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Did Biden just accidentally ban arms sales to Turkey?

Feb 16, 2024

By Michael Rubin*

Source: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/beltway-confidential/2860379/did-biden-just-accidentally-ban-arms-sales-to-turkey/

After more than a year of negotiation and brinkmanship, President Joe Biden believed he found the magic formula to compel his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift his hold on Sweden’s NATO accession. The same day Turkey’s rubber stamp parliament ratified Erdogan’s approval of Sweden, the White House called members of Congress to urge them to lift their hold on a multibillion-dollar sale of F-16s and jet fighter upgrade packages. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan may call it a sophisticated diplomacy, but a more honest assessment is that it was humiliating acquiescence to Turkey’s extortion.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 9, 2024, Biden signed a presidential memorandum to authorize a swift cutoff of military assistance to countries that violate international protections of civilians. Motivating Biden was a desire to virtue signal. Politically, he hoped to assuage an important Arab and Muslim constituency in Michigan upset at his administration’s support for Israel in its fight against U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas. Diplomatically, Biden hopes to blunt criticism of European and Arab partners who criticize the United States in order to project self-righteousness, never mind the irony that Israel allowed Hamas more freedom in Gaza than Jordan’s King Abdullah II or Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would ever grant it in their own kingdoms.

Biden’s implied criticism of Israel was also unfair: Hamas violates international law by holding hostages and uses Gaza’s civilian population as human shields. Urban warfare is always brutal, but the U.S. destruction of Mosul and Raqqa in the name of their liberation from the Islamic State was as deadly if not as destructive as Israel’s operations in Gaza.

Biden, however, did not write the presidential memorandum narrowly. He directs the United States government to cut off military aid swiftly if not immediately to all countries that violate international protections.

It is time for Congress to tell the White House that its F-16 sale to Turkey is now illegal. Turkey regularly bombs civilians in Syria and Iraq. As the international media focused on Gaza, Turkey systematically used drones and F-16s to destroy civilian and economic infrastructure in districts of Syria under Kurdish control.

Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus likewise now nears its half-century mark. It is illegal under every interpretation of international law. There is no corollary between the West Bank and Gaza on one hand and northern Cyprus on the other. The former are technically disputed since Gaza was not a country when Israel took possession in 1967 from Jordan and Egypt, neither of which were legal sovereigns of the territory.

Northern Cyprus, however, was part of a sovereign, independent country that Turkey occupied and ethnically cleansed. Nor, despite its rhetoric, does Turkey seek to protect Muslim natives of Cyprus. Rather, it seeks to replace them with Muslim natives of Turkey. It is modern-day Lebensraum plain and simple. That Turkey uses American weaponry to solidify its operations has always been shameful, but Biden has now made it illegal. There can be no F-16 sales to Turkey, NATO member or not, until it evacuates every soldier from the island.

The same holds true for Azerbaijan, which has used American weaponry to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Armenian community in Nagorno-Karabakh and kill five Armenian soldiers on Feb. 13 in Armenia proper.

Biden’s presidential memorandum is reality. Whatever the White House desire, any sale of F-16s to Turkey is now illegal, as would be supply to Azerbaijan as Blinken continues with his policy of moral equivalence between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Biden may tell congressional leaders otherwise, but Congress should not accept such inconsistency.

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