Having claimed a victory in Sunday’s presidential election, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now entering his new term with the presidency’s powers enhanced by recent constitutional changes. Michael Rubin urges Washington to reconsider its historically friendly relationship with Ankara, and warns of the dangerous influence Turkey is trying to gain in the Middle East and beyond:
The partnership between Washington and Ankara was never arbitrary; it rested on shared values. The values the Turkish government now holds, however, are the antithesis of American democratic and liberal values. Erdogan has cracked down on the free press, imprisoned opponents, and engaged in hostage diplomacy. He unapologetically supports Islamist terrorist groups and threatens to betray U.S. military technology to Russia. . . .
The real problem with Turkey is not its relationship with the United States, however, but rather its relations with the world. Consider the case of Saudi Arabia: it grew tremendously wealthy in the 1970s on the back of the petrodollar and used that money to spread its intolerant and extreme vision of Islam around the world. . . . Saudi money, Saudi nongovernmental organizations, and Saudi-funded mosques are responsible for hundreds of thousands, if not more, deaths in conflicts from Paris to the Philippines and from Syria to Somalia.
That began to change not in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, but rather when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked inside Saudi Arabia itself. The Saudis quickly understood the blowback they risked. After all, al-Qaeda essentially follows a theology and worldview taught in Saudi textbooks. The kingdom could no longer ensure its own security by ensuring that its militants focused their efforts on conflicts beyond its borders. . . . [A]s Saudi Arabia pulls back from its past role as the number-one financier of religious radicalism, Turkey may take its place. . . .
Had Erdogan sought to control his border [with Syria], Islamic State [might] never have seized the territory it did. While Erdogan has justified his incursion into the Afrin district in Syria as necessary for counterterrorism, he has allowed radical Syrian Islamist groups to fill the vacuum left by largely secular Kurds ethnically cleansed from the region. Turkey is also reaching out and using its imams to proselytize a more radical vision among Muslims in Africa; a leaked phone call suggests it may even have supplied arms to Boko Haram. Turkey’s new Islamist drive also determines its growing relationship with Sudan, Qatar, and the Hamas-run administration of the Gaza Strip.