Memo to US presidential candidate Rick Perry: Turkey isn’t run by “Islamic terrorists.” Rather, it’s the U.S.’s most important Muslim ally. For proof, look no further than Turkey’s recent installation of a crucial radar system that’s an essential part of U.S. plans to defend NATO against Iranian nuclear missiles—ignoring hysterical opposition from Teheran. And Turkey’s prime minister has just toured the newly hatched democracies of the Middle East—urging former Islamist parties to keep religion out of politics and singing the praises of secularism.
Asked by a Fox News anchor Monday whether Turkey belonged in NATO, Perry replied: “Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists … not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.” Perry’s term “go to zero” is a reference to his suggested policy of making all recipients of U.S. foreign and military aid justify why they need it. However, Turkey does not receive any direct U.S. aid—although the U.S. did recently deploy four Predator drones to Turkey from Iraq to help operations against Kurdish rebels.
Perry went on to say that Turkey, “the country that I lived in back in the 1970s as a pilot in the United States Air Force … was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don't see that.”
Victoria Coates, foreign-policy advisor to Perry, later clarified his reference to Turkey’s leadership as “Islamist terrorists,” explaining that the governor was referring to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “association with Hamas” and “the flotilla against Israel.” Erdogan has indeed repeatedly expressed support for Gaza’s leadership and expressed anger at a 2010 attack by Israeli commandos on a Turkish-registered aid ship in international waters near Gaza last year during which nine Turks were killed.
Turkey’s government and commentators exploded in indignation at Perry’s remarks Tuesday. “Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2 years old,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. “It is a member that has made important contributions to the transatlantic alliance’s conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism.”
Perry also seemed to lump Turkey in with two avowed enemies of the U.S. “We need to send a powerful message to countries like Iran, and Syria and Turkey that the United States is serious and that we’re going to have to be dealt with,” he said at a debate in South Carolina. The Turkish government called the comparison “baseless and inappropriate” and suggested that the U.S. should “waste no time … on candidates who do not even know their allies.”
Turkey has over recent months piled pressure on the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad to step down, and imposed economic sanctions on its southern neighbor.
While Turkey’s relations with Israel have deteriorated sharply over the last 10 years, Ankara’s alliance with the U.S. has improved since a low point in 2003 when the Turkish Parliament voted down a proposal to allow U.S. troops to invade Iraq from Turkish soil. Since then, Turkey has proved a valuable ally, deploying troops to ISAF in Afghanistan and agreeing to deploy vital antiballistic missile radars as part of U.S. efforts to contain Iran. Perry, however, believes that “there should be no space between the United States and Israel, period.”
In the wake of Perry’s comments Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish newspaper columnist and author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case For Liberty, tweeted: “Rick Perry: what an idiot.”