Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu will visit Washington, D.C. today. High
on his agenda will be Türkiye’s request for American F-
The White House’s logic is two-
Because NATO is a consensus-
The Biden administration, like each of its predecessors dating back to the Eisenhower era, coveted Türkiye’s NATO membership because of what it might bring to the table: Türkiye has 355,000 active duty men under arms. Compare that to France, with only slightly more than 200,000 active duty personnel in its armed forces, or the United Kingdom, which has just less than 200,000. To include the total military—active duty, reserve forces, and paramilitaries—is to inflate Türkiye’s numbers even more. Türkiye then brings almost 900,000 men into the equation, more than the 19 smallest NATO members combined.
In Brussels this past weekend, I had an opportunity to speak to a former military
planner who had worked on a NATO operation. He made a good point: Statistics about
the size of the armed forces of NATO members are often irrelevant. When planning
a NATO operation, NATO leaders go to each country and ask what they are willing to
contribute. A country might have 100,000-
This was the case with NATO’s Operation Resolution Support in Afghanistan. In February
2021, the United States contributed 2,500 troops, Türkiye just 600, less than Italy,
Romania, Germany, the United Kingdom, and even non-
When I would walk the streets of Kabul, for example, I would see billboards far from
NATO headquarters promoting bilateral Turkey-
Simply put, Türkiye’s on-
*Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he
specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. A former Pentagon official,
Dr. Rubin has lived in post-
After meeting his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the State Department last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised “close coordination and collaboration in the efforts to fight against terrorist organizations” such as the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK.
This might be boilerplate diplomatic language, but it hides a logical problem: The defeat of ISIS and the PKK are mutually exclusive. Syrian Kurds sacrificed more than 12,000 men and women to fight ISIS at a time when Turkey and its Syrian proxies supported the group. Still, whether in Syria or Sweden, Turkey makes supposed Western tolerance of the PKK original sin. This is stated reason No. 1, for example, why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now vetoes Sweden’s NATO membership.
True, the PKK started as a Marxist insurgency if not terror group. So too did Nelson
Mandela’s African National Congress. Both evolved. Unlike the Mujahedin-
Turkey’s partisans will say that such a move will destroy U.S.-
Peace will not be possible if Washington embraces Erdogan’s irrational hatred of the PKK. Nor should policymakers accept the alarmism of Turkey’s partisans in the State Department or think tanks. After all, Turgut Ozal, who dominated Turkish politics as prime minister and president between 1983 and 1993, was prepared to negotiate with the PKK until a heart attack felled him. Thirty years on, it is time to recognize his wisdom.
Biden repeats “diplomacy is back” like a mantra, but sometimes, diplomacy means more than making opponents happy. It is time for a major course correction in U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Only when Washington recognizes that Syrian Kurds are America’s best ally in a tumultuous region and stops succumbing to Turkish blackmail can a new, more peaceful order move forward, both within Turkey and throughout the region.
“We are determined to root out this terrorist organization,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared shortly after a bomb exploded on an Istanbul pedestrian mall, calling the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) “enemies of Islam and humanity.”
For NATO leaders, diplomats, and those in Washington prone to accept and amplify Turkish talking points, Erdogan’s concerns were “legitimate.” Many repeated Turkey’s charge that PKK affiliates in Syria were responsible for the attack, something both Syrian Kurds and the PKK deny.
Turkey today uses the Istanbul bomb both as a reason to conduct a preplanned operation
to eradicate Kurdish self-
While there are legitimate arguments for close U.S.-
From the very formation of modern Turkey, the country’s leaders discriminated against the country’s Kurds. For Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his successor İsmet İnönü, the problem was the Kurds’ religiosity and resistance to laicism. Subsequently, Turks sought to repress Kurdish ethnic and cultural identity. It was against this milieu and outright racism that Abdullah Öcalan broke with Turkish leftists and founded the PKK on ethnic grounds.
