The Black Sheep of NATO

It was made abundantly clear last week in Philadelphia, of all places, that NATO is being undermined from within and lacks the will to defend its own values and interests.

I flew to Philadelphia to speak to visiting members of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly at a foreign policy conference organized by the Middle East Forum, where I am a fellow. Most of the event was off the record, but the final portion was not, and that’s when the news broke.

First, a bit of background. Rumi Forum President Emre Çelik was supposed to be on my panel, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office in Ankara demanded we disinvite him or his delegation wouldn’t attend. Çelik is part of the intellectual movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdogan ally currently exiled in rural Pennsylvania. Erdogan blames Gülen and his followers for the botched military coup last summer and has since purged and imprisoned tens of thousands of people, including journalists as well as government officials and military officers. Çelik couldn’t sit next to me on a panel in Philadelphia because Ankara—on the other side of the world—declared him an enemy of the state and a terrorist.

I know little about Çelik personally and had no idea what he was planning to say, yet I expected to be a bit skeptical. He’s not on Team Erdogan—that’s clear—but the Gülenist movement isn’t composed of Jeffersonian democrats either. In City Journal, Claire Berlinski expertly exposed Gülen as an authoritarian thug masquerading as a moderate. Lest there be any doubt about that, until a few years ago, the Gülenists were part of Erdogan’s authoritarian coalition, making Gülen Turkey’s Leon Trotsky, if you will.

Even so, I didn’t mind being scheduled to sit next to Çelik and hear him out, but Turkish government officials reacted like campus snowflakes who were about to be forced, Clockwork Orange-style, to sit and listen to a speech by Ann Coulter.

MEF President Daniel Pipes wouldn’t stand for it, so he ostensibly disinvited Çelik, then sprung him on the NATO conference goers at the last minute. The Turkish delegation pitched a fit and stormed out. What happened next, though, was worse. The entire NATO delegation, in solidarity with their Turkish colleagues, also walked out of the conference.

So a dictator in Asia used the heckler’s veto against a dissident in America, a five-minute walk from the Museum of the American Revolution, and our European allies let him get away with it. The remaining guests in Philadelphia, though, almost all them Americans, gave Çelik a standing ovation.

Declaring this unacceptable doesn’t quite say it. NATO is Western Civilization’s military alliance. Turkey is not part of the West. It does not share our values, not really, nor does it share our interests any longer. It’s threatening military action against our friends in Iraqi Kurdistan, forging closer ties with Iran and Russia, and purchasing a missile defense system from Moscow. Until recently, it effectively supported ISIS in Syria.

If Turkey weren’t already in NATO, it would not be admitted. We might as well admit Venezuela, Cuba and Belarus if Turkey fits the bill. We are not going to kick the Turks out, though, nor should we, tempting as it may be. We’re going to have to deal with them either way, and we’ll get better results if we do so within a friendly framework than with them on the outside where they’d feel compelled to snuggle up to Moscow and Tehran even more than they already have.

It made perfect sense to bring Turkey into the Western alliance when the Soviet Union strode like a colossus over half of Europe, but it’s grandfathered in at this point, a second-class member, and needs to be treated accordingly. Virtually no Western government seems to grasp this, however, not even the American government, and not even the Trump administration. Last week, Donald Trump called Erdogan a “friend,” boasted that the Turkish dictator gets “very high marks,” and allegedly apologized to Erdogan personally for the fact that members of his security detail were indicted for beating up Kurdish protesters on a public sidewalk in Washington, DC.

Alas, the only Western head of state willing to take on Erdogan publicly and personally is German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, earlier this month, said Turkey has no chance of ever joining the European Union. It’s not the same as downgrading Turkey’s status in NATO, but it’s a start.

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