Will Trump review Gülen case and the partnership with YPG?

Published 10.11.2016 00:19

You will read a lot of analysis on why Donald Trump has become the 45th president of the United States. But most of them will fail to recognize the fact that the disgruntled masses were out there and the media failed them. I, on the other hand, would like to focus on Trump's possible foreign policy moves that can affect Turkish-American relations.

But I have to tell you this, the Tea Party was an early sign of rebellion within the Republican Party against the establishment and their political agenda laid the groundwork for Trump's campaign. It was conservative activism that really shook the ground based on the everyday economic problems and the financial deficit of the country. Trump won because he read society better than his competitors. How did he become the people's man? That's another question American academics will have to address.

Trump also seems to have fresh ideas on the foreign policy front. Last week I had a chance to speak with Trump's Foreign Policy Adviser Walid Phares at the annual American-Turkish Council conference. Before joining the Trump campaign, he was working at Istanbul-based Bahçeşehir University's Washington campus as a tutor and a director for the university's think tank. He may be the most knowledgeable person on Turkey in the Trump campaign.

First and foremost he recognizes who Fetullah Gulen is, the Pennsylvania-based imam whose disciples tried to topple the Turkish government multiple times, most recently with a failed coup in July. "The Gülen operation was well known and it has extended over many years. It has a long history," Phares said.

He said Trump was in support of Turkish people and against the illegitimate military takeover. "His reaction to the coup should reveal where he stands," Phares said in response to a question about Gülen's extradition case. He believes this issue will take time and action should not be expected until February. Obviously Trump has not gone into the details of Turkish-American relations and the Gülen issue. But, sure, now he will get confidential briefings on these issues and will be able to send some signals. Those will be crucial for Turkey.  

The Hillary Clinton campaign has been the subject of allegations over Gülen ties over the last couple for months.

Recep Özkan, the former head of the Gülen-linked Turkish Cultural Center in New York, donated between $500,000 and $1,000,000 to the Clinton Foundation in 2015, according to the foundation's official website. The Daily Caller reported that Özkan also served as a national finance co-chair for a pro-Clinton political action committee called Ready PAC in 2014.

"We as the Trump campaign are very, very concerned about the Clinton Foundation. [Gülen-connected donations] would come as shocking, that would become very, very serious. The Trump administration would look into this very, very seriously. That would be one of the first files that his administration will raise," Phares said.

Another topic that Phares talked about was Syrian Kurdish group People's Protection Units (YPG). The group is functioning as the Syrian front for the PKK, a terrorist group and acknowledged as such by the U.S., Turkey and the EU. The Obama administration has been working with the YPG against Daesh in Syria and disregarding Turkish concerns over ethnic cleansing in northern Syria. Turkey is also complaining about the heavy weapons provided to the YPG and the swath of territories the group controls.

Phares says American support for the YPG would be reviewed if there is any operational connection with the PKK. He also believes Trump's idea of establishing a safe zone or a no-fly zone in Syria could only be achieved by the support of traditional allies such as Turkey, and not the YPG.

Trump's foreign policy objectives or plans are still not clear. We will soon see how many of these statements will be in play. Nevertheless Trump has another challenge: Not becoming the establishment in Washington, D.C.

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