08:44 GMT30 July 2021
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    A new think tank founded by a group of US neoconservative figures aims to turn Turkey back into a “democracy” and a “reliably ally” of the United States once more. Although the Turkish Democracy Project” stops short of calling for regime change, its staff is littered with men whose careers have been built on it.

    "For the better part of the last century, Turkey was a reliable ally and a model in the region of liberal ideals and cultural freedom," the Turkish Democracy Project (TDP) says on its website. "But in recent years, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dramatically altered Turkey's position in the international community and its status as a free and liberal democracy."

    The group, whose website went active on June 23, describes itself as "a nonprofit, non-partisan, international policy organization” which "opposes its destabilizing behavior, supports genuine democratic reform, and holds the forces of corruption and oppression within Turkey to account.”

    Why this is the task of a bunch of American former diplomats and academics is never stated.

    US-Turkish Relations Slowly Implode

    Turkey joined the NATO alliance in 1952, meaning the US is pledged to defend the country if it comes under attack, and Turkey has long been a key partner for the US in the region, including housing a large air force base at Incirlik that held nuclear weapons. However, the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has butted heads with US policymakers several times in recent years, helping to create a rift between the allies.

    In April, sanctions came into force against Ankara for its purchasing of S-400 air defense systems from Russia, which the US said was dangerous because it could expose weaknesses in the F-35 stealth aircraft that Turkey was also preparing to field. Turkey was also kicked out of the F-35 program in the affair.

    In Syria and Iraq, Turkey has also largely stood contrary to US policies, particularly in its war against Kurdish militias, which Ankara calls terrorist groups but which are also allied with the United States and serving an important role in denying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad control of the eastern, oil-rich third of the country. Turkey has also supported restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, confronted US allies Greece, Cyprus and Israel over gas exploration rights in the Mediterranean, and supported the Hamas government in Gaza. 

    Turkish military convoy drives in Idlib province, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020
    © AP Photo / Ghaith Alsayed
    Turkish military convoy drives in Idlib province, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020

    Erdogan has also intervened in the Libyan civil war on the side of Presidential Council chairman Faez al-Serraj, while the US tacitly supports General Khalifa Haftar, the rebellious army chief who has challenged Serraj’s flimsy UN-backed government in Tripoli from the eastern stronghold of Tobruk.

    Aside from the sanctions, another important mark of the unraveling US-Turkey relationship was the April recognition by the Biden administration of the 1916 genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, to which Turkey is the legal successor state.

    The situation brings to mind many former US allies who have been discarded after they no longer proved useful to US foreign policy, such as longtime Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Hussein launched an invasion of Iran and the US threw its weight behind supporting his war effort - even as its secretly funneled arms to Tehran and despite Iraq already being a Soviet client. However, when the war was over and Hussein invaded Kuwait, to which it was deeply indebted, and the Soviet dissolved shortly thereafter, Hussein’s government became an obstacle to US policy in the region and Washington began planning his overthrow, which came in 2003.

    That agenda was largely set by a group of neoconservatives, who, in 1997, founded the Project for a New American Century. This group laid out plans for accelerating Republican interventionist politics to destroy a host of former Soviet client states and ensure the US remained unchallenged around the globe.

    Neocons And Interventionists

    Several members of the TDP have a PNAC pedigree, including Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and the brother of former US President George W. Bush; and John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state and UN ambassador for Bush before becoming former US President Donald Trump’s hawkish national security adviser. In the interim, Bolton headed the Galestone Institute, which the Council on American-Islamic Relations civil rights group described as a "key part of the whole Islamaphobic cottage industry on the internet."

    “It's time to sound the alarm on Turkey,” Bolton tweeted on June 23. “Under an authoritarian leader, a once-reliable NATO ally is turning its back on democracy and embracing Russia. I'm pleased to join the @turkish_project advisory council to shine a light on the darkening situation.”

    ​Bush issued a similar message, tweeting the same day that “a democratic Turkey is essential to our security, but Turkish freedom and liberty is fading away. Turkey's authoritarian leader is intent on silencing pro-freedom voices.”

    The Turkish Democracy Project’s CEO is Mark Wallace, who held several positions in the Bush administration and later became CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a pro-regime-change group. UANI’s chairman is former US Senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who is also on TDP’s advisory board, as is UANI’s intelligence chief, Norman Roule.

    Robert Richer, a former associate deputy director of operations for the Central Intelligence Agency and former vice president for intelligence at the mercenary firm Blackwater, is also on the advisory board, as is Frances Townsend, a former Bush adviser on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

    Several people initially listed as part of the council when the site went up have since been removed for unknown reasons, archived versions of the website show. Aykan Erdemir, the senior director of the Turkey program at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is one such person. A former Turkish opposition lawmaker from 2011 to 2015, he was accused in 2017 of being connected to the Gülen movement and his assets were seized.

    According to the Turkish state-owned Daily Sabah, Suleyman Ozeren, a George Mason University adjunct instructor and former head of two think tanks in Turkey who was also formerly on the TDP advisory board, is also wanted in connection with the 2016 coup. However, the outlet didn’t elaborate on the charges against him.

    Board of Directors of the Turkish Democracy Project

    The fabled time of Turkish “democracy” which the TDP seeks to restore in reality scarcely existed. Since the first multiparty elections in 1946, Turkey has seen a military coup in 1960; a coup “by memorandum” in 1971 accompanied by martial law, widespread torture, and open warfare against fascist, socialist, communist, and Kurdish groups; a coup in 1980; and a so-called “post-modern coup” in 1997 in which the military forced the Islamist-led coalition government to disband and the prime minister to resign. Subsequent plans for a coup against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) called “sledgehammer” have been revealed, and a coup was attempted in 2016 against Erdogan, but ultimately failed. Erdogan blamed the coup on the Gülen movement, to which the AKP was once allied.

    Ankara Dismisses TDP as Pro-Gülen

    Turkish critics have painted TDP as a part of the Gülen movement, an opposition movement allegedly headed by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Muslim cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999. Gülen has denied responsibility for the 2016 coup attempt.

    "The warmonger Bolton, the incompetent brother of Bush and the remnants of the FETÖ terrorist organization, are supposed to bring democracy to Turkey by holding with the YPG/PKK terrorists," Resul Kurt, a central executive board member of the AKP, said in reply to Bush. FETÖ refers to the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation, the Turkish government’s name for the Gülen movement, and YPG and PKK are Kurdish militias regarded by Ankara as terrorist groups.

    ​"Come on, the blood of millions of innocents is dripping from your hands," Kurt added.

    The Daily Sabah also labeled the Turkish Democracy Project a “platform for anti-Turkey propaganda.”

    Related:

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    Erdogan Tells Biden That Turkey’s Stance on S-400 Remains Unchanged
    Erdogan: No Issue That US and Turkey Can't Resolve, NATO Will Hardly Survive Without Ankara
    Tags:
    neoconservatism, Gulen Movement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Joe Lieberman, Jeb Bush, John Bolton, regime change, Turkey
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