Turkey and the era of "hostage diplomacy"

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies hosted a panel discussion yesterday which sought to highlight a situation which we’ve been screaming about from the rooftops here for a while now. They were discussing the situation in Turkey under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his rapidly expanding list of prisoners from other nations who he is holding while making “diplomatic” demands of their home countries. The panel, as described by the Free Beacon, characterized the current situation as the rise of an era of “hostage diplomacy” in Turkey.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, has begun an age of “hostage diplomacy” in the year following last July’s failed coup attempt, as he attempts to use foreign nationals as “bargaining chips” in international affairs, according to a panel hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The Tuesday conversation comes just a couple weeks after Turkish authorities arrested a second Turkish employee of a U.S. consular mission, prompting the United States to suspend visa services for Turkey, which did likewise in retaliation. Panel member Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at FDD, described this as just the latest detention in a series of what has become a kind of diplomatic strategy for the president of Turkey.

Erdogan rounded up political and religious dissidents in the immediate aftermath of last year’s coup attempt as what Erdemir called “scapegoats,” especially Kurds, Jews, and Christians.

There are now up to a dozen Americans being held hostage by Turkey’s president, many of whom we don’t even have names for yet. The situation has grown dire enough that both the Washington Post and the New York Times called on the President to do something to clear this situation up.

We are also having this discussion during an alarming anniversary of sorts. October marks one full year since Pastor Andrew Brunson was arrested in Turkey. He’s been given little or no access to full legal counsel, anonymous witnesses are being allowed to testify against him with no opportunity to challenge them he’s essentially being blamed for every incident of opposition in the country. The charges seem entirely bogus, of course, and Erodgan has already admitted that he’s just holding him because he wants to extract Fethullah Gulen from the United States. But thus far the Trump administration hasn’t seemed to have made any progress on securing his release. (Before we give too much praise to the rest of the mainstream media who are now barking about this, it’s worth noting that Brunson was taken when Barack Obama was in office and you didn’t hear a peep about it in the majority of the MSM.)

Turkey has also taken German, Dutch and Britich citizens prisoner, charging all of them with ill-defined crimes of aiding the coup or supporting the overthrow of the nation. And even worse news for the rest of the world is that Erdogan may come out the “winner” in these attempted hostage negotiations even if he doesn’t get what he wants.

As yesterday’s panel discussion indicated, these maneuvers serve a dual purpose. Even if Turkey’s president doesn’t get his other “suspects” back in custody, he’s been blatantly working to foster anti-Western sentiment in advance of the 2018 elections in his country where his ruling coalition may be on shaky ground. By demonizing the United States and describing conspiracies against Erdogan’s regime around every corner, their president is able to point to us as the “common enemy” all Turks must unite against. It’s a tried and true strategy for tyrants around the world.

We have a standing policy of supposedly not negotiating with terrorists. (The Bergdahl exchange being one of many glaring exceptions.) Perhaps it’s time we take a fresh look at our relationship with Turkey and determine whether they are truly a NATO ally or a terrorist regime. It’s true that Erdogan holds a vital position in that part of the world, but he stands to lose a lot if he completely alienates the west. Right now he’s getting to have it both ways and that needs to end. No matter how vital Turkey’s geopolitical position may be, we don’t need an ally that takes our people hostage.