Reconciliation with Turkey should only come with a price

Τίποτα λιγότερο από την πλήρη απόσυρση όλων των τουρκικών δυνάμεων και των εποίκων από την Κύπρο, το Ιράκ και τη Συρία

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to fight the Syrian army directly if Syrian President Bashar Assad does not stop his assault on Idlib, the last major zone controlled by the Syrian opposition. While Erdogan imagined himself a master tactician, he is now learning that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who played him. Erdogan discarded decades of alliance with the United States for a brief fling, only to discover Putin’s professions of love were for more limited aims.

This is not the first time Erdogan has found himself outplayed. But, after deliberately trashing Turkey’s relationship with the U.S., it is time Washington plays hardball. Those who say that Erdogan notwithstanding, Turkey is too important for the U.S. to turn its back against are likely underestimating the corrosive impact of 17 years of Erdoganism, the incitement and indoctrination broadcast over the airwaves or taught in Turkey’s schools, and demographic change.

That said, if Erdogan makes a realist calculation that he cannot trust Moscow and wants greater balance with Washington, then the White House, Congress, and the State Department should consider letting Turkey back into the fold, but only at a price.

It has now been more than 45 years since Turkish forces invaded Cyprus. Turkey’s goal was to prevent the coup-installed Cypriot government and the Greek military regime from engineering a Cypriot Anschluss, which might put Cyprus’s ethnic Turkish minority at risk. Even if that motivation was valid, the crisis soon passed. The Greek junta collapsed, and Greece transitioned to democracy by November 1974. Any reason for Turkish forces to remain in Cyprus also ended. Turkey had other plans, however.

What began essentially as a rescue mission for a beleaguered minority turned into an overt and imperial land grab that today is characterized by the transfer of non-Cypriot settlers into the Turkish zone, a self-declared independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which only Ankara recognizes, and the theft of Cypriot resources that, if left in Cypriot hands, could benefit and tie together all Cypriots, regardless of religion and ethnicity.

Alas, Turkey’s imperial designs on Cyprus have become the rule rather than the exception. Turkish forces have entered Iraq and refused to leave. And, over the last two years, Turkey has also occupied broad swaths of Syrian territory, first in Afrin and, more recently, further east. Contrary to Turkish state television, Erdogan did not order Turkish forces into Syria to combat terrorism. After all, he could provide no evidence that any terrorist attack had been launched from areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces and, indeed, the Syrian Kurdish forces had actually secured the border and prevented terrorism.

Rather, Erdogan wished first to ethnically cleanse the region of Kurds and loot their resources; second, to wrap Turks in national fervor in order to distract the public from recession; and, third, to claim the mantle of military hero in order to cement his legacy as the most consequential leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded modern Turkey almost a century ago. It was a cynical ploy, and Erdogan has no one but himself to blame for its failure.

The military price will be difficult for all Turks to bear. Just as Saudi Arabia discovered with Yemen, it is a lot easier to send forces in than to extricate them. And as the U.S. has discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, there is no such thing as a cakewalk. The diplomatic price should also be high. American diplomats such as former U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Jim Jeffrey say America needs Turkey. Actually, they have got it reversed: Turkey needs America.

The price of any diplomatic support should, however, be high: Nothing less than a full withdrawal of all Turkish forces and settlers from Cyprus, Iraq, and Syria.

Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.


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