Republican presidential candidates seem to think expressing a desire to make enemies makes them more electable. Iran is the most common enemy (though Gingrich memorably went after the Palestinians), but Rick Perry (who last year couldn’t distinguish the Iraq War from the Iran War) has found a new target: America’s ally and fellow NATO member Turkey, saying at Monday night’s Republican debate in South Carolina that the Turkish government is led by “Islamic terrorists”:
“Obviously, when you have a country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes — not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it.”
His words prompted the State Department to respond – albeit mildly – Mark Toner, a spokesperson saying on behalf of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “We absolutely and fundamentally disagree.”
It’s impossible not to agree with the more pointed response of Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, which said of his remarks:
“Those individuals who are candidates for positions requiring responsibility such as the U.S. presidency are expected to be more knowledgeable on global affairs and more careful in their statements.”
As the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses…” Knowledgeable and global affairs don’t get into the same sentence where GOP candidates are concerned. The Turkish government – a democracy – led since 2002 by the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), is, of course, less than happy with Perry, accusing him of making “unfounded and inappropriate allegations.”
But Perry, who said on Monday that “The idea that (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan’s regime has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct,” defended his words when appearing on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer: “This is a country that’s got some explaining to do to the United States.”
Watch the Video from CNN:
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Perry spokesperson Ray Sullivan had this to say in a written statement:
“The debate question was specifically about the increased Islamist influence in Turkey, violence against civilian women in Turkey and association with Hamas. Turkey can be a valuable ally, but the actions of the current government undermine that country’s role in an organization like NATO. We need to send the message to Turkey that internal violence, association with terrorist groups and radical Islamist influence are inconsistent with being a NATO ally and positive player in world affairs.”
Ironically, as CNN reports,
But that relationship has improved dramatically over the last several years. Turkey has commanded the NATO mission in Afghanistan four times over the last decade, and the United States shares real-time intelligence from aerial drones for the Turkish military’s ongoing war with rebels from the Kurdistan Workers Party, who operate along the mountainous border between Turkey and Iraq.
Sounds like the perfect time to launch an attack – if you’re a semi-sane Republican candidate for president, that is. Though Turkey has moved away from Iran recently, sided with the West with regards to Syria and forms part of NATO’s missile shield (all good things you would imagine), it did expel the Israeli ambassador back in September after 9 Turkish citizens were killed in the Gaza flotilla fiasco. It is well known that no GOP candidate accepts any criticism of Israel – they cannot and have any hope of fundamentalist Christian support on Election Day.
Ironically but hardly surprisingly, Perry, who supports the idea of a conservative Christian government for America is attacking Turkey for having a conservative Islamic government. And the GOP has a less than stellar record itself when it comes to women’s rights.
If one feels the need to look for more (and possibly far more pertinent) reasons for GOP zaniness, FOX News helpfully points out that Perry is polling last in South Carolina according to most polls. Turkey is not unaware of where the Texas governor ranks in American minds. Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said of Perry’s polling:
“This reflects the commonsense of the U.S. electorate. The U.S. has no time to lose with such candidates who do not even know America’s allies.”
Again, you can’t help but agree, because the last thing America – or the world – needs right now is some more Bush-era cowboy diplomacy by a guy who makes Bush himself look like a Rhodes Scholar.