In perhaps the biggest international story receiving no attention in Washington, there will be on September 12 a referendum in Turkey on new constitutional amendments that would, among other things, strengthen Prime Minister Erdogan’s political control of the judiciary. This would cement Turkey’s slide into dictatorship or, to be more generous, Putin-style democracy.
On September 6, at a ceremony marking the beginning of the judicial year, Hasan Gerçeker, head of the Supreme Court of Appeals, said, “With the constitutional amendments, the conflict between the courts and the executive power will increase, as the amendments ignore the courts’ will and cut their authority within the judiciary.” Many other judges have come out against the amendment. Emine Ulke Tarhan, the chair of the Judges and Prosecutors’ Union, was quoted in the press (sorry — in Turkish only) as saying they had discovered listening devices in their offices. In any other democracy, this would be a Watergate-scale scandal. In Turkey, it’s par for the course. As Tarhan explained, “It is definite now we are under surveillance, as are 72 million other Turks.” The polls show a dead heat.
Meanwhile, there remains dissonance in U.S. policy: we treat Turkey as the ally we wish it would be, regardless of what Turkey has in reality become. The chief example: The United States continues to plan to sell Turkey our most state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighter without so much as a Pentagon review to determine whether Islamists in the Turkish government and, increasingly, its military could leak its secrets to Turkey’s allies in Iran or Syria. This is congressional malpractice; there does not seem to be anyone awake in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Perhaps senators could ask Frank Ricciardone, the White House nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, whether he supports the F-35 sale absent any study of the security of the technology upon which the United States will depend on for air supremacy for a generation to come. It would be unfortunate if congressmen took Namik Tan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, at his word. While Tan might be a good guy, his job is to charm. The image he projects is in sharp contrast to the policies his government continues to pursue.