On Sunday, Turkish voters went to the polls and handed the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) a resounding victory, restoring to it the majority it briefly let slip in the elections of this past June. In doing so, Turkey’s voters have taken their country in a direction that would have been unthinkable in the decades following the rule (1923–38) of the secular, Western-oriented Mustafa Ataturk and have taken Turkey one step closer towards becoming an authoritarian Sunni Islamist theocracy. Indeed, the AKP victory prompted Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to tweet “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to God).
With his parliamentary majority now secure, most observers believe that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will continue to consolidate his power. We should expect press freedoms—already quite tenuous in Turkey—to continue to erode, while Erdogan will likely continue his push, which began after the June elections, to jail opposition figures associated with the largely Kurdish HDP (The Peoples’ Democratic Party).
The trend toward dictatorial rule in Turkey has been in motion for over a decade, starting when Erdogan took over as Turkey’s prime minister in 2003. The reason this should concern American policymakers has less to do with the increasingly odious character of Turkey’s domestic affairs, as it has to do with the implications for Turkey’s foreign policy, which has gone far astray from one which aimed, in the words of current prime minister (and former foreign minister) Davutoglu, to have “zero problems.”
As it has been carried out latterly, Turkey has gone from espousing a seemingly benign foreign policy to one which has been aimed at subverting the fight against Sunni radical extremism. Some believe that Turkey was behind the horrific sarin gas attack in Ghouta, Syria, in August 2013, though this remains a matter of great public controversy. And only last week, The Washington Post reported that Turkey fired on the US-supported People’s Protection Units, the Kurdish forces leading the fight against ISIS on the ground.
Indeed, the NATO alliance can now be said to be working at cross-purposes, not only with itself but with the Russian anti-terror campaign as well. Given the facts on the ground, what would, in the unlikely event a competent US foreign policy emerged in the last months of the Obama administration, an appropriate and proportionate response to Turkey’s slide toward Sunni authoritarianism look like?
First, the Obama administration should strictly apply its own conventional arms transfer policy to Turkey. The 2014 conventional arms transfer policy—as laid out in Presidential Policy Directive 27—consists of a series of 13 policy guidelines which apply to US arms sales to foreign buyers.