and the U.S.: A Poisoned Alliance
By Burak Bekdil
October 30, 2017
In theory, Turkey and the United States have been staunch
allies since the predominately Muslim nation became a NATO member state in 1952.
Also, in theory, the leaders of the two allies are on friendly terms. President
Donald Trump gave "very high marks" to Turkey's increasingly
autocratic, Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the Turkish leader's
recent visit to Washington when his security detail attacked
It is puzzling why Trump gave a passionately (and
ideologically) pro-Hamas, pro-Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist leader "very
high marks." But in reality, the Ankara-Washington axis could not be
farther from diplomatic niceties such as "allies" or "very high
This is a select (and brief) recent anatomy of what some
analysts call "hostage diplomacy" between the two "staunch NATO
In June this year, Pew Research Center's Global
Attitudes Survey, covering a total of 37 countries, revealed that 79% of
Turks had an unfavorable opinion of the U.S. That was the second-highest among
the countries surveyed, after 82% in Jordan. Anti-American sentiment in Turkey
is 27% higher than in Russia, and more than twice as high as the global median
There are reports
that six Turkish government banks face billions of dollars in fines from the
U.S. over alleged violations of Iran sanctions.
Turkey is keeping in jail, among a dozen or so others, a
NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey, and a Christian
missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting
chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real-estate agent. All
of them face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in last year's
failed coup against Erdogan's government.
There is little doubt that the U.S. citizens are being held
in Turkey as a bargaining chip to pressure Washington to extradite Muslim cleric
Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdogan ally and allegedly the mastermind behind the
attempted putsch. Erdogan himself does not hide his intentions. If Gülen were
handed over, Erdogan
said, he would sort out the American pastor's judicial case. "Give him
to us and we will put yours through the judiciary; we will give him to
you," he said recently.
Early in October, as "hostage diplomacy"
intensified, the "staunch allies" U.S. and Turkey stopped
issuing non-immigrant visas to each other's citizens -- a restriction that
has already affected thousands of travelers. The first ban came from the U.S.,
then Turkey retaliated. The U.S. move came after Turkey's
arrest of a U.S. consulate employee, a Turkish citizen, on charges that he
had links to Gülen. The visa ban put Turkey in the same category of countries
such as Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Venezuela and Yemen. Erdogan
also claims that the U.S. is hiding a suspect in its Istanbul consulate who
is also linked to Gülen.
Erdogan apparently wants to raise the stakes. A Turkish
court earlier in October convicted -- in absentia -- a Wall Street Journal
reporter of producing "terrorist propaganda" in Turkey and sentenced
her to more than two years in prison. Ayla
Albayrak was sentenced for writing an August 2015 article which, the judges
ruled, violated Turkey's anti-terror laws. Had Albayrak not been in New York at
the time of the verdict, she would have joined nearly 200 journalists already
jailed in Turkey.
Adding insult to injury over the "very high
claims that the U.S., not Turkey, is uncivilized and undemocratic. In an
Oct. 21 speech, he
said that the U.S. indictment against his bodyguards was
"undemocratic." He said, "They say the United States is the
cradle of democracy. This can't be true. This can't be democracy ... I'm sorry,
but I cannot say that country [the U.S.] is civilized."
A kind of "transactional relationship" is, of
course, understandable, given U.S. interests in a volatile region of the world
where Turkey happens to be one of the state actors. All the same, the U.S.
administration does not have the luxury of maintaining a game in which it views
Turkey as a "staunch ally" and Erdogan as a leader with "very
high marks." This make-believe policy toward Turkey will only further
poison whatever is left of what once was a genuinely staunch alliance.
Washington does not have the luxury of
maintaining the pretense that Turkey is 'staunch ally.'
Turkey is clearly no longer a "staunch ally."
Take the most significant geostrategic regional calculation in northern Syria:
What Ankara views as the biggest security threat are U.S. allies fighting the
Islamic State: the Syrian Kurds.
Ever since the Iraqi Kurds held a referendum (and voted
"yes") on independence, on September 25, Turkey has aligned itself
with Iran and the Iran-controlled government in Iraq, who view the Kurdish
political movement as a major threat.
In addition, the anti-American sentiment in Turkey (part of
which has been fueled by the Islamist government that has been in power since
2002) may push Turkey further into a Russian-led axis of regional powers,
including Iran. Erdogan will not wish to look pro-American ahead of critical
presidential elections in 2019 when 79% of Turks have an unfavorable opinion of
Moreover, the idea of unifying Sunnis against the Shiite
bloc is more difficult than it may look. Sunni Turks view Sunni Kurds, as an
existential threat who are -- allied with Shiite Iran and Iran-controlled Iraq,
which contains Kurds.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey also found themselves at the
opposite ends of the crisis surrounding Qatar -- all Sunni.