Turkish-U.S. relations at the dawn of a new world order

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President Erdoğan, U.S. President Trump and their delegations prepare to have lunch in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 16.
President Erdoğan, U.S. President Trump and their delegations prepare to have lunch in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 16.

Turkish-U.S. relations started to evolve after the Second Cairo Conference in 1943 during World War II. In light of Soviet meddling in Turkish and Greek affairs, the administration of then U.S. President Henry Truman declared the Truman Doctrine in 1947, which reoriented U.S. foreign policy, as Britain would no longer provide assistance to the Greek government in its civil war against the Greek Communist Party. According to Truman, a communist Greece would endanger Turkey's stability, which would put the Middle East's stability on the line. Turkey joined NATO in 1952 with Greece. In 1954, Turkey and the U.S. signed a joint use agreement for İncirlik Air Base.

Adnan Menderes, the then prime minister of Turkey, was neither anti-American nor against NATO, but Turkey had become too dependent on U.S. aid. When he was ousted and hanged by a military junta in 1960, he was about to make a visit to Moscow to seek new financial alternatives, as NATO did not let Turkey launch industrial reforms or give any loans.

Following the Bloody Christmas in Cyprus in 1963, a crisis between Turkey and the U.S. erupted as the U.S. stood close to Greece. Upon U.S. President Lyndon Johnson's letter in 1964 to Prime Minister İsmet İnönü, which could be summarized as if Turkey intervenes in Cyprus, it will be in trouble, threatening Turkey that the NATO agreement would not apply in the event of a possible attack by the Soviets. İnönü said: "A new world order would be established with Turkey in it." Yet he had to leave his post in 1965 amid a political crisis.

After the 1974 coup in Cyprus, Turkey sent its forces to the island to protect Turkish Cypriots under the Treaty of Guarantee. Relations between Turkey and the U.S. were further damaged after the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Turkey in 1975, taking a side in the tension between the two NATO allies, Turkey and Greece. What happened to Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, whose popularity was high after the Turkish intervention, was no different than his predecessors. Ecevit resigned his post to go to early elections, but a government could not be formed for over 200 days, which was followed by a long period of coalitions and political chaos. Those years were marked as right-wing-left-wing conflicts, often at the scale of proxy wars between the U.S. and the Soviets, and followed by a military coup in 1980. When Chief of General Staff Gen. Kenan Evren and his co-conspirators stepped in to take control, U.S. President Jimmy Carter was allegedly notified by a CIA officer with the great news: "Our boys have done it!"

For the next three years the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) ruled Turkey through the National Security Council. Fifty people were executed, half a million were arrested and hundreds died in prison before Turkey held elections.

Turgut Özal, who became prime minister in 1983, was an important figure in Turkey's transition to a neoliberal economic model. After his death while president of a suspicious heart attack in 1993, Turkey was ruled by a series of eight governments, seven of which were coalitions, in the next nine years, experiencing economic crises, instability and political chaos. Founded in 2001, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won the majority in the 2002 elections. With its successful, liberal economic and social conservative agenda, the AK Party and its charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, won the next elections, increasing its votes. Turkey was on the rise again, and this time it was big.However, Turkish-U.S. relations faced turbulence once again following the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.

In January 2003, Turkey invited other countries in the region to a last chance meeting to urge Iraq to cooperate with U.N. inspections and to avert a U.S.-led war. On March 1, 2003, Parliament rejected a proposal to allow more than 60,000 U.S. troops to operate from bases and ports in Turkey in the event of war, causing a great wave of criticism from the U.S. U.S. troops attacked Turkish soldiers in Sulaymaniyah a couple of months later and took 11 of them hostage. In a couple of years, the Ergenekon trials started alleging that a clandestine, secularist, ultra-nationalist organization had members in the military and armed forces and was responsible for many acts of political violence in Turkey. It was a new political crisis, but in the background, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which had started to infiltrate the Turkish state apparatus at least 40 years ago, was also making its big move to seize absolute power inside the Turkish military.

As I tried to summarize above, Turkey has seen much political turbulence since it and the U.S. became allies after World War II. Whenever Turkey's priorities came before the geostrategic goals of the U.S. in the region and Ankara acted accordingly, somehow, a political chaos erupted in Turkey. Those coincidences have made anti-Americanism more widespread in Turkish society over the years.

In the last few years, we saw this movie once again. The political chaos beginning with the Gezi protests in 2013 occupied Turkey for three years and ended with a failed coup attempt, which was planned and staged by FETÖ in 2016. In the meantime, Turkish-U.S. relations started to deteriorate by the day starting in 2013.

For the U.S. government, the cause of all problems has been Erdoğan, both as prime minister and president. It is not hard to guess why. If Erdoğan were not around, Turkey would be an easy country to direct in accordance with U.S. interests. But in the eyes of Turks, for the first time since the start of the Cold War, Washington has not been able to manipulate Turkish politics thanks to Erdoğan's determination. Today, many in Turkey think that the U.S. providing shelter to members of FETÖ and weapons to the PKK's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, i.e., its relations with two terrorist organizations as far as Ankara is concerned, are the two main reasons for the current crisis between the two NATO allies, which is the biggest yet seen. But those were the outputs of the crisis. In fact, Turkish-U.S. relations started to sour when the U.S. changed its Syria policy in 2013.

No NATO country has had to face the threats from Syria, and yet Turkey has been left alone and become a scapegoat. When Ankara had to change its priorities in 2016, and started talks with Russia and Iran to de-escalate violence in Syria, it annoyed Washington, but the U.S. had already started to support the PKK, which has been an existential threat for Turkey for nearly 40 years. The U.S. has been arming the enemy of its ally for three years. The U.S., intentionally or not, has encouraged a terrorist organization to resume its war against an ally. Is it possible to trust such an ally after all? It has been almost a month since Turkey started its military intervention against the YPG in Afrin, Syria, and all we hear is concerns and warnings and alarms from Washington. If this is the way of threatening Turkey with more trouble, no one should be worried, as a new world order will be established. We are already hearing its footsteps, and Turkey will be in it.

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