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Turkish Democracy Is Down, But Not Out

Relations between Turkey and the West are damaged, but not irreparably, and the same is true of Turkish democracy. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems to believe that his country’s geostrategic importance gives him carte blanche, the fact is that Turkey needs the West, and the West needs Turkey.

MADRID – Relations between Turkey and the West are clearly going through an extremely delicate phase. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government is pursuing an increasingly volatile foreign policy and presiding over the continued erosion of democratic norms at home. The widening schism between Turkey and its nominal Western allies is further proof of the decay of global cooperation. And yet that process is not irreversible.

The latest setback stems largely from Turkey (a NATO member) purchasing and taking delivery of a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system. NATO considers the S-400 to be incompatible with its own systems, and the United States believes its presence will compromise the security of its new F-35 fighter, which Turkey has expressed an interest in acquiring. In retaliation, the US government has expelled Turkey from the F-35 consortium and is contemplating imposing sanctions.

Erdoğan, meanwhile, has done little to calm matters. His threats of military intervention in northeast Syria worry the US, which has tried to buy time with a vague preliminary agreement with Turkey to establish a safe zone. Kurdish forces, which dominate the region in question and played a key role in the fight against the Islamic State, now must hope that US President Donald Trump won’t leave them in the lurch.