At first, the PKK did engage in terrorism against fellow Kurds and Turks, and embraced Marxist ideology. In August 1984 PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan launched an insurgency and terror campaign, seizing towns in southeastern Turkey and using loudspeakers to declare separatist goals. Over the following decade, fighting between the PKK and the Turkish army resulted in perhaps 20,000 deaths. While Turkey engaged in systematic human rights abuses both before and after the PKK insurgency, PKK attacks on civilians were a tactical mistake as the Turkish public began to see the Kurds as an enemy group rather than a victimized minority, a fact that set the Kurdish cause back decades.
With the end of the Cold War, the PKK liberalized its economic philosophy and shed
its separatist demands. With time, PKK evolved first into a more traditional insurgency,
and then a far more dormant one. This is the major reason why the United States did
not initially designate the PKK to be a terror group; it did so only in 1997 not
on the merits of the group’s actions but rather because Ankara demanded it as a condition
of a multi-
None other than Turgut Özal, prime minister and then president during the height
of the PKK’s violent campaign, recognized the change in the PKK. Özal repeatedly
stood up to Turkey’s ossified elite and broke the taboo surrounding liberalization
of Turkey’s Kurdish policies to include allowing the Kurdish language, Kurdish education
and television broadcasts. Özal also first proposed establishment of the Kurdish
Özal was not the only leader who sought to end the conflict with the PKK, although he was in hindsight the most sincere. Öcalan welcomed talks and shed doctrinaire inflexibility. Indeed, the PKK evolved with time just as Turkey had. Erdogan repeatedly reached out to the group and its proxies in the belief that his brand of Islamism might form a common bond and that Kurds might offer him electoral support. PKK members even agreed to lay down arms and move to Syria, where, with very few resources, they established a successful and progressive government. For Erdogan to complain that PKK members live in northern Syria is disingenuous since he sent them there as part of a peace deal.
Erdogan’s cynicism and dishonesty run deep. He made myriad promises to Turkish Kurds prior to each election, only to renege on them after. Ultimately, Turkey’s Kurds saw through his cynicism. They voted in earnest for the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (or its earlier iteration), breaking through the ten percent threshold to loosen Erdogan’s grip on parliament. Erdogan responded not by respecting the democratic will, but by arresting its leadership.
This brings us back to the present. Diplomats might appease the Turkish government
in the mistaken belief they can appease Erdogan. They err in the belief that short-
There is something very wrong when Americans who have never interacted with or confronted the Syrian Kurdish leadership with their concerns, let alone bothered to visit the region to see whether Erdogan’s characterizations are accurate, seek to be more Turkish than the most ardent, intolerant, and extreme Turkish political groupings. The tragedy is that such academic malpractice can lead to very real consequence with the furtherance of conflict and the murder of even more innocents.
Nov 12, 2022
By Michael Rubin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use Sweden’s desire to join NATO as an opportunity both to humiliate the Scandinavian nation and to extort it. By forcing Swedish politicians repeatedly into submission and servility, Erdogan signals to his followers, not only inside Turkey but also among the sizeable diaspora community in Europe, that democracies are weak and unprincipled, while his brand of strongman rule can bring greatness.
Erdogan frames his latest demands as a campaign against terrorism although, in reality, he conflates terrorism with political opposition and journalism.
Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Sentop, Erdogan’s chief rubber-
Before Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson further Neville Chamberlains himself before Erdogan, he might consider whether it would be better to remind Erdogan of NATO’s definition of terrorism:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence, instilling fear and terror, against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, or to gain control over a population, to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.
NATO is a consensus-
Rather, a better NATO response would be for each NATO member to deliver a list to Erdogan of Turks and others to extradite based on very real evidence of terrorism. Consider Hamas, a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood group that openly calls for genocide against Jews. Erdogan not only shelters the group but also gives Turkish passports to its leaders to ease their travel. While Israel demanded Erdogan crackdown on Hamas as a condition of reconciliation, the Turkish leader has reneged on his commitment.
