ERDOGAN’S ISLAMIST TURKEY
A member of the Pentagon’s defense policy board, a panel that advises the secretary of defense, revealed internal discussions by the board on the difficulties of dealing with an increasingly Islamist Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Stuart Eizenstat, a Washington lawyer and member of the policy board, provided details of internal Pentagon discussions with the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. The Turkey assessment was contained in leaked emails obtained from Mr. Podesta, the campaign chairman.
The assessment was based on briefings in January by intelligence officials, diplomats and analysts. Mr. Eizenstat outlined the findings of the board meeting in an email to Mr. Podesta.
It was written before the failed military coup against Mr. Erdogan in July that led to a further crackdown.
“Turkey is a very difficult ally,” Mr. Eizenstat said. “Prime Minister Erdogan has taken Turkey in a more Islamic direction, and has cracked down hard on independent journalists, opposition politicians, and anyone he views as challenging him, including the military (15 percent of their flag officers are under arrest).”
Also, efforts to pressure Turkey to close its borders were described as “tricky” since both pro-Islamic State foreign fighters and fighters hostile to both the Islamic State group and Syrian President Bashar Assad have entered Syria through Turkey.
Mr. Eizenstat said the policy board was divided on how to deal with Ankara under Mr. Erdogan. “A few felt we should adopt a tougher tone … but a majority felt we should be exploring ways to take advantage of Turkey’s economic problems and security threats to draw him closer to the U.S.,” he said.
The board was told that the turning point for Mr. Erdogan’s shift from pro-Western to authoritarian Islamism was the cutoff of European Union accession talks, a longtime Turkish foreign policy priority.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the board that it was a “fantasy” to think Mr. Erdogan will become more pro-Western since he remains firmly pro-Islamist.
The policy board was told that despite the country’s “sharp turn toward Islam,” Turkey remains more democratic and pro-Western than other Muslim states in the region, with around 45 percent of the Turkish business community, parts of the military and secular population favoring better ties with the West.
The board recommended that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who sat in on one board meeting, adopt a “transactional” relationship with Turkey because a “strategic partnership would be difficult.”
Among the options are holding a strategic dialogue with Turkey, similar to talks that the U.S. regularly conducts with China, “to better understand their concerns, and where our interests overlap.”