If Sweden won’t stand up to Turkey, the US should


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party members, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, July 26, 2019. Erdogan says Turkey is determined to destroy what he called a “terror corridor” in northern Syrian regardless of whether or not Turkey and the United States agree on the establishment of a safe zone. Turkish and U.S. officials have been holding talks for a safe zone east of the river Euphrates to address Turkey’s security concerns.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool) (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

If Sweden won’t stand up to Turkey, the US should

There’s a Turkish joke about a political prisoner who goes into his prison’s library and gives the librarian a list of books he’d like to check out. The librarian looks at his list and then responds apologetically, “I’m sorry. We don’t have these books. We only have their authors.”

Turkey has already humiliated Sweden by successfully extorting concessions in the hope that the Swedish government could get Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift his consensus-busting veto on Sweden’s NATO accession. The Swedish foreign minister has already said that Sweden will distance itself from the Kurdish militias in Syria who liberated captured Yezidis and fought the Islamic State at a time when Erdogan supported the militant group.


Erdogan is now demanding more. He has already given Stockholm a list of dissidents and activists he wants Sweden to extradite. Because of Erdogan’s intolerance of dissent, he has launched a multidecade crackdown on the Turkish press at home. Turkey now ranks below Qatar and China-controlled Hong Kong in Reporters Without Borders press freedom rankings, and is barely above Russia. Now, he seeks to leverage his NATO veto to export his purge.

Today, the best journalism about Turkey occurs outside its borders. Many top-tier journalists live in Stockholm. This has always frustrated Erdogan. Two years ago, Abdullah Bozkurt survived an attack in Sweden apparently perpetrated by thugs under Erdogan’s command. State-run Turkish press have also published photographs of dissident journalist Bulent Kenes in Stockholm. That Turkey would disseminate their home addresses also puts them in the crosshairs of Turkish extremists who act out of adulation of Erdogan and without regard for the law of the countries in which they now live.

Erdogan hates the fact that websites such as Nordic Monitor and Ahval continue to publish hard-hitting (but carefully researched) news stories about events in Turkey and the corruption of Erdogan and his ruling circle. Accordingly, he now demands that Sweden detain and extradite Bozkurt, Kenes, and others where he can punish them like he has so many other reporters who refused to transform into court journalists or be silent. Should Sweden oblige, they will bring shame upon themselves and invite further extortion. In effect, Erdogan hopes to transform Sweden into a Scandinavian Azerbaijan, that is, a proxy state that has forfeited its sovereignty for the sake of short-term favor.

Swedish leaders should have been smarter. Blackmailers and bullies always make new demands when victims cave in to their initial ones. A far better strategy would be for existing NATO members to play hardball and to give Erdogan a choice between dropping his objections or exacerbating his already dire economy. Leverage can go both ways.

At the same time, the Biden administration could unravel Erdogan’s blackmail attempt by both offering Turkish journalists asylum and encouraging U.S.-funded grant-giving organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy or United States Institute of Peace to underwrite the journalism that Erdogan, like so many other autocrats, fears.


Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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