Then there is the Islamic State. One of the main drivers of Erdogan’s irrational anger at exiled journalists is that they have exposed the extent of his, his family’s, and his administration’s ties to the Islamic State. Intelligence debriefings of captured Islamic State fighters suggest that there are numerous safe houses in Turkey and sympathizers throughout Turkey’s Interior Ministry and intelligence service. Perhaps Kristersson and NATO leaders should demand Erdogan put his principle where his mouth is and extradite these individuals for trial.
Next is Somalia. Erdogan went all in on Mohamed Farmajo, the now-
Finally there are the Gülenists. Prior to 2013, Erdogan worked closely with dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen to marginalize Turkey’s secularists and Kemalists. Erdogan and Gulen’s falling out had more to do with the spoils of Turkey and Erdogan’s desire to monopolize power than any other reason. Erdogan’s anger toward the Gülenists is deeply personal but that does not make them terrorists. Indeed, even the accusation that the 2016 coup attempt was a Gülenist conspiracy is not certain. But, for the sake of argument, if they were, would that not make Erdogan himself complicit in terrorism? His former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu owes his career to Gülen. Why should Sweden sacrifice its citizens and residents when Erdogan allows Davutoglu to go free? Such hypocrisy alone should negate any further claims.
Sweden must today decide whether it values its democratic character more than more immediate NATO membership. At the same time, NATO should respond to Erdogan’s antics by applying its definition of terrorism to Turkey, drawing up and delivering lists of radicals to extradite or imprison. Should Erdogan refuse to uphold the standard he demands, then each NATO member should designate Turkey as a terror sponsor under their own national laws, applying whatever legislative sanctions such designation requires.
Turkey’s concerns about PKK are not legitimate
Jun 28, 2022
By MICHAEL RUBIN
It’s become boilerplate diplomatic and journalistic language whenever Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan throws a temper tantrum about Kurdish self-
"These are legitimate [Turkish] concerns. This is about terrorism. It's about weapons
exports," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Finland.
Previewing the Group of Seven and NATO summits, Biden administration officials spoke
of "Ankara’s state and security concerns." "Turkey has legitimate security concerns
on its borders," declared Asli Aydintasbas, an Istanbul-
It is time to stop buying the idea that Turkey’s concerns are legitimate.
True, in the 1980s, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, waged an insurgency in
pursuit of a separate state after decades of Turkish discrimination against Kurds.
At the time, the PKK engaged in horrific abuses against those whom it saw as agents
of the Turkish state. By the early 1990s, however, Turgut Ozal, who dominated Turkey
for a decade first as prime minister and then as president, proposed negotiating
with the PKK. Danger persisted, even after Turkish special forces captured PKK leader
Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya in 1999. Turkish security-
Much has changed in recent decades, however.
First, the PKK abandoned its quest for a separate state. For decades, it has pursued federalism based not on ethnicity but on local districts. While Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a state sponsor of terrorism — there likely would have been no Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had Turkey not facilitated the group’s movements and supply across its borders — Syrian Kurdish forces that evolved ideologically from the PKK rallied to fight and defeat the Islamic State.
The world rallied around Yazidi victims of genocide but will not listen to them.
Ask Yazidis and they will describe how Syrian Kurdish militias defended them after
Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga abandoned them and Turkey targeted them. Turkey’s complaints
To suggest that Turkish concerns about the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden or Finland are legitimate is to legitimize racism. It is akin to allowing Russia to hunt down and demand disempowerment, detention, or expulsion of ethnic Ukrainians in Europe and Central Asia. It sets a precedent for China to use its membership in international organizations to extract concessions against Uyghurs or Taiwanese.
The Biden administration is right to be concerned. Erdogan’s behavior raises questions about the future viability of NATO. Rather than assuage Turkey, however, or appease it at the expense of human rights and the rule of law, it is time to ask whether NATO can survive Turkey.
Appeasement will not work. Blackmailers seldom have personal honor. Bargaining with Erdogan will only encourage further demands. Rather, it is time for a united front in which the United States and Europe are willing to use sanctions and other elements of coercion until Erdogan understands holding NATO hostage will bring Turkey not glory but only pain.