David L. Phillips

Why Is Trump Appeasing Turkey?

The Trump administration is turning a blind eye as President Tayyip Erdogan consolidates his dictatorship. Appeasing Turkey will backfire. Appeasement will embolden Erdogan’s crackdown on human rights, undermine the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, while pushing Russia and Turkey closer together.

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How Michael Flynn Subverted Our Democracy

When he started investigating General Michael T. Flynn, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concentrated on his income and undisclosed contacts with Russian officials. Now, however, Mueller’s investigation has broadened to include Flynn’s business with Turkey. Flynn faces possible fraud and money-laundering charges for failing to disclose a payment of $530,000 from the Turkish government. (The Foreign Agent Registration Act, FARA, requires disclosure of work for foreign governments, including details about compensation.) Flynn could also face conspiracy and kidnapping charges for allegedly negotiating a payment of $15 million to deliver to Turkey Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric and political foe of President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan. Gülen has lived in exile in the United States since 1999; he was granted permanent residence in 2008. The Turkish government accuses him of orchestrating the coup attempt in July 2016 and imprisoned thousands of his followers.

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Are the Syrian Kurds Next for Betrayal by the Trump Administration?

Iraqi Kurds were attacked in Kirkuk by Iranian-backed Shiite militias on October 15. Despite decades of close cooperation between Iraqi Kurdistan and the United States, the U.S. abandoned Iraqi Kurds who, at America’s behest, have fought bravely against the Islamic State. Syrian Kurds fear they are next for betrayal by the Trump administration.

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Iran Is the Winner in the Attempt to Crush the Kurds

Iraq’s attack on Kirkuk was directed by Iran and coordinated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to Rudaw, a news outlet in Erbil, Iranian media revealed:

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The U.S. Is Shamelessly Silent as Iraq Crushed Our Allies, the Kurds

After seizing Kirkuk, Iraq’s Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi is doubling down in a bid to occupy all of Iraqi Kurdistan. He has enlisted Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Turkey, in an insidious effort to subjugate the Iraqi Kurds. The United States barely responded to Iraq’s aggression, looking weak and irrelevant.

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On the Brink of a Dangerous Crisis, Iraqis Line Up to Attack Kurds

Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed militias are preparing to attack Kirkuk in a bid to punish Iraqi Kurds who support independence. The United States must not allow Iraqi Kurds to be slaughtered, nor can it allow a war between anti-ISIS coalition members. The Trump administration should immediately propose a 10-kilometer buffer zone between the sides and dispatch a high-powered envoy to help mediate differences.

The situation is urgent.

Iranian-backed forces deployed to the Kirkuk front-line overnight. Militias include the Badr Brigade, Khorasan and Tafoof units, as well the notorious Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, wearing police uniforms. They have been joined by members of the Iraqi Federal Police, Anti-Terror troops, and members of the 9th Division’s Armor Brigade.

Today, Prime Minister Heider al-Abadi delivered an ultimatum to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The ultimatum demands that the Kurds:

  • Hand-over control of the Kirkuk airport.
  • Relinquish the K-1 air base, also known as Kaywan.
  • Surrender all oil fields in Kirkuk province.
  • Allow the return of the Iraqi army to all places where they were stationed before ISIS invaded in 2014.
  • Remove Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim from his position.

The six-point ultimatum includes a deadline of early Sunday morning. Abadi threatens to attack if the Kurds do not comply.

Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has called for calm. “All standing issues should be dealt with through negotiations and peaceful means,” said Barzani. “Our calls for dialogue and negotiations must not be answered with threats, amassing forces and preparations for war.”

But Kurds are preparing for the worst. About 6,000 peshmerga – “those who stand before death” – are being rushed to the front-line, strengthening the line of defense should fighting erupt by design or by accident.

The situation is extremely volatile. Abadi does not control the myriad of militias deploying to Kirkuk. Their backers in Iran could try to provoke hostilities. An incident could cause a spiral of deadly violence, leading to full-bore war.

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The U.S. Has a Big Decision to Make When It Comes to a Future Kurdistan

Nearly 93 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in the referendum on September 25. Now Washington faces a choice. The U.S. can either support the Iraqi Kurds who are staunch allies. Or it can back Iraq, a sectarian theocratic state acting as a proxy for Iran.

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Draining the Swamp of Turkish Money and Influences

Turkey has mastered the art of buying influence in Washington. It pays expensive consulting contracts to lobbyists for “strategic consulting services in connection with political and public policy issues before the United States Government impacting the Republic of Turkey’s interests.” Turkey also makes major gifts to think-tanks, which act like lobbyists, circumventing the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

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Let's Find Out the Truth About the Beating of Americans by Erdogan's Turkish Security

Members of President Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail beat up protesters in Washington, DC on May 16. Eleven people were injured and two hospitalized.

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'Massive Electoral Fraud' in Turkey's Referendum

A Turkish election analyst wrote a private email describing “massive electoral fraud” in Turkey’s referendum yesterday. It is no surprise that followers of President Tayyip Erdogan rigged the vote. It is surprising, however, that his “yes” campaign only received 51.3 percent of the vote.

International monitors, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe (COE), issued scathing reports on the referendum to create an executive presidency and eliminate checks and balances.

The referendum occurred in a climate of fear. Under Turkey’s current state of emergency, Erdogan arrested 45,000 oppositionists and dismissed 130,000 civil servants. Purges negatively affected the political environment. “No” campaigners were threatened and called “terrorist sympathizers.”

According to OSCE media monitors, the “yes” campaign dominated the state-run media. Intimidation led to widespread self-censorship. About 150 journalists are in jail, more than any other country, and about 160 media outlets were shut down.

