Turkish President Recep Erdogan accused U.S. General Joseph Votel of siding with coup plotters in the Turkish military Friday, marking the latest sign of fractures within the NATO alliance.
Erdogan’s troubling comments come after Votel told an audience at the Aspen Security Conference that several of the U.S. military’s closest partners in the Turkish military have been jailed. Secular elements of the Turkish military attempted a coup against Erdogan on July 15, alleging the Turkish president was amassing too much power and becoming too Islamist.
Erdogan’s forces prevailed in the coup, and have since imprisoned nearly 50,000 members of Turkish civil society in a full-scale crackdown.
“I’m concerned about what the impact is on those relationships as we continue,” Votel told the audience. U.S. Director of National Intelligence Eric Clapper concurred with Votel, telling the same audience “many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There’s no question that this is going to set back and make more difficult” the U.S.’s Middle East strategy.”
Turkey shares a border with Syria and is a lynchpin in the U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS. Use of Turkey’s Incrilik airbase to launch airstrikes is key in this strategy, as is Erdogan’s assistance in shutting off the Turkish-Syrian border.
Turkey serves as a key strategic deterrent against Russia. Turkey was a key nuclear weapons depot in the Cold War, and played a major role in U.S. nuclear deterrence against the Soviet Union. The U.S. still houses nuclear weapons at Incrilik airbase. As NATO-Russian relations continue to deteriorate, Turkey’s sway over the entire NATO alliance will only strengthen.
The Turkish government shut off power at Incrilik airbase for nearly a week in the wake of the coup, for no apparent reason. Dr. Michael Rubin, a Middle Expert at the American Enterprise Institute, recently told The Daily Caller News Foundation the Turkish government’s power shut off was akin to taking Incrilik airbase “hostage” to pressure the U.S. to process extradite a U.S. resident it believes was complicit in the coup attempt.
NATO’s decision-making process is basically consensus driven, giving dissenting voices within the alliance outsized power much like the UN Security Council. “Turkey basically has veto power and has become a cancer inside NATO at this point,” Rubin said.
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