I’ve had my fair share of disputes with the Washington Post editorial board here in the past. (Actually, probably my share and enough for several more of you to boot.) That’s why when they hit a pressing topic with a spot-on take, or at least something close to it, I try to give credit where due. One of those instances popped up this morning when the WaPo board issued a call for some definitive action on the Tyrant of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Just this week I was pointing out the fact that Erdogan has taken up to a dozen Americans hostage to date, pretty much entirely on phony accusations of siding with terrorists or trying to overthrow his government. He’s also made it exceedingly clear that these prisoners are not being held for any serious investigation of their alleged “crimes” but rather as bargaining chips. His primary goal is to have us extract Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania for him and ship him back home so Erdogan can have his way with him. The Washington Post admirably reinforces these facts, noting that such egregious treatment of our citizens by a supposed ally is almost unheard of in modern history.
With all of that out of the way, they get down to the business of calling on the President to do something about it.
There’s no question, however, that the Trump administration, which has persisted in describing Mr. Erdogan as a close ally, must now stand up to his bullying. The Turkish ruler appears to believe he can persecute Americans with impunity; his arrogance was encapsulated when he watched as his security detail attacked peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington in May. His demands about Turks in the United States are equally lawless. Ankara has offered scant evidence that Mr. Gulen is guilty of a crime, which means that U.S. courts could not approve extradition. Two other Turks whose return Mr. Erdogan seeks are being prosecuted for helping Iran evade sanctions.
Over about 15 years in power, Mr. Erdogan may have drawn the conclusion that Washington will inevitably tolerate his transgressions because of Turkey’s strategic importance. Unfortunately, the Obama administration provided plenty of evidence for that, as has President Trump, who after meeting Mr. Erdogan last month inexplicably declared that “we are as close as we’ve ever been.” In fact, Turkey’s value in fighting the Islamic State has diminished as U.S. forces have partnered with rival Kurds; and Ankara’s decision to work with Russia and Iran in Syria, while purchasing an advanced air defense system from Moscow, has further detached it from the West.
For once, I agree with pretty much everything that the WaPo editorial board has to say and they earn extra points for bluntly noting that Barack Obama was completely sidelined as Erdogan’s abuses grew in number. But there’s one thing missing from this editorial. What should the President do about it at this point? They only offer the admonishment that Erdogan, “should be made to understand that he is risking a rupture of relations that will do far more harm to his regime than to the United States.”
That sounds good as a general policy, but how exactly do we do this? Turkey has taken all of the carrots we put on the table and seems completely oblivious to the possibility that we might have a stick to wave at them. I’ll be the first to admit that Trump has been far too chummy with Erdogan this year, given his outrageous actions against us and his budding relationships with Russia, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
But aside from the recent embassy restrictions (which the Washington Post curiously thinks we should back off from immediately) our options seem limited. Any move toward stinging sanctions or reductions in aid would surely be met with reduced cooperation in the war against ISIS and possibly endangering the agreement between Turkey and the EU over keeping the refugee flow in check.
The editors also rule out giving up Gulen, citing the lack of evidence that he’s committed any crime which would make extradition basically illegal. I happen to agree with that as well, but what else do we do at this point? Offering Turkey even more favorable status with us without getting anything up front seems foolish. And threats of unspecified reprisal don’t seem to influence Erdogan at all. I don’t have any answers for this puzzle myself at this point, but thankfully I didn’t offer to run for President. Donald Trump needs to figure this out and it should be done sooner rather than later.