At a recent rally, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made headlines by telling a terrified, crying six-year-old girl—in military uniform—that if she died a martyr her coffin would be draped in her country’s flag. To Eric Edelman and Merve Tahiroglu, this incident exemplifies the growing Islamist and militaristic messaging emanating from Ankara, alongside large doses of anti-American rhetoric:
Erdogan has done his best to promote militarism among the populace, including by openly encouraging the formation of civilian militias claiming to defend his government—and the Turkish nation.
Children have not been immune to these efforts. Over the last year, the Turkish government sent ministers to facilitate militaristic student parades, while Turkey’s state-run religious affairs directorate has been publishing its own propaganda materials to “teach” Turkish children about the grandeurs of martyrdom. Turkish students, including kindergarteners, around the country have been made to conduct military marches and recite ultranationalist poems at schools. . . .
U.S. officials are watching with growing concern. The Turkish government has stirred and sponsored anti-Americanism. . . . Ankara blames Washington for both the failed putsch [in 2016]—which has all but become the founding myth of Erdogan’s new Turkish republic—and the rise of Kurdish self-rule in northern Syria. Erdogan’s ministers and media continuously slander American citizens as coup-plotters and depict the Turkish war against Kurdish militants in Syria as a fight against pro-Kurdish Americans. Most Turkish people, opinion polls show, now consider the United States the top threat to their national security. . . .
The challenge for the U.S.-Turkish relationship is that it cannot survive in the long run if the bulk of the Turkish population sees the United States in such adversarial terms. Moreover, the importance of Turkey to the United States has long been as an exemplar of a majority-Muslim society that was making its way along a long road of democratization and meeting the standards of rule of law and human rights that are associated with the European Union and NATO. . . . American officials who write off Erdogan’s anti-American rhetoric as pandering to his base fail to understand that demonizing the United States is an integral part of Erdogan’s agenda. Only “tough love” will put the U.S.-Turkish relationship on a steadier long-term course.