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Thursday, July 7, 2022

OPINION:

President Biden reversed course last week, backing the sale of upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. U.S. officials reject allegations that Mr. Biden’s decision was a reward to Turkey for lifting its veto of NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. Why did Mr. Biden suddenly agree to transfer F-16s after meeting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Was there a deal? Turning a blind eye to Turkey’s human rights abuses and warmongering undermines U.S. leadership and moral authority.

The sale of F-16s still requires congressional approval. Announcing his support for the sale, Mr. Biden expressed optimism that Congress would pass the measure. Returning from a visit to Turkey last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he would do everything in his power to close the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara.


U.S. officials appear willfully ignorant of Turkey as an uncertain ally. Turkey has cultivated economic and security alliances with U.S. adversaries such as Russia and Iran. Turkey promotes an extremist Islamist ideology within Turkey and abroad. Its authoritarian Mr. Erdogan supports extremist groups in Syria. Turkey uses F-16s to bomb Syrian Democratic Forces who serve as America’s boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS. Turkey threatens Greece and issues provocative statements concerning Cyprus. Mr. Erdogan allied with Azerbaijan’s dictator to conduct a brutal war on the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Turkish F-16s have repeatedly struck areas in Iraq populated by members of the Yazidi religious minority, who are still struggling to recover from a genocide perpetrated by ISIS. 

The sale of F-16s to Turkey will not only allow Mr. Erdogan to intensify these campaigns. Arming Turkey with state-of-the-art offensive weaponry may embolden him to follow through on threats to attack Greece. A strengthened Turkish Air Force will also provide Mr. Erdogan with additional opportunities to target Armenians. 

A troubling pattern has emerged: Turkey uses U.S. weaponry — including F16s — against America’s allies. It deflects criticism by citing its NATO membership.

Turkey is unfit to be a NATO member. Democratic values are a key criterion for countries aspiring to join the Alliance. If Turkey applied to join NATO today, its application would be summarily dismissed. Turkey is Islamist, anti-American and a serial abuser of human rights. 
Under Mr. Erdogan, democracy has significantly deteriorated in Turkey. He is also responsible for the death of thousands of Turkish citizens, the displacement of hundreds of thousands and the imprisonment of hundreds of opposition figures, lawmakers, journalists and activists.  

Freedom of expression and academic freedom has declined. Turkey’s social media law proposed restrictions on foreign funding, and the potential criminalization of “disinformation” is draconian. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, antisemitism has skyrocketed and religious freedom is in deep decline.

Mr. Erdogan has extorted billions from the EU to support refugees on its soil and limit their exodus to destinations in Europe. Rather than rescue refugees, Mr. Erdogan has manipulated their plight by opening its borders with Europe to Syrian refugees. Simply put, Turkey has weaponized a refugee crisis that is caused, in large measure, by its aggression. Turks increasingly view refugees as unwanted guests, denying them access to education and employment.

Mr. Erdogan’s coercion paid off at NATO’s Madrid Summit. In his words, Turkey “got what it wanted.” 

The 10-Point Agreement between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, reiterated the PKK’s status as a terror organization. It requires the extradition of alleged terrorists from Sweden and Finland to Turkey. Sweden and Finland agreed to sever all ties with the Syrian Kurdish groups and limit their activities within their borders. Sweden and Finland also agreed to lift restrictions on weapons sales and security cooperation with Turkey.

Mr. Erdogan was gleeful with the outcome. He needed a political victory to shore up domestic support and distract voters from Turkey’s floundering economy. The Turkish lira has plummeted, and inflation is at 70%.

Why celebrate? Mr. Biden and Mr. Erdogan were back-slapping during their bilateral meeting at the Madrid NATO Summit. With the Biden administration focused on countering Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, welcoming Sweden and Finland into the Alliance is a big deal. NATO expansion shows that Putin’s agenda has failed.

The NATO summit was a public relations victory for Turkey. Mr. Erdogan successfully held NATO hostage in exchange for vows to cooperate in fighting “terror.” The outcome burnishes Mr. Erdogan’s reputation on the world stage. Mr. Biden’s support for transferring enhanced F-16 fighter jets gives Mr. Erdogan momentum heading into upcoming elections.

Kowtowing is an embarrassment. Turning a blind eye to Mr. Erdogan’s regional warmongering and abuse of human rights makes NATO look weak and irresolute. Countering Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is NATO’s priority, but at what cost?

• David L. Phillips is the director of Columbia University’s Program and Peacebuilding and Human Rights. He served as senior adviser and foreign affairs expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.


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