As the United States prepares for the incoming administration and President Donald Trump, there stands an opportunity for a reset of an important relationship – that of the United States and Turkey. The hope is that President Trump and his officials will cultivate more closely a diplomatic relationship with Turkish President Erdogan than President Obama had left fallow over the past eight years.
In such a tumultuous time, there will be many issues that concern the two world leaders. And one of the issues hovering at the top of that list will be Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Imam and leader of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) – the same person who orchestrated the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 of this past year.
Since that fateful day, the U.S. has taken no steps or actions toward Gulen’s extradition. Nothing has been done despite Turkey’s ongoing official requests, the Turkish Justice Ministry sending various files and evidence of Gulen’s crimes, and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag visit to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. Attorney General Lynch in efforts to expedite Gulen’s extradition last October.
So why should the United States and its citizens be concerned? We should be concerned because Turkey is one of America’s most important NATO allies. Turkish-U.S. relations are critical to regional security and the management of regional crises. The violent conflicts in Syria and Iraq, recently spilling past Turkey’s borders, are significant issues of international security. Moreover, the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have added additional complexity, as more regional instability – and uncertainty – presents itself. In addition to these dynamics, Russia’s influence in the region continues to expand.
For over fifty years, Turkey and the United States have enjoyed a fruitful, bilateral relationship. At no time in our history has our relationship with this ally been as critical and as pivotal as it is today, especially in the face of ISIS and other terrorist groups at large. In order to defeat our enemies and ensure regional stability, Turkey and the United States must stand side-by-side and face terrorism head-on – as partners.
Since 2011, Turkey and the U.S. have co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) to help combat the rise of extremism. Turkey has also worked in conjunction with the U.S. to establish the first-ever public-private global fund to support local efforts in countering violent extremism, and has taken a leading role at the Center of Excellence Defense Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) in Ankara to teach fellow NATO allies and select non-member states on how to address various terrorism-related issues.
It’s for these reasons that the United States and Turkey must find a solution to address the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) problem that is present. Fethullah Gulen and FETO have a track record of trying to destabilize Turkey and attack its citizens by any means necessary – simply to spread its roots through the country’s systems and ultimately take control. Unless Gulen is extradited, FETO will continue to pose a real threat for Turkey, its allies, and therefore the United States.
The United States and President Trump have a responsibility to their allies. We have a responsibility to assist Turkey in keeping their country stable by extraditing Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey and working together with our NATO ally and President Erdogan.
Denny Rehberg served as Montana’s at-large member of Congress from 2001-2013.