Some of our Western allies have fallen into what I would call the “Turkish trap.” They believe that with flattery and kid gloves they will discourage President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from taking any extreme action in the Aegean or the Eastern Mediterranean. Officials in Berlin are calling others in Brussels, asking them to avoid raising their tone in relation to Ankara, or overly defending Greek positions.
In Washington, a powerful group of officials monotonously insists that “the US must not lose Turkey.” They ignore the overt political “flirtation” between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin and his blackmail of the US and NATO and argue that “the West should not do anything that will further alienate Turkey.” When they are confronted by events or Erdogan’s constant inflammatory statements, they resort to the excuse that “he will lose the election anyway and will be out of power in a few months, so let’s be patient.”
When someone asks those officials, in private, “And when will you push things to the extreme so that Ankara gets the message?” they respond, “In the event that even one soldier lands or tries to land on a Greek island.” Somewhere there, I admit, I lose them. There is a leader who repeats, with irritating monotony, on an almost daily basis, that “we may come suddenly one night,” meaning that there may indeed be Turkish soldiers on Greek soil one day. He does not hide it, nor does he deny that he has revisionist visions for the near future. And instead of responding strongly and explaining to him that such an action would be a red line for the West, they prefer the soft approach in the hope that he won’t get angry and do something unreasonable.
The problem is that this approach has rarely, or very rarely, worked in the history of international diplomacy. Experience shows that only straight talk and practical deterrence prevent major incidents from international authoritarian agitators.
There is no doubt that Turkey is a large country in a strategic location and that no one, not even Greece, would like to see it completely alienated from the West. But it is a mistake to deal with the country based on illusions and insecurities. It is a mistake for anyone to think that they are calming someone, when that person does not hide his intentions. And if you wait for a “fatal night” in the Aegean to do it, it will be too late – for Western interests too.