Is Turkey no longer an ally to the US? Are you sure WSJ?

Is Turkey no longer an ally to the US? Are you sure WSJ?

“Our non-ally in Ankara” was the title of a Wall Street Journal editorial on Sept. 15, with a subtitle stating: “Turkey bugs out of the anti-ISIS coalition. Why not a base in Kurdistan?”

A number of Turkish commentators took the editorial seriously, with some even writing columns detailing the length of tarmac at the İncirlik base that would carry U.S. bombardment planes, fearing that if the Americans move operations from İncirlik to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq then Ankara will lose its leverage on Washington and the distance between Turkey and the West will grow further. It’s as if İncirlik means only a long piece of tarmac for U.S. interests...

It is not. It is a Main Operating Base for the U.S. and other NATO operations in this extremely volatile region. It is one of the four largest bases in the world outside the U.S, with an operating radius that can cover (without refueling) an area roughly from the Adriatic Sea in the West to the Caspian Sea in the East, from the Crimea in the north to the Suez Channel (and Israel) in the south. It is owned by the Turkish Air Forces and is actually used as a refueling base for it too. U.S.-owned NATO nuclear warheads are also stored there, and there’s no need to mention the special operations teams of all sorts based there in connection to Britain’s two important military bases in Cyprus - Dhekelia and Acrotiri - which are able to host long-range bombardment and spy planes with the advanced electronic intelligence capabilities of the GCHQ. Again, there should be no need to say that the only Russian military base in the entire Middle East, near Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean Coast, is in the vicinity of U.S. and British bases.

It’s also worth mentioning that the absence of İncirlik for the U.S. military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) seems not to have affected the performance much so far. There is another important U.S. base very close to Iraq; in Qatar. As reported by the Hürriyet Daily News on Sept. 10, an American F-15 that had sustained damage after hitting ISIL targets in Iraq requested an emergency landing from Turkey on Aug. 21. The request was granted and after the F-15 was repaired by engineering teams at İncirlik, it took off again to fly back to its base near Doha.

The U.K. and Germany have also opted out of military operations against ISIL, just like Turkey, instead choosing to contribute intelligence-sharing. Turkey also vowed to prevent “foreign fighters” from crossing into Syria and Iraq and opened up civilian and military bases (including İncirlik) for logistical and humanitarian support. Britain and Germany stayed out of military action, even though they do not share two incredibly problematic borders with Iraq and Syria (and a de facto one with ISIL), and have not had 49 of their citizens - including the consul general in Mosul - held hostage by ISIL for the last three months. Plus, it takes some nerve to write a sentence like “Turkey is not the only country whose citizens have been taken hostage” when the ISIL terrorists are regularly releasing videos of our beheaded colleagues, human beings.

Turkey is a part of the anti-ISIL coalition, perhaps also taking part as compensation for the wrongdoings in the past when it tolerated radical Islamist forces in Syria against Bashar al-Assad, in the absence of meaningful support from the U.S. and the West. I see no reason why Turkey should no longer be regarded as an ally of the U.S. just because it has opted out of military action, just like a number of other countries.

Turkey and the U.S. are cooperating in many other areas, varying from Afghanistan to Ukraine, and Turkey also hosts a U.S.-built, NATO-operated early warning radar system for the Missile Shield defense system against a possible missile attack on Western interests. I’m sure the WSJ editors could list some more areas.

Turkey has other serious issues to be debated about being up to Western standards, from judicial independence to the right to freedom of assembly, to the right to freedom of expression and the media. 

Turkey is an ally of the U.S. and the Turkish people deserve better solidarity on democratic and economic issues from their American allies. I don’t think the U.S. administration, knowing where their interests lie, would cross out Turkey’s name just because it has opted out of military attacks against ISIL. Perhaps by trying to put pressure on Turkish leadership, it hopes to get something more, in military terms of course.