It would be misleading to assume that Turkey-U.S. relations have been facing the lowest point in their history for just a single reason. Pastor Andrew Brunson's arrest is just the tip of the iceberg; many other factors have led to a profound crisis in bilateral relations, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's challenging discourse against the mistakes and unjust practices of the U.S., his pursuit of a multidirectional foreign policy and Turkey's convergence with Russia. One of the most important factors deepening the crisis is the fact that there are no longer different wings allying with the U.S. within the Turkish state as the state has ensured integrity and unity.
In a nutshell: Washington has been both surprised and incensed after realizing that Turkey is not intimidated by the U.S. and is able to mobilize international mechanisms against the U.S. when necessary. Adding to an array of communicational gaps and absences of dialogue, relations have steered toward a breaking point.
In the past, when the U.S. fell out with the civilian governments in Turkey, it resorted to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) as an ally and used generals when it could not impose its demands on politicians. This was evident in all four military coup experiences Turkey went through. Those organizing the coups on May 27, 1960, March 12, 1971, Sept. 12, 1980 and Feb. 28, 1997 were U.S. allies in the strictest sense. But now, the TSK is siding with the civilian government. Of course, the government and the TSK are not categorically against the U.S. Contrarily, they believe that maintaining close relations with the West will be in favor of Turkey. But unlike the past, they can defy the U.S. when interests conflict or state principles are breached.
I think a whole slew of incidents paved the way for the ongoing crisis in relations, of which the roots can be traced back to March 2003, when the Turkish Parliament rejected a proposal to base U.S. troops on Turkish territory during the Iraq War, much to Washington's disappointment. Following that, U.S. troops placed hoods over the heads of a group of Turkish military officers as revenge.
Although Turkey-U.S. relations were back on track after that, Erdoğan's determined and self-assured stance became a game-changing factor and drew reaction from Washington. For instance, Erdoğan's famous "One Minute" retort in Davos on Jan. 29, 2009 was a revolt to Israel's Zionist polices rather than being something against the U.S. But the retort was significant since it conveyed the message of a leader giving voice to the Islamic world and demanding justice.
After this incident, Erdoğan became the most beloved leader in the Middle East and Islamic world while causing raised eyebrows in the West. Subsequently, discussions regarding the alliance relations were ignited and Turkey was claimed to have diverged from the West. And when the U.S. provided support to the PKK terror group's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) during the Syrian Civil War, relations went off the rails again.
Turkey drew reaction once again when Erdoğan mobilized the United Nations General Assembly to object to the Jerusalem announcement of the U.S. as part of Turkey's sensitive stance on the Palestine issue, which is one of the primary reasons for U.S. President Donald Trump's fury.
On top of all that, when Turkey decided to purchase the S-400 missile systems from Russia, the U.S. Congress and White House were both unsettled. Eventually, the dispute widened when Turkey reacted against the U.S. ultimatum on Brunson that disregarded the Turkish judiciary.
I think the crisis will not deepen any further from this point on. A quick recovery does not seem possible for now, but Turkey is the centerpiece of international finance and Washington cannot run the risk of Turkey's detachment from the U.S. The EU is also highly disturbed by the process. We will probably see some reciprocal steps taken as a sign of goodwill in the coming days. From now on, it is likely that the U.S. will act by considering the fact that Turkey cannot be kept on a string and the risk of losing Turkey in today's Middle East cannot be afforded.
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