- Category: Politics
- Published on Saturday, 11 August 2018 11:21
ANKARA, Turkey (10.08.2018) — For the past six decades, Turkey and the United States have been strategic partners and NATO allies. Our two countries stood shoulder to shoulder against common challenges during the Cold War and in its aftermath.
Over the years, Turkey rushed to America’s help whenever necessary. Our military servicemen and servicewomen shed blood together in Korea. In 1962, the Kennedy administration was able to get the Soviets to remove missiles from Cuba by removing Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey. In the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when Washington counted on its friends and allies to strike back against evil, we sent our troops to Afghanistan to help accomplish the NATO mission there.
Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people’s concerns. And in recent years, our partnership has been tested by disagreements. Unfortunately, our efforts to reverse this dangerous trend proved futile. Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy.
On July 15, 2016, Turkey came under attack by members of a shadowy group led by Fethullah Gulen, who leads his organization, officially described by my government as Fethullah Terrorist Organization, from a compound in rural Pennsylvania. The Gulenists tried to stage a bloody coup against my government. On that night, millions of ordinary citizens rushed to the streets out of a sense of patriotism, similar to what the American people undoubtedly experienced after Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two hundred and fifty one innocent people, including Erol Olcok, my longtime campaign manager and dear friend, and his son, Abdullah Tayyip Olcok, paid the ultimate price for our nation’s freedom. Had the death squad, which came after me and my family, been successful, I would have joined them.
The Turkish people expected the United States to unequivocally condemn the attack and express solidarity with Turkey’s elected leadership. It did not. The United States reaction was far from satisfactory. Instead of siding with Turkish democracy, United States officials cautiously called for “stability and peace and continuity within Turkey.” To make matters worse, there has been no progress regarding Turkey’s request for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen under a bilateral treaty.
Another source of frustration relates to the partnership between the United States and the P.Y.D./Y.P.G., the Syrian branch of the P.K.K., an armed group that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish citizens since 1984 and that is designated a terrorist group by the United States. According to estimates by the Turkish authorities, Washington used 5,000 trucks and 2,000 cargo planes to deliver weapons to the P.Y.D./Y.P.G in recent years.
My government has repeatedly shared our concerns with American officials about their decision to train and equip the P.K.K.’s allies in Syria. Unfortunately, our words have fallen on deaf ears, and American weapons ended up being used to target civilians and members of our security forces in Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
In recent weeks, the United States has taken a series of steps to escalate tensions with Turkey, citing the arrest by the Turkish police of an American citizen, Andrew Brunson, on charges of aiding a terrorist organization. Instead of respecting the judicial process, as I urged President Trump to do in our many meetings and conversations, the United States issued blatant threats against a friendly nation and proceeded to impose sanctions on several members of my cabinet. This decision was unacceptable, irrational and ultimately detrimental to our longstanding friendship.
To convey that Turkey does not respond to threats, we retaliated by sanctioning multiple American officials. Moving forward, we will abide by the same principle: Attempting to force my government to intervene in the judicial process is not in line with our Constitution or our shared democratic values.
Turkey has established time and again that it will take care of its own business if the United States refuses to listen. In the 1970s, the Turkish government stepped in to prevent massacres of ethnic Turks by the Greek Cypriots despite Washington’s objections. More recently, Washington’s failure to grasp the seriousness of our concerns regarding national security threats emanating from Northern Syria resulted in two military incursions that cut off the so-called Islamic State’s access to NATO’s borders and removed the Y.P.G. militants from the city of Afrin. As in those cases, we will take necessary steps to protect our national interests.
At a time when evil continues to lurk around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States, our ally of decades, will only serve to undermine American interests and security. Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the president of Turkey.
Turkey’s Downward Spiral
As Presidents Trump and Erdogan feud, the alliance between the United States and Turkey grows ever more frayed.
Not long ago it would have seemed unthinkable to add Turkey to the list of countries — including North Korea, Iran and Russia — that the United States had sanctioned for unscrupulous behavior. As a NATO ally, Turkey has a mutual defense treaty with Washington, benefits from American intelligence and hosts American nuclear weapons at Incirlik air base, near its border with Syria.
As August began, however, President Trump named Turkey’s interior and justice ministers as “specially designated nationals” barred from doing business with Americans and gaining access to financial assets in the United States. On Friday, Mr. Trump announced in a tweet that he had authorized a doubling of the steel and aluminum tariffs against Turkey.
The object is to force the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to release Andrew Brunson, an American and evangelical Christian pastor who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 2016 on trumped-up charges of aiding an aborted coup by Erdogan opponents.
The current tension is a far cry from the camaraderie expressed at the NATO meeting last month, when Mr. Trump fist-bumped Mr. Erdogan, previously one of his favorite strongmen. But it’s also the latest example of how dangerously frayed the United States-Turkey relationship, with its accumulating resentments, has become over the past decade, giving rise to the question: Is Turkey still an American ally?