Kurdish voters were disenfranchised. Approximately 500,000 Kurds in the Southeast are displaced and homeless as a result of attacks by Turkey’s security services. They were ineligible to vote because they could not register at an address.

The Turkish government jailed 13 Kurdish members of parliament on terrorism charges and took direct control of 82 Kurdish municipalities, incarcerating elected mayors. As many as 5,000 local Kurdish activists were also arrested.

The COE said the “legal framework was inadequate for a genuinely democratic referendum.” It criticized the misuse of state resources in favor of the “yes” campaign, as well as the active involvement of the president and senior officials.

The Supreme Electoral Council, controlled by Erdogan appointees, abruptly changed the legal criteria for certifying ballots on election day, removing an important safeguard against voter fraud.

A leading opposition party will challenge 37 percent of the ballots, which were improperly sealed and uncertified. Its appeal is unlikely to find recourse. Qualified judges have already been replaced with party loyalists.

Voting lacked transparency. International and non-partisan domestic election monitors were denied permission to conduct effective monitoring in violation of best practices adopted by the OSCE, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and the Venice Commission.

Eighteen constitutional reforms were presented as a package. On the ballot, voters did not have the option of voting on each distinct amendment, which is standard international practice.

Police and local officials denied “no” campaigners access to public facilities and permits to rally. The presence of police was widespread inside the voting stations and outside. Police were checking identification cards, which deterred “no” voters. There were violent scuffles at several polling stations.

Reports of voter suppression are not surprising. Erdogan organized a sham ballot, using tactics familiar among dictators. The authorities manipulated both the casting and counting of ballots. Erdogan quickly declared victory, creating a fait accomplis.

The referendum marks the death of Turkish democracy. Erdogan endorsed the death penalty, signaling the demise of Turkey’s EU candidacy.

If NATO was being formed today, Turkey would not qualify as a member because it is Islamist, undemocratic, and anti-American.

What effect will the sham referendum have on US-Turkey relations?

Turkey wants the Trump administration to endorse the referendum’s result. Turkey has a formidable advocacy machine. It lavishes contracts on lobbyists. It uses surrogates to fund political campaigns. It throws money at think-tanks and influence peddlers like Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani.

Turkey’s hired hands emphasize Turkey as an indispensable security partner, ignoring its well-documented support for jihadists including ISIS. Turkey is at best an uncertain ally. Pentagon planners should diversify air combat operations. Alternatives to Incirlik Air Force base exist in Cyprus, Jordan Kuwait, and Iraqi Kurdistan.

If the US is serious about defeating ISIS in Syria, it should increase support for Syrian Kurds in the Battle for Raqqa. It will also work with Syrian Kurds to enforce a safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border. Additionally, the US should formalize its security cooperation with Syrian Kurds who comprise a majority of Syrian Defense Forces.

Prosecutors should proceed with zeal to try Reza Zarrab, who holds secrets about Erdogan’s corruption including a systematic effort to evade US sanctions by laundering funds for Iran. In phone intercepts on December 17, 2013, Erdogan is heard conspiring with his son, Bilal, to evade a police investigation by disposing of tens of millions of dollars.

The Trump administration should take Turkey to task, joining other countries and international organizations. Failing will do so will cause long-term damage to US-Turkey relations.

While most international monitors have scathing criticism of the referendum, the EU used diplomatic language, urging Erdogan to move slowly. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “respectful dialog with all the country’s political and societal groups.” The EU’s criticism comes with Erdogan holding Europe hostage, threatening to release a flood of refugees.

Erdogan rejects criticism, insisting that Turkey will ignore international monitors. “Know your place,” he said. “We won’t see or hear the politically motivated reports you prepare.” His supporters rallied in the streets chanting: “Tell us to kill; we will kill. Tell us to die; we will die.”

Turkey is deeply divided and in crisis. Peace and stability hangs in precarious balance.

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Experts at the State Department under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. His recent book is An Uncertain Ally: Turkey Under Erdogan’s Dictatorship.

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Amid Fears of Political Influence by the Trump Administration, an Iranian-Turkish Case Preet Bharara's Successor Must Pursue

There's another reason we should all be alarmed by the unceremonious firing of Preet Bharara, outgoing U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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It Is Time to Recognize Iraq as a Failed State

Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan — The battle for Mosul is underway. It will be bloody, but the Islamic State will be defeated. Beyond Mosul, a political plan is needed to defeat Islamism in Iraq and prevent ISIS from morphing into a new, even more murderous movement.

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Erdogan's Waterloo: Turkey Invades and Occupies Syria

The Obama administration has assiduously avoided U.S. military engagement in Syria. President Barack Obama is wary of the pottery barn rule: “You break it, you own it.” Supporting Turkey’s invasion and occupation of Syria would be a strategic mistake, making the United States a protagonist in Syria’s civil war.

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A Critical Turning Point in Washington's Partnership With Iraqi Kurds

Ed. note: The authors of this piece served on Columbia University’s Task Force, State-Building in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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When Will Obama Understand that Supporting the Kurds is Smart and Necessary?

Kurdish armed forces liberated Sinjar in November 2014. US air power was indispensable, as Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as “peshmerga” engaged the Islamic State (ISIS). When history is written, liberating Sinjar will be a turning point.

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America Must See the Truth About Turkey's Tayyip Erdogan

The Obama administration must see Turkey under the reign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for what it is, not how it used to be, or how Washington wishes it were. It is time for steely-eyed realism about Erdogan. Following are the facts: 

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A Real Plan for Defeating ISIL

President Barack Obama presented his strategy for defeating ISIL in an address to the nation from the Oval Office yesterday evening. Other than recognizing the seriousness of the threat, which was heartening after the San Bernardino terrorist attack, Obama offered nothing new. His speech was a retread of old ideas and ineffective policies.

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