OPINION

Republican leadership moving party to better see US interests in US-Turkish East Med policy

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In 2017, Republican Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell initiated a common-sense Turkish policy that was considered “revolutionary” by the bureaucracy. He saw the need to balance US policy in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey, on the one hand, and our Western, democratic, always-reliable allies, Greece, Cyprus and Israel on the other. He saw Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moving to dangerously undercut America’s defense posture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Among other things, he anticipated Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles – possessing the capability to thwart the stealth advantage of our NATO planes.

In 2019, for the first time in four decades, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the Republican leadership of James Risch, moved legislation very critical of Turkey. Chairman Risch took public positions strongly opposing American F-35 jet sales to Turkey due to their purchase of Russian missiles. Chairman Risch, with the strong support of then ranking minority member and decades-long Turkey critic Bob Menendez, moved legislation through his committee the likes of which had not been seen for decades. Among other provisions, that legislation would restrict arms sales to Turkey, sanction senior Turkish officials, sanction those providing arms to Turkey for use in Syria and direct the president to oppose loans to Turkey from international financial institutions. And, instead of covering up Turkish atrocities, the legislation would require reports on potential Turkish war crimes during the Syrian incursion. Also, during Risch’s chairmanship, the Foreign Relations Committee moved into law the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019, introduced by then ranking minority member Menendez and Republican committee member Senator Marco Rubio. This was the first major legislation in many years focused on the importance of Greece and Cyprus to the United States and to security in that region.

It is our hope that policymakers of both parties now understand that bygone, shortsighted American policymakers strongly encouraged the aggression that is now threatening our security interests and long-term threats to our freedom. It began when President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reversed President Lyndon Johnson’s policy of stopping Turkey from invading Cyprus. The Nixon administration pressed Greece not to interfere with Turkey’s American arms-assisted 1974 invasion. It then refused to enforce America’s law requiring an end of arms assistance to any country that violates that law by using our arms aggressively. Then, for 10 years, until forced to do the right thing by the Congress’ enactment of a new law, our State Department helped Turkey hide the execution and mass burial of five innocent American citizens, including a summer-vacationing 17-year-old American boy from Detroit, and 1,000 Cypriot men, women, and even children.

For decades, White Houses officially and astoundingly reported to Congress every few months that Turkey was moving to end its occupation of our ally, Cyprus. In fact, Turkey was grossly intensifying its occupation. It forced into Cyprus hundreds of thousands of non-Western-oriented, extreme Muslim Turks who overwhelmed the Western-oriented, moderate Muslim Turkish Cypriots they were claiming to protect. As Turkey aggressively moved against Western interests, the US sent them up to 1 billion dollars a year in cash military aid. We even helped Turkey’s effort to infuse into Cyprus abhorrent un-American practices. Our State Department drafted and tried to force on Cyprus an apartheid-like constitution that would have allowed Turks from Turkey, but not Greek Cypriots from Cyprus, to purchase property in the illegally Turkish-occupied northern third of Cyprus. Amid our doing all these things Turkey had the audacity to refuse to let us use our base at Incirlik in Turkey’s Adana province to treat dying Americans among our 241 soldier fatalities from the 1983 Beirut bombing. Our always-loyal allies the Cypriots immediately treated them.

These Republican leaders – Risch and Mitchell – are positioned to see this issue in far greater detail than many Republicans. For the good of America, they, and others in the Republican Party, like Senate committee member Rubio and the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike McCaul, must be listened to by their fellow Republicans. We can’t go back and undo the horrible damage we did to our loyal ally Cyprus, but we also can’t walk away and try to pretend we didn’t do it. There is a great deal America can do to begin making up for it. That must be a significant part of America’s new, more bipartisan, and wiser Eastern Mediterranean policy.


Philip Christopher is president of the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA). Andy Manatos is CEO and Mike Manatos is president of Manatos & Manatos.