It has been just six years since Russia’s Gazprom and its German partners announced plans to expand Russian gas imports into Europe via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Greed motivated Germany, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interest went deeper. He understood the strategic value of a pipeline that would essentially unlink Ukraine from Europe.
Not only did Warsaw and Brussels raise concerns about the plans — so did the Obama administration. “This is a project that will serve the Russian narrative completely from all aspects … and it creates just the chasm [the Russians] want in the middle of Europe,” Amos Hochstein, Secretary of State John Kerry’s energy envoy, explained.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went further and sanctioned the enterprise. “We want Europe to have real, secure, stable, safe energy resources that cannot be turned off in the event Russia wants to,” he explained. He understood that Nord Stream 2 was no simple commercial enterprise: Its chief executive officer, Matthias Warnig, was a former East German Stasi officer at the time the KGB stationed Putin in Germany, and the two became fast friends. It was Russian dissident Alexei Navalny’s exposure of their ties that would lead Putin first to poison and then imprison Navalny.
When President Joe Biden entered office, he sought to reaffirm U.S. ties with Europe and so decided to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and Warnig. His circle of progressive yes men and access-seeking Washington politicos testified to the wisdom of his move. They were misguided, however. First, Germany is not synonymous with Europe, and second, Putin sees concessions as an invitation to aggression. Ukraine now pays the price.
Biden may bury his Nord Stream 2 decision down the memory hole, but he appears to have learned no lessons. Last week, the White House asked Congress to approve an F-16 sale and upgrade to Turkey.
The proposed sale was a consolation prize for Turkey after its purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles disqualified it from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The problem is, NATO member or not, Turkey has little need for more advanced fighter jets. It uses its current F-16s not to defend NATO’s frontiers but to murder Kurdish civilians and bomb Yezidis trying to recover from the atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State. While Turkey says it targets only Kurdish terrorists, U.N. officials working in Iraq, as well as journalists and healthcare workers in the area, call this nonsense: There are not too many 5-year-old terrorists, but there are many 5-year-old victims of Turkish bombardments.
Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not one, however, to let a good crisis go to waste. Even as he positions Turkey as a sanctions evasion hub for the Kremlin, he has told the credulous Biden that he needs new jets to uphold Turkey’s NATO commitments. That he does this as he threatens to veto Sweden and Finland’s entry into the alliance is an irony lost on the White House.
The best indicator of Erdogan’s future behavior is his past behavior. Appeasement does not work; it emboldens.
Biden’s sanctions waiver on Nord Stream 2 led Putin to believe that he could get away with his Ukrainian land grab. That he miscalculated is no consolation to the tens of thousands killed and millions displaced.
Biden’s F-16 sale, if successful, would be a similar miscalculation. Its price will be paid in Greek, Armenian, and Kurdish lives. It will not strengthen NATO, but it could encourage Erdogan’s efforts to paralyze it from within.
Biden may be impervious to the consequences of his actions, and his top national security aides may continue to act as staffers whose jobs depend on their constant affirmation of Biden’s worst instincts. Congress, however, should not. It is time to close the door not only on Turkey’s F-16s but also on all weapons sales to what has become NATO’s most unreliable member.
Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.