I suspect Russia believes we would not, especially under Obama, actually come to their aid with more than symbolic force. There is some reason to doubt they are right about this supposition. We moved F-15C fighters to Turkey following the movement of Russian air superiority fighters to Syria earlier this fall. In response, probably, came Russia's deployment of S-400 missiles in Syria. The older F-15C is not thought capable of defeating this system. Of the fighters we have, only the F-22 and F-35 incorporate stealth technology completely enough that we think them safe against the S-400 system. We deployed four(!) F-22s to Germany in August on an operational basis.
Does that mean we're getting ready to fight the Russians? Perhaps -- these are two of several shifts that suggest we are at least bluffing our readiness to do so. A bluff is rational, since the best outcome would be avoiding a Russian test of our treaty commitments entirely. Unfortunately, bluffs by this administration are likely to be called because they have been called in the past and have proven to be empty. Syria itself is the leading example, thanks to the President's so-called "red line" on chemical weapons use. Putin probably doubts that there is anything behind these moves besides bluster.
He's probably right to probably think that.
All of that leaves us with a quandary about Turkey. It's a major problem.
American democracy could survive as a liberal democracy despite the heavy repression of socialists and radical labour. However, in much of Europe, these forces were so strong [in the 1930s] that the state’s repressive apparatuses expanded indefinitely. When they were not sufficient, civilians were mobilized, and fascism was born.What sense does it make to have a major alliance with a fascist, Islamist power? Is it worth defending should the Russians decide to smack it around, at the cost of war with Russia? Certainly not. If the NATO alliance is fractured by our failure, though, can it be saved for the more plausible cases? What if Russia moves to reconquer the Baltic states it ruled as the Soviet Union? Are they worth fighting for, at the cost of war with Russia? What about Norway?
What is clear, in light of the Turkish case, is that liberalisation and democratisation cannot go hand-in-hand for an extended period of time in structurally weaker societies. While the spoils of a semi-productive model could satisfy many social groups, the downturn of the world economy after 2008 gradually dynamited the cash basis of the AKP’s consent. In this new global scene, the party had to incorporate more and more Islamist cadres to retain a mobilised base, but these very cadres pushed the regime into a collision with Israel, the liberal intelligentsia, and various (local and foreign) capitalist interests.
Under increasing pressures from the emboldened cadres (and the opening granted by the Arab Spring), the party’s hardly contained imperial ambitions were bolstered further and eventually ran out of control. Becoming more Islamist first seemed to be a wonderful resolution to the problems created by slowing economic growth, but this political choice backfired.
Further, if liberalization and democratization of Turkey is the very reason they are turning Islamist, what policy choices do we have in front of us for improving that alliance should it survive? Endorsing the fascism? But the fascism is now part of the Islamist problem. Endorsing more democracy? That's how we got the fascist Islamists. Endorsing a liberal but anti-democratic coup? Overthrowing, in other words, a NATO ally?
The conclusion that the administration does not have any idea what to do with Turkey is warranted. The best choice might be to preemptively expel them from NATO for their genocidal policy against the Kurds. Then the Russians could do what they liked to Turkey without endangering NATO, which would be reserved for its more obvious and plausible function of defending liberal democracy in Europe. That would concede the Middle East to the Russian/Iranian alliance, however.