Turkey often appeals to the West for support, given its longtime membership in NATO. Now, Turkish leadership is in a shouting match with Russia’s provocative president, Vladimir Putin, over Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in probable Turkish airspace. Each country has accused the other of helping terrorists in Syria.
The problem with Turkey and the West, however, is that their relationship is decades out of date. What was once an alliance is now nothing special at all.
President Barack Obama used to lecture reluctant Europeans about why they should accept Turkey into the European Union as its first Islamic member. Obama boasted of a “special friendship” with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As president, Obama suddenly forgot the promise he made as a senator to formally acknowledge the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks in the early 1900s.
Turkey has become a favorite stop abroad for Obama to lecture his fellow Americans about their ethical shortcomings, from past treatment of Native Americans to their present supposed xenophobia over not accepting Syrian refugees en masse.
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Yet the more Obama has appeased Erdogan, the more anti-Western and anti-American Turkey has become.
Erdogan has insidiously eroded Turkish democracy, free speech and human rights. He is turning the once-secular state into an Islamic nation. Thousands of Turkish soccer fans recently shouted “Allahu Akbar” when asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks. So much for NATO solidarity.
Under Erdogan, the new Turkish model is not the secular modern state of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Instead, Erdogan praises the ancient Ottoman caliphate, whose theocratic empire once ranged from the Persian Gulf to southern Europe.
When the Muslim Brotherhood tried to dismantle the secular government in Egypt, Erdogan egged them on and was instrumental in persuading the Obama administration to adopt a disastrous policy of support for the Brotherhood.
Erdogan used to visit Europe and chide its leaders over their supposed mistreatment of Islamic immigrants. But at home, he has increasingly marginalized the few Turks who are not Muslims.
Small, vulnerable nations and peoples of the region – Armenians, Greeks and Kurds – used to be terrified of Turkish aggression. They are starting to become afraid again under Erdogan’s new Islamic militancy.
Erdogan demanded that the United States remove Syrian President Bashar Assad’s tottering pro-Iranian, pro-Russian dictatorship. But not long ago, Erdogan did all he could to cultivate Assad, who was fueling terrorist violence against Americans in Iraq during the surge.
Turkey used to be a friend to Israel. Both countries were worried about Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. The radical Islamic world hated secular Turkey for its past Ottoman colonialism almost as much as it despised Israel.
Yet since Obama took office, Erdogan has sought to provoke tensions between the two countries. Some of Erdogan’s diatribes against Israel have been laced with anti-Semitic disparagement.
Turkey now demands justice from Russia for violating Turkish airspace. But no country in the world violates foreign airspace as often as Turkey. A Greek defense analyst counted 2,244 times that Turkey violated Greek airspace in 2014 – an average of more than six violations per day.
The Erdogan government believes that the way to solve disagreement with fellow NATO member Greece over a few disputed Aegean islands and oil finds is to send up its much larger air force to bully the Greeks – especially after their recent financial meltdown.
Erdogan publicly boasts of his critical NATO role in curbing Islamic State terrorism. But privately, Islamic State terrorists have received a wink and nod from Turkish border authorities, given their shared hatred of Russia, Syria and Iran.
The Islamic State may be a primordial death cult, but Erdogan apparently believes that it is at least a Sunni, not a Shiite, killing machine, and is occasionally useful in fighting common enemies, especially the Kurds.
It is hard to envision any international crisis in which Erdogan’s Turkey would come to the defense of the United States. During the Cold War, Turkey was terrified about Soviet ships passing near its shores on the Black Sea and about communist takeovers on its borders. In exchange for U.S. support, it often backed American efforts like the U.N. coalition that saved South Korea.
That’s now ancient history.
All that can be said for Obama’s current “model relationship” is that Turkey is strategically located, with a large and powerful military, and hosts NATO bases. Those facts make it wise to keep Turkey neutral rather than hostile.
Otherwise, Erdogan’s Turkey is an ally in name only. In reality, it is becoming a de facto enemy.
Suddenly, Turkey’s NATO membership is important to Erdogan in his dispute with Putin. But the real irony is that the autocratic Erdogan is the dictatorial Putin’s mirror image.
No two leaders deserve each other more.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.” You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.