Turkey-US Relations; The Turning Point

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US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 21, 2017 in New York City. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The maxim; ‘no permanent friends and no permanent allies’ is not something unheard in this century. For the current realm of international relations, this fits a lot of states, situations and strategies. More precisely Turkey-US relations are ones which largely fit the given semantics of non-permanency between states. This is largely because policies are not stagnant but are constantly in a state of flux. Sometimes the national interests of states also become a bit divergent in that new interests can take their place or there can be an extension of the old ones. In short, with these categorical changes there can be changes in the relationship of states as well. Sometimes the various changes in the bilateral relations can also trigger momentous changes in foreign policies and interests. All in all this is largely interconnected and intertwined and a latest example happens to be of Turkey and US.

The relationship dynamics between the two states are somewhat precarious and have been so for quite some time now. At this time, because of the various ups and downs between the two sides the relationship has become worn out and somnolent. Not digging that deep in history, the momentary crisis between the two started when Turkey became suspicious of the US being the perpetrator in instigating instability after the failed coup attempt. This went further with Turkish apprehensions over FETO and Gullen who is residing in US and Erdogan wants them to turn him over to Turkey. Furthermore, the issues of US aiding the Kurd forces and the Turk rapprochement with Russia became the issues which etched the two states far away from each other. The final straw between them was when Trump administration put sanctions on Turkey over the issue of the detained US pastor, Andrew Brunson. The sanctions not only put a diplomatic rift between the two but also plunged Turkey into a deepening economic crisis and its relations with US straight to darkness.

This time the fact is that Turkey is practically heading towards a collision course which might not end soon with not just the US but also with the EU states, especially Germany. And if one sticks to US, then under Trump the policies seem to be rapidly changing. This has become more of a fiasco where there is a clash of personalities without any of them backing down. The interesting aspect is that President Trump has recently put Iran, Russia and Pakistan under a series of sanctions and even blocked aid to Palestinian people. For Trump this seems to be some kind of a hawkish portrayal of power. What he does not realise is that if that power is also reciprocated with rigidity from the other side, there is an entire bilateral tumult. Thus as soon as the sanctions were placed, Erdogan called for boycotting all Western and especially US made products.

In all of this, not only are the bilateral relations between the two states being stagnated but they are now too far ahead to come to terms, at least for some time. The main issues still are there which need to be acknowledged if not solved. The charge sheet which Turkey has against the US is not an easy one to downright put aside. To begin with the state of Turkey has serious apprehensions regarding the FETO organisation and Gullen and the fact that US always skims this issue away shows that US wants a one sided relations of demand and supply. When Trump claimed that Turkey ought to free Andrew Brunson, a US Pastor who was detained after the failed coup attempt on charges of being in cohorts with FETO and PKK—the Kurdish force which Turkey is against, it showed the lengths to which this one-sided demand and supply policy can go to.

Apart from that Turkey has occasionally shown their concern regarding the US support to the Kurdish forces. Here is Turkey embroiled in conflict against this group and there is US aiding them and siding with them in the Syrian crisis. What it shows is that US has its own interests and it ought to pursue them, but it has been side-lining the concerns of its one time ally. This was the reason as to why Turkey was pushed towards Russia in the first place and to this day the rapprochement actually blossomed into an alliance.

But of course US did have its own concerns regarding Turkey as well; for one the idea of Erdogan being an all-powerful Executive was not seen in a very ‘democratic’ light. Of course the purge which Erdogan waged against the FETO network was looked upon as a dictatorial stance. But apart from that the undercutting of US interests in the Syrian crisis, the Russian alliance and the Turk role in Qatar crisis were looked upon with trepidation by the US as well.

The relationship dynamics between the two sides are not stemming from one side, of course this is a two way street. But now there is a certain amount of gap between the two states that the diplomatic crisis has turned into a turning point of bilateralism. They might come to the table of reconciliation someday but there is going to be a lot of mistrust between the two sides. The only lesson to be learnt here is the idea of national interests being superior to everything else in the realm. It worked for one side and it worked for the other side as well.


Amna Javed
Amna Javed is a graduate of School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad. At the moment she is engaged in her post-graduate research focused on Middle East and Turkey