by Austin Bay
June 26, 2019
If the Istanbul electoral thrashing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received June 23 eventually topples him, Turkey's citizens will prove once again they can protect their democracy from corruption by a hyper-empowered strongman and authoritarian Islamism.
Erdogan is on the verge of destroying Turkish democracy. He is also an emerging threat to the integrity of NATO, which means he's a threat to U.S. security. If "security" sounds vague, confront a specific. Sultan Recep (Erdogan's derisive nickname) threatens the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's technological edge, which means he aids and abets America's military enemies.
Let me address NATO and then circle back to Turkish democracy and the Istanbul election, which Erdogan and his notionally Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost decisively.
NATO members are sovereign states. They owe their citizens honest debate on budgets and troop commitments. Despite policy and budget disagreements, NATO won the Cold War and set a record: It's the world's longest-lived military collective defense alliance -- an alliance where the sovereign members pledge to defend one another against external military threats.
Turkey's problem-strewn participation in NATO's F-35 fighter program exemplifies Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian contempt for the type of fundamental military cooperation genuine mutual defense requires.
Turkey eagerly joined the F-35 consortium. The jet gives collective defense an edge.
Enter obstreperous Erdogan. Ignoring consequential pleas from his allies, Erdogan decided to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system. I hold him personally responsible because after his reorganization of Turkey's government, he is a power unto himself.
Sultan Recep's decision makes him a strategic enemy. If integrated into NATO's air defense network, the S-400 could disrupt NATO's collective air defense and potentially serve as a digital Russian spy tapping other networks. In real time, Moscow could locate every NATO warplane.
The technical risk is real; the trust issue is fundamental. In early June, the Pentagon began "unwinding" Turkish participation in the F-35 program.
I think it's quite fair to conclude that an election that sends Sultan Recep into retirement would ensure Turkish membership in NATO. As a bonus, the Turkish Air Force would get to fly the F- 35 with pride. (Good rumor has it the Turkish pilots who've flown it like it.)
Turkey brings a lot to NATO. Full Turkish partnership damages several international bad actors, first and foremost Vladimir Putin's crooked Russian regime. The overt record shows that since 2008, Czar Vlad has made disrupting and damaging NATO a Kremlin priority. Robust Turkish NATO membership also stymies Iran's robed Islamist dictators.
In late June 2019, Turkish voters in Istanbul began unwinding the source of the F-35/S-400 controversy, Sultan Recep.
Here's critical historical background to that election: The Turkish Republic that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created in 1923 from the ruins of the post-World War I Ottoman empire was decidedly secular. Ataturk sought relationships with Western European democracies and pursued technical modernization. Turkey's democracy is Ataturk's legacy. To use a grander lens, Ataturk is the only man to successfully create a political system to modernize a culturally Islamic nation.
In the 2002 elections, Erdogan's "moderate" Islamist AKP defeated the Republican Peoples Party (CHP, founded by Ataturk). In 2003, Erdogan became prime minister. Year by year Turkey's government became less secular and more authoritarian as Erdogan forged a powerful executive. Since July 2016's curious coup, he has systematically jailed journalists, repressed political opponents and purged government workers.
More dirt: June's election was an authoritarian mulligan forced by Erdogan. The CHP won the March 31 vote in Turkey's three pre-eminent cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Erdogan managed to annul the Istanbul narrow tally.
March's Istanbul victor, Ekrem Imamoglu, won the June tally by an overwhelming margin.
Local elections in Istanbul are national bellwethers. Sultan Recep needs to go.
But ... if he attempts to undermine the CHP's victory, if he becomes increasingly oppressive, if another curious coup occurs ...
Make it easy, Sultan. Resign.