As Long as Erdogan Doesn’t Go Back on His Meds….

What is wrong with us? Recep Tayyip Erdogan may go down in history as the man who single handedly undid Turkey’s seven decades as America’s darling, perhaps as one wag put it, because he got off his meds. Yet, the U.S.-Greek relationship has nothing to show for it. The Minister of Defense of Greece cannot even get a meeting with his American counterpart. Aside from some kind words during the summer crisis last year, America has stayed on the sidelines as Greece crumbled under the twin pressures of the Eurocrisis and the refugees. Greek American community leaders seem to have decided that the Greek Independence Day cocktail party and photo-op at the White House suffice for supporting the U.S.-Greek relationship.
This column originally welcomed Erdogan as a breath of fresh air after decades of corrupt military control of the wildly misnamed “only democratic Muslim State” and as the political leader who would bring Turkey into the modern world. He emasculated the Turkish General Staff, opened the statist Turkish economy to the oxygen of modern free enterprise, empowered a new entrepreneurial middle class, opened the door to EU membership and defanged the most toxic elements of the relationship with Greece. We all happily grasped at then-Foreign Minister (and now humiliated) Ahmet Davutoglou’s assertion that Turkey sought a policy of “no problems” with all its neighbors. Erdogan almost singlehandedly built a modern Turkey in less than ten years. In less than half that time he managed to make the country an international pariah. He has turned Davutoglou’s maxim on its head: “no neighbors without problems.”
Yet, Erdogan pays no price for humiliating Mrs. Merkel, renewing with a vengeance violations of Greek airspace and territorial waters, supporting jihadists in Syria, attacking our Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS and destroying freedom of the press and political discourse in Turkey. He has jailed Turkish journalists who criticize him and expelled the BBC. He has gratuitously picked fights with Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia, all declared American allies. He restarted a dormant civil war with twenty percent of Turkey’s population.
Despite this dismal record, the EU caves in to Erdogan’s extortionist demands offering bribes in the form of billions of euros, visa-free travel and a free ticket into the EU. Now Turkey’s old allies in the American Jewish community are lobbying hard to restore the strategic alliance between the two countries. He may have a bad press but Erdogan gets whatever he wants. The worst that he has suffered was a Presidential snub for which the pundits excoriated Obama.
Greece, despites its enormous financial problems, continues to loyally support the US-led EU economic sanctions against Russia even though Russian counter-measures struck Greece worse than almost any other European country. Greek bases, especially Suda Bay, never stopped accommodating American and NATO operations without conditions, again unlike Turkey. Greece remains one of only four NATO countries that still honor their commitment to keep defense budgets above 2% of GDP. More than a million refugees have crossed from Turkey into Greece fleeing wars Greece had no hand in creating and have been welcomed compassionately by a population that frequently does not know where its next meal is coming from.
In return for all this, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter publicly snubs the Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos. Most recently, Carter cancelled a meeting with Kammenos because “he had a busy schedule.” Unlike Jewish-Americans who eviscerated Obama for mildly reprimanding Netanyahu when the latter openly interfered in American domestic politics, the Greek-American leadership went silent.
Some Greek news media speculate that Carter won’t see Kammenos because the Greek Parliament passed a law that might have freed a convicted terrorist who killed two American diplomats; an eventuality taken off the books a year ago and with which Kammenos has never been associated. Others believe that Kammenos’ political opponents have convinced Carter that Kammenos is anti-American. Kammenos does have an undiplomatic tendency to shoot his mouth off about Europeans but has never criticized the United States.
In fact, he has made it clear that he will move Greek defense procurement and cooperation away from Europe and closer to the US. By contrast, blatant Turkish action against American interests do not seem to have inhibited Secretary Carter’s willingness to meet and be photographed with his Turkish counterpart.
In truth, the Greek Government appears incapable of working with the Greek-American leadership unlike the Israelis. Many of their Greek-American friends make no secret of their dislike for Kammenos for providing the votes necessary to keep the left-wing Tsipras government in power.
They concentrate their fire on pushing Tsipras out of office ignoring the damage they do to Greece’s image and interests in the United States. Granted, the Tsipras Government is no gem but will bringing it down now rather than trying to influence it be better for Greece? Is this petty political advantage worth humiliating Greece’s Defense Minister and probably the most competent official in the current Greek government?
As long as Mr. Erdogan does not go back on his meds, the Greek-American community has an opportunity to redirect the U.S.-Greek relationship. Unless we get off our backsides, no one else will do it for us.