, during the final days of the Obama administration, President Erdoğan once again visited Washington.  This time he got the cold shoulder from his former ardent partner.  The dream of joint visit, to go to Maryland, where a huge mosque waited to be inaugurated by both presidents, remained unfulfilled.

Even Erdoğan's visit to Washington in March of 2016 was able to capture the attention of the press.  It turned out that the security people around the Turkish president assaulted some compatriots considered enemies of Erdoğan, who had come uninvited.

The American president didn't care about the scandalous behavior of his former best friend.  The only fact that seemed to matter to Obama was the bitter realization that Erdoğan would still be in power even after Obama left office.

Georgy Gounev teaches ideology and strategy of radical Islam in the Emeritus Program of Saddleback College, Mission Viejo, Calif.  He is the author of The Dark Side of the Crescent Moon, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J. and London (Great Britain), 2014.