Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

NATO's Wayward Ally

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, January 18, 2018 --  

Turkey's strikes on the Kurds in Syria should earn it the boot from the European alliance.

How is Turkey still in NATO?

Last week, Turkey launched airstrikes and a ground invasion against US-allied Kurdish fighters in Northern Syrian region of Afrin.  Turkey claims the YPG militia that holds the area is a terrorist group with ties to Turkey's domestic Kudish separatists known as the  PKK.

But the YPG militia is also America's primary military ally in Syria.  The United States worked with the fighters to defeat the Islamic State in the battle of Raqa, combining American airl power with the YPG's boots on the ground. American special forces are widely reported to have fought shoulder to shoulder with these Kurdish fighters.

But now Turkey, America's theoretical NATO ally, has turned it's guns on them, and it isn't the first time.  Last year, Turkey invaded north central Syria to attack the same group near the town of Manbij1, seeking to put a wedge between two areas under Syrian Kurdish control.  The Afrin enclave in the west is the smaller of the two Kurdish controlled areas, and Turkey apparently is no longer content to keep it isolated -- Turkey wants to completely eliminate Kurdish control in the area.

Turkey engages on this bad behavior because it cannot stomach Kurdish control on its southern border.  It has for decades repressed it own huge Kurdish minority that populates the entire southeast of the country.  Turkey is so nuts about its own Kurds that it denies they even exist -- it claims they are "Mountain Turks.". But if they don't exist, why has it been fighting a war against armed groups calling themselves Kurds and  seeking independence?

For many decades, Turkey has severely repressed its Kurdish minority, denying Kurdish speakers the right use their language in schools or on broadcast television.2 NATO has looked the other way on this, giving Turkey free reign to repress people within its own borders. But even this has not been enough, as Turkey seems intent on repressing Kurds outside its borders, too.

The latest blow up comes after the Pentagon helped draft a plan for a new border protection force on northern Syria led by the YPG.  This enraged Turkey.  The White House tried to placate Turkey by announcing it had stopped arming YPG fighters and backpedaling on the border force plan3,  but apparently it was too late to stop Turkey from lashing out.

Why does America even try to get along with Turkey?  After an amateurish failed coup against President Erdoǧan in August 2016, a furious Erdoǧan accused the United States of backing it, cut off power to American military bases in the country, and demanded the extradition of an exiled opposition leader living in Pennsylvania.  

He then proceeded to crush any lingering independence of the  judicial, police and military institutions n Turkey, leading to the near dictatorship that exists now.  

America's bad blood with Turkey goes back at least 15 years. In the lead up to the War in Iraq, Turkey refused American invasion forces access to its territory at the last minute. This forced transport ships to change course and head to the Persian Gulf. Turkey's motivation then, of course, as worry that the war would benefit this Kurds who live in Iraq. To this day the Kurds remain the most populous  stateless ethnic group in the world. Turkey aims to keep it that way.

Given that Erdoǧan is a (mild) political Islamist, it is hard to see why the Trump administration would back a man who is effectively an Islamist dictator.  To be sure, there are drawbacks to taking a hard line. If Turkey were to leave NATO, it would once and for all end its role as a model of West-leaning and relatively open Islamic country. Leaving NATO might also push it into a closer friendship with authoritarian bad boys like Russia and Iran.

Those consequences would certainly be regrettable. But given Turkey's continued betrayal of America in pursuit of its evil policies, the time has come to stop placating NATO's wayward ally.

Related Web Columns:

Shaky Alliance, August 30, 2016

Neither Loyalty, Nor Morality
The Coming Partition of Turkey
, April 15, 2003


1. The Guardian, Turkey to extend Syria campaign to Kurdish-controlled Manbij, January 25, 2018

2. Human Rights Watch, Restrictions on the Use of the Kurdish Language, 1999

3. New York Times, Mixed Messages From U.S. as Turkey Attacks Syrian Kurds, January 23, 2018