Is It Time for NATO to Expel Turkey?
NATO was originally formed after World War II as a military partnership to deter and respond to Soviet aggression in Europe. Turkey was added to NATO to guard the Soviet Union's southwestern flank, its only southern entrance to the Mediterranean Sea via the Black Sea. At the time, Turkey had been a secular democracy since 1923 and showed no inclination to return to its imperial Ottoman-Islamic grandeur as ruler of western Asia, a position it lost in World War I. Turkey became the good guy in the Islamic world after the Great War, the nation that had taken Islam out of the public realm and promised equality before the law for all of its citizens. Turkey even had (and still has) diplomatic relations with Israel, which was unheard of for a nation with a Muslim majority. Given its strategic location due to its ability to close the Bosporus Strait and bottle up Soviet warships in the Black Sea during times of war, Turkey was a comfortable fit for NATO.
And then came Erdoğan.
While running for mayor of Istanbul, a position he held from 1994 to 1998, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan campaigned on a promise to return Turkey to its former Ottoman empire glory, the seat of the Islamic caliphate just like old times, by promoting a return to Islam in the public realm. As prime minister from 2003 to 2014, he changed the law to allow women to wear the hijab (head scarf) in public buildings, which had previously been outlawed to keep religion and public life apart. He went to war against Turkey's Kurdish minority and charged army generals with crimes so that he could replace them with Islamists and avoid a coup d'état by secular army officers, who were the backbone of secularism in Turkey. Recently, he changed the Turkish constitution to allow himself to be president, a formerly symbolic post, with all of the dictatorial powers of an Ottoman sultan and caliph. And he is building himself a thousand-room, 600-million-dollar grand palace fit for a sultan and caliph. Now that he has the powers he sought, those who disagree with him are jailed, or they just disappear.
As Erdoğan has strengthened Islam at home, so has he Islamized Turkey's foreign policy. He has allowed Islamic State recruits and trucks full of weapons for ISIS to cross the border into Syria to help his fellow Sunni Muslims fight Syria's Alawite regime (a Shiite offspring) in the continuing 1,400-year-old war between Sunnis and Shiites. He has jumped on the anti-Israel bandwagon, taking the side of Hamas terrorists and, although Turkey still has diplomatic relations with Israel, threatening Israel with destruction. Most pertinent to this analysis is the fact that he would not allow the United States to use the airbase at Incirlik, where the U.S. has thousands of airmen and nuclear weapons, when U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq to remove a Sunni Arab dictator, just like what Erdoğan has become.
The issue is not whether Erdoğan had a legal right to prevent America from using the air base in that war or whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was right or wrong; rather, it is that, under Erdoğan's leadership, Turkey is not a dependable partner that can be counted upon to come to the aid of its fellow NATO countries when asked.
Now the situation is getting much more problematic. Recently, Erdoğan used his military to intimidate another NATO country when a Turkish naval vessel rammed a Greek Coast Guard vessel in the Aegean Sea near disputed islands. Even worse, Turkey recently invaded the Afrin district of Syria and is now fighting both Syrian government-supporters and Kurdish rebels. Not only do those actions threaten to divide NATO, but they could also propel NATO into a war that Turkey started.
Meanwhile, Turkey is actively undermining Europe's civilization by flooding the continent with Muslim economic migrants who Erdoğan tells us are "refugees" in an admittedly shameless attempt to Islamize Europe. And how can NATO count on Turkey's discretion in the use of confidential NATO intelligence when Turkey has a close working relationship with Iranian intelligence agencies?
So what good is Turkey to NATO? Not much! In fact, at this point, Turkey's negatives far outweigh its positives. Turkey is not so much a NATO partner as a liability.
But if Turkey were to be expelled from NATO, where else could the U.S. find a location in the eastern Mediterranean for an air base to deter and counter Iranian, Turkish, and even Russian aggression in the region? There's only one possibility. America's security partner Israel also sits in the eastern Mediterranean and has a large and underpopulated desert in the south, with plenty of room for an American air base. There actually is a small U.S. radar base there now. Moreover, Americans are popular in Israel, so they will not be harassed and beaten up, as American airmen and naval personnel have been in Turkey while on leave. With its modern infrastructure, prime Middle East location, Western values, and common interests with the U.S., Israel would be the perfect place for her closest military ally, the United States, to have an air base. That's because Israel, not Turkey, is America's only true and dependable ally in the Middle East.
Pete Cohon is a retired attorney living in Tel Aviv, Israel.