No matter how bad Turkey has gotten, many U.S. and European policymakers have been sanguine; after all, the Turkish army still remained a bulwark against an AKP takeover. No more. In the most important news not to make the headlines, yesterday Prime Minister Erdogan managed effectively to veto the future chief of the Turkish General Staff (sorry–Turkish only) and substitute his own candidate.
It would be naïve to cheer the move as confirming the supremacy of civilians over the military. What Erdogan has perfected is not democracy but rather its evisceration. In Turkey, the military has always been an independent body, willing as a last resort to defend the constitution against leaders who sought to subvert it to their own political agendas. It is unfortunate that the military seized power in 1960 and 1980, but neither time did it keep power; rather, it worked to restore constitutional rule. I certainly believe it is important to remove the military from any involvement in politics, but it is dangerous to do so without first constructing other checks and balances to prevent a Putin-like dictatorship.
With yesterday’s news, not only does Erdogan dominate the parliament, the judiciary, the police, the intelligence apparatus, and the media, but it looks like he will also soon control the military. His nominee will assume power around the time President Obama plans to send Turkey the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, our latest, most high-technology fighter plane, the basis of U.S. air power for decades to come. Still, the White House and the Pentagon have failed to do basic due diligence to ensure there are no vulnerabilities to technology transfer to Iran when Obama sells a plane to a leadership sympathetic to the Islamic Republic and hostile to U.S. policy. And, unfortunately, Congress is asleep at its oversight, and has yet to demand the Pentagon conduct such a review before it is too late.