Deep-rooted crisis in the US Turkish Relations

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Deep-rooted crisis in the US Turkish Relations

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During the speech Obama made in Turkish Parliament in 2009, he noted that “Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid sent a marble plaque that helped to build the Washington Monument. Inscribed on the plaque was a poem that began with a few simple words: ‘So as to strengthen the friendship between the two countries.’ Over 150 years have passed since those words were carved into marble. Our nations have changed in many ways. But our friendship is strong, and our alliance endures.” Indeed, Turkish American relations had many ups and downs over the years, yet it has survived. However, the latest rift has turned into the lowest point in well over four decades. In the recent years, we have particularly seen a distinct intensification of frustrations in both countries with each other’s policies. Deep-rooted historical ties have strained as the deep-rooted mistrust and misunderstanding gaining grounds. Just a few weeks after Trump noted that the two NATO allies “as close as we’ve ever been”, the American embassy in Ankara announced that it was suspending visa services it provides in Turkey, which is countered by Turkey’s tit for tat reaction.  Since then,  officials try hard to stop situation escalating any further and rebuild the lost trust, yet a US-Turkish rapprochement seems impossible in the near future as the Turks and Americans stay in the course of impulsiveness against each other.

From an American point of view, the current Turkish government has already overstepped and overplayed with its domestic and foreign policies across many issues and the US should increase the pressure on Ankara to curb Erdogan’s increasing power in Turkey to stop its changing orbit from West to East. Turkey arrested a Turkish citizen who worked for the American embassy in Istanbul, and allegedly had a link to the Gulen movements, the group that was behind the failed coup on July 15th, 2016. An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, and a translator who worked for the American embassy have also been in the Turkish prison for some time.  The US has deep concern over the arrests of its citizens, local mission staff as well as journalists, and members of civil society under the state of emergency and urged transparency and due process in the resolution of their cases.

On the broader strategic level, Syrian civil war far more consequential than any issue in Turkish American relations. Initial consensus about the Bashar Al-Assad future role in Syria, undermined by the length, severity, and endlessness of the unfolding conflict and turned to be the most important source of distrust between two NATO allies. The persistent absence of a United States foreign policy vision and strategy on the situation in Iraq and Syria has increasingly irked Turks about the wisdom of relying on Washington, which is also aggravated by the American decision for arming directly the Syrian Kurds, which is closely linked to PKK, considered as a terrorist organization by the USA as well as European countries and continues its bloody terror attacks against Turkey. As the distrust and upset have risen, Turkey reapproaches towards Russia, and Iran in Syria and Iraq to keep up its national interests. Turkey seriously considers buying a Russian made antimissile system while she faces defacto embargo from the US and Germany.  Many in the US policy-making circle long consider Turkey as a lost-ally and judge her sincerity and value.

From the Turkish point of view, American works for a regime change in Turkey in various ways including actively supporting coup plotters as well as undermining Turkey’s ontological security by directly arming Kurds in Syria. Turkey has been seeking last years failed coup mastermind’s, Fetulah Gulen’s, extradition from his safe haven in the USA for years.  Moreover, the US and other Western countries silenced for too long for condemnation after the failed coup while it was Putin, who call first to solidarity with the Turkish government. While the evidence against Gulen mounting, yet he is still able to stay and rule his network from his lavish mansion in Pennsylvania without any constraints.  Coupled with American failure to empathize with what Turkey went through during the coup attempt, this fed accusations of United States involvement in the actual coup organization in order to topple the current AKP government. This sounds like a conspiracy theory to many in the Washington, yet it is widely and seriously negated in Turkey.

Turkey is also deeply disappointed by the American decision for arming PYD/YPG, a branch of terrorist group PKK. Turkey is worried that weapons provided to Kurdish military units by the Americans would eventually be turned against them and there are serious reports that is already happening.

In the Syria, Turkey did not receive the strategic solidarity and support from the US while it could manage to ease her differences with Russia and Iran and sit at the same table with them to find out tangible solutions to the ongoing crisis in the non-abating conflict. But what push Turkey towards closer relations with Russia and Iran to defend its interests is the absence of a clear United States strategy in the region. The US has long been relying on short-term and transitional military strategies rather than a long-term strategy in the Middle East. That’s increase mistrust towards the US.

Turkey also considers the ongoing case against Iranian-origin Turkish citizen Reza Zarrab and a Turkish public bank official, Hakan Attila, on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, as well as the arrest warrant against former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan as a case that the US uses against Turkish officials, ministers and even against President Erdogan as a legal pressure. Moreover, there is an increasing number of suggestions that the US has been considering various economic sanctions against Turkey by using these alleged links and judicial processes.

As a conclusion, the increasing American pressures only increase anti-Americanism in Turkey.  As the anti-Erdogan sentiment inherited from previous administration keeps mounting in Washington, anti-American sentiments keep growing in Turkey.

The US and Turkey have a long history of the alliance, partnership, and cooperation. Along the way, Turkish-U.S. relations have weathered many storms in the past like the Johson Letter in 1964, the late 1970s arms embargo, and Washington’s ugly reactions to the March 1 (2003) Turkish parliamentary resolution are some examples.  The current situation is no different as several intense spats pushing both sides deeper into a spiral of mutual distrust. Both nations should demonstrate greater sensitivity to each other’s concerns, not just alliance require so but also their interest requires so.

Photo Credit: Dilomaticcourrier 

Hakan Mehmetcik
Currently, Hakan works as a research assistant at the Department of International Relations of Marmara University, in Turkey. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the department of Politics and International Relations of Yildiz Technical University having graduated from the Istanbul University with a B.A. in International Relations. He has two master degrees, one in Economics from Dalarna University in Sweden, and one in Eurasian Studies from Uppsala University in Sweden. His main research interests are security studies, regionalism, peace and conflicts studies, and International Relations Theories in broader perspectives.

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