January 17, 2012 - Washington Post
Turkey's Foreign Ministry is denouncing Rick Perry's comments on Turkey at a Monday night GOP presidential debate in South Carolina, accusing the Texas governor of making "unfounded and inappropriate allegations."
The statement comes after Perry argued that Turkey, a democratic U.S. ally, is ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" and should have its membership in NATO reconsidered.
Since 2002, Turkey has been led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or the AKP, a conservative party with Islamic roots. Some critics of Erdogan argue that under the AKP, press and other freedoms in Turkey have been curtailed and the country is increasingly being led down a path toward Islamic law, a charge AKP supporters dispute.
In a statement posted on the ministry's Web site Tuesday afternoon, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal notes that Turkey "became a member of NATO when the Governor was just two years old" and "has also been among the front line countries in the fight against terrorism."
Unal went on to take an apparent shot at Perry's lack of support in the GOP primaries, noting that "the weak support that Mr. Perry received at the opinion polls and the primaries has revealed that his unfortunate views are not shared by the Republican Party grassroots."
"This reflects the common sense of the U.S. electorate," Unal said. "The U.S. has no time to lose with such candidates who do not even know America's allies."
A Turkish-American group, the Turkish Coalition of America, also condemned Perry's remarks, arguing that "the level of ignorance shown by the governor of such an important state as Texas is appalling."
"TCA is happy to help educate Gov. Perry about the true value of U.S.-Turkey relations, one of the most important bilateral partnerships our country has, but respectfully requests that Gov. Perry apologize for his divisive and uneducated remarks," the group's president, G. Lincoln McCurdy, said in a statement.
At Monday night's debate, sponsored by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the South Carolina Republican Party, Perry was asked by moderator Bret Baier whether he believes Turkey still belongs in NATO.
"Governor Perry, since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there," Baier said. "Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cyprus. Given Turkey's turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?"
"Well, 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. ... And we need to send a powerful message to countries like Iran and Syria and Turkey that the United States is serious and that we're going to have to be dealt with."
Perry added that he lived in Turkey decades ago while serving as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and that the country has moved "far away" from where it was back then.
"You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America's best interest in mind?" Perry said. "And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don't see that."
The dust-up over Turkey is only the latest example of Perry coming under fire for remarks he has made in a GOP presidential debate. The Texas governor stated earlier this month that he would send U.S. troops back to Iraq, a remark his campaign later sought to walk back; he also made headlines late last year when he could not recall the names of the three federal agencies that he would seek to eliminate as president.