Early in his career, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a remark that sums up the tragedy of modern Turkey. “Democracy is like a train,” the then-Istanbul mayor said. “You get off once you have reached your destination.”
Erdogan’s train seems to have arrived. In last Sunday’s referendum, a razor-thin majority granted him massive new powers in a vote rife with irregularities. As Erdogan cements his rule in his 1,150-room palace, he’s dashed the dream that he’d create the first modern democracy in a mainly Muslim country. (This vote, which could keep him in office until 2034, also kills any miniscule hope that Turkey might enter the European Union in my lifetime.)
President Donald Trump quickly called to congratulate Erdogan on his questionable win and may soon invite him to the White House. Yet Turkey’s reliability as a NATO ally is under severe question and Ankara has become a liability in fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Washington has leverage to use on Erdogan in these matters, but only if someone finally manages to fully brief Trump.
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