Strong ties between the two nations go back to World War II. With NATO’s second-largest army, after America’s, Turkey anchors NATO’s eastern flank, and the country has long been viewed as a bridge between the Muslim world and the West. But Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule and the regional unrest caused by the Syrian conflict have tested this bond.
After Mr. Erdogan took office in 2003 and began reforms, Turkey looked set to become a model Muslim democracy with aspirations to join the European Union, a path similar to that taken by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk a century ago when he founded Turkey as a pro-Western, secular republic.
Mr. Erdogan, who heads the country’s largest Islamic party, probably was never a real democrat. But over the years, he has shown his true colors as an autocrat, skilled at promoting economic populism, militant nationalism and social conservatism — all while cultivating his own cult of personality. He has all but crushed independent media, jailing journalists and other critics, and fosters corruption. He effectively took control of all government institutions when he was re-elected in June under a new, more centralized presidential system.
Experts offer a number of reasons for Turkey’s democratic implosion. Ataturk imposed democracy from above, focusing on the elite, as opposed to cultivating it organically, from the citizenry up. In June’s election, a few credible candidates emerged to challenge Mr. Erdogan. Still, in general, Turkey’s political opposition has for years been fractured and feckless, detached from much of the population and offering no compelling alternative to Mr. Erdogan, who has been the only leader to effectively appeal to religious communities that have long felt marginalized.
Mr. Erdogan was emboldened in 2007 when the military, which had staged four coups since the 1960s to protect Turkey’s secular character, tried to prevent Abdullah Gul, one of Mr. Erdogan’s allies, from becoming president because he was considered too religious. Mr. Erdogan defied the military and called early elections. His Justice and Development Party won a sweeping victory, and Mr. Gul’s nomination went forward. That experience, coupled with his concerns about the Syrian civil war and the renewal of civil war with separatist Kurds in Turkey, led Mr. Erdogan to more aggressively protect himself and his party by marginalizing the military and secularists and expanding the role of Islam and Islamists in civic life.
One of the more recent standoffs with the United States has similar roots. The two countries remain at odds because of Turkey’s decision to fight Kurdish forces in Syria, troops that have been key American allies in the battle against the Islamic State. Turkey also has refused so far to accede to Mr. Trump’s demand that all countries stop trading with Iran.
The Turks are particularly incensed that the Americans have refused their repeated demands to hand over Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric and onetime Erdogan ally living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania who is accused by Ankara of orchestrating the aborted coup. So far, the Turks, who absurdly accuse the United States government of complicity in that 2016 coup attempt, have failed to provide sufficient evidence to merit Mr. Gulen’s extradition.
Turkey, which has ordered retaliation for the new American sanctions, has also detained 19 Americans besides Mr. Brunson as well as three Turks who work for the American consulates. Intensive negotiations, including with a Turkish delegation that visited Washington this week, have so far failed to resolve the conflict over Mr. Brunson, which has turned deeply personal.
At last month’s NATO meeting, Mr. Trump reportedly thought Mr. Erdogan had agreed to free Mr. Brunson in return for American help in facilitating the release of a Turkish national held by Israel, which took place within days. Instead of sending the pastor home, though, the Turks insisted that the United States first grant clemency to a Turkish state bank, Halkbank, and a Turkish bank official accused of violating sanctions on Iran.
Congress recently voted to withhold delivery of American-made F-35 jet fighters until the Pentagon assesses the risk of Turkey’s growing ties with Russia, which NATO considers a threat, and its insistence on deploying a Russian S-400 missile defense system that is supposed to be delivered next year and is incompatible with NATO defense systems.
The United States is not the only ally that Turkey has antagonized. Its bid for membership in the European Union, which was once seen as a way to encourage Turkey to make political and economic reforms and strengthen ties to other democratic nations, is widely considered blocked for the foreseeable future.
Hungary and Poland, now on their own authoritarian trajectories, have proved that European Union membership doesn’t ensure democratic liberalism. Still, Turkey is a larger economy than both of those countries and has longer, deeper ties to NATO and the West. It has been a strategic mistake for the union not to integrate Turkey firmly into its orbit.
Now untethered to that bloc, under an eroding rule of law and under American sanctions, Turkey’s weak economy is weakening further. After Mr. Trump penalized the two cabinet ministers and announced the new tariffs, the lira, already down more than 20 percent for the year, fell to a record low, and world financial markets trembled.
The United States has more economic clout to use against Mr. Erdogan, especially if, as some expect, Turkey needs a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund, an organization in which Washington has an effective veto.
But if tensions continue to escalate, what will be left of this vital bilateral relationship, and will Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdogan be able to repair it?
Turkey’s dispiriting recent history once again raises the question of whether Islamist values can coexist with democracy — not just democracy as manifested in elections but liberal democracy, with its core values of equality and freedom of the press, speech and religion.
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