Trump Faces Turkish Challenge on ISIS, Kurds, Democracy

Increasing authoritarian Erdogan presents massive regional headache for White House

President Donald Trump met Tuesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally who has been testing the limits of U.S. patience.

Since Erdogan took office, he has increasingly flirted with militant Islamism and authoritarian rule.

“President Trump should steer clear of Obama’s mistake of serially embracing anti-American rogue regimes.”

But even worse in the minds of U.S. foreign policy experts, Erdogan is not helping enough with the fight against the Islamic State.

Turkey is considered both a European and Asian nation. It is a member of NATO and was a strong U.S. ally in the Cold War, wary of Soviet Russian expansionism.

But now, Turkey is often a headache. It distanced itself from the Iraq War in 2003, and the country now seems more concerned with the persecuted Kurds in Iraq and Syria than the destruction of ISIS. Turkey has long opposed an independent Kurdish state in the Middle East, as the Kurdish minority in Turkey has often opposed the Turkish government.

“[Erdogan] has undermined American efforts to counter ISIS and Iran,” Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, told LifeZette. “Turkey no longer belongs in NATO. Under Erdogan, Turkey has become a Trojan horse to the alliance.”

Trump has indicated he wants to work with the Turkish leader to get more help on ISIS and sympathy for the Kurds.

The efforts by Trump at Turkish diplomacy have been ongoing, and not without controversy.

On April 18, Donald Trump was the first Western leader to congratulate Erdogan for winning a controversial referendum that granted him expanded powers, according to CNN. The referendum was seen as solely benefitting the Turkish leader, not Turkey’s long-prized, Western-style democracy.

Trump called the Turkish leader even after election observers found that the opposition campaign had been restricted and the media coverage was imbalanced, CNN reported.

“President Obama fatuously named Erdogan his favorite leader,” said Kaufman, “President Trump should steer clear of Obama’s mistake of serially embracing anti-American rogue regimes.”

The referendum gave Erdogan sweeping new powers, allowing the president total control over government ministers, the appointment of judges, and authority to implement new national policies unilaterally.

Erdogan’s drift towards authoritarianism sparked an ultimately unsuccessful military coup in July of 2016.

Erdogan capitalized on the failed effort to topple his government as an opportunity to crack down on dissent. In the wake of the coup, Erdogan arrested roughly 50,000 Turks suspected of plotting against him and purged the Turkish bureaucracy of anyone deemed to be potentially disloyal, according to the BBC.

Kaufman said the president should view Erdogan as an authoritarian threat and take the necessary steps to contain him and his ambitions.

“President Trump has learned the hard way the folly of cooperating with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Kaufman said. “Let us hope he understands that Erdogan falls in the same category of dictators we should deter rather than appease.”

Erdogan has also long been suspected of moving Turkey away from its secular, democratic system of government. He has eased restrictions on displays of Islamic orthodoxy in public life, including lifting a ban in 2013 on wearing headscarves inside government offices.

meet the author

Political reporter, LifeZette. Indiana University journalism grad. Boston U. business grad. Former Indiana, Alabama statehouse reporter, Daytona Beach editorial writer.

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