No, Erdogan Should Never Again Step Foot in the White House by Michael Rubin

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 Michael Rubin

Secretary of State Antony Blinken knew he was entering a hornets nest when, last week, he stopped off in Ankara to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has been a problematic partner at the best of times: He plays Washington and Moscow off each other for profit and sells Ukraine drones while helping Russia evade sanctions to fund its war effort. He instigated if not directed Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh’s indigenous Armenian Christian community and used the world’s distraction with the Israel-Hamas war to pulverize Kurdish civilian and economic infrastructure in Syria. Erdogan’s embrace of Hamas should surprise no one. He has openly backed the group for almost 20 years, supplied al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Libya, and gave logistical support to the Islamic State.

High on Blinken’s agenda in Ankara was to win Erdogan’s promise that Turkey would finally bless Sweden’s NATO membership. Diplomatic sources say Blinken came bearing potential gifts, everything from new formulations to provide F-16s to Turkey to a White House visit for the Turkish strongman. Blinken should know better on both counts. Turkey uses F-16s to bolster its irredentist claims, not improve NATO security. He may convince himself Erdogan is reasonable and sincere, but history suggests otherwise. Erdogan plays Blinken like a fiddle, playing the same tune he did with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell before the 2003 Iraq war. Then, as now, Erdogan promised to put forward the proposition to parliament, only to feign surprise when his own party members balked. Twenty years ago, Erdogan had a good chuckle when he excused parliament’s rejection of the deal as proof of Turkish democracy even though parliament’s rejection was a pre-planned good cop, bad cop performance.

To offer Erdogan a White House visit if he allows Swedish accession is more bizarre. In 2017, Erdogan ordered his bodyguards to attack peaceful protesters in the heart of Washington, D.C. The beatings bloodied many and led to the hospitalization of others. Turks then spirited off the bodyguards to help them escape justice. While the State Department has shielded many in Erdogan’s entourage, courts have found repeatedly against Erdogan’s argument that his bodyguards enjoy sovereign immunity. Simply put, Erdogan should pay up to the victims before he ever again steps foot in Washington.

The same holds true with Turkey’s support for Hamas. Does Blinken, who often uses his own family’s Holocaust experience to infuse himself with the moral legitimacy his own policies lack, really believe Erdogan, Swedish NATO accession or not, should deserve a White House platform to amplify his antisemitic conspiracies or pro-Hamas incitement?

To reward Turkey for actions that responsible governments do without enticement because they are the right thing to do only encourages blackmail. The best strategy moving forward would be not to offer new incentive packages that Erdogan will pocket as he asks for more but rather to understand Erdogan is the problem, not the solution. He deserves sticks, not carrots, but, barring State Department or NATO fortitude, he should be ignored like the pariah he is.

Sweden has waited nearly 75 years to join NATO. NATO’s future security dictates it wait a little longer until the United States, Europe, and NATO can better formulate a policy to isolate and expunge Turkey.

Michael Rubin is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential. He is the director of policy analysis at the Middle East Forum and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


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