As U.S. President Donald Trump continues to follow a bizarre strategy of inciting a series of bilateral conflicts with both the conventional U.S. allies and emerging powers in the world system, his rather unorthodox foreign-policy making style carries on triggering ever new sources of instability. It is true that the American economy is currently booming and global investors are turning to its safe waters, but this in itself does not legitimize the kind of blatant neo-protectionism imposed by the U.S. against China, Canada, Mexico and other economic partners. Likewise, the architecture of global political and economic governance based on the U.N. system and the revamped Bretton Woods institutions might be perceived ineffective and costly to pursue short-term national interests of the U.S., but again, this does not legitimize the brutal tendencies of Trump and his entourage to act as international bullies and threaten both their friends and foes.
The new form of ad hoc, inconsistent and occasionally offensive policy making in Washington D.C., which crystallized with the Trump administration, carries the personal touch of an eccentric and unconventional president. Yet the deeper security and economic establishment, including the Pentagon, the U.S. military, the intelligence community, energy giants and the industrial-military complex, seem to be quite satisfied with the non-diplomatic and direct way "Trump the Businessman" pursues fundamental issues of national interest.
In this context, the ongoing deterioration of Turkish-U.S. relations in the wake of diverging strategic objectives in Syria, differing views on the Palestinian issue and status of Al-Quds (Jerusalem), the extradition of the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the ongoing judicial process against the Deputy General Manager of Halkbank Hakan Atilla, the purchase of Russian S-400 ballistic missiles and the delivery of F-35 fighters to the Turkish Air Force reached a climax over a largely unpredicted issue: the release of evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson from house arrest. While the judicial process was still underway for Brunson in Turkey, pending trial on charges of spying and relations with FETÖ and the PKK terrorist groups, the Trump administration declared a shocking package of sanctions that include seizing assets of Turkish justice and interior ministers on U.S. soil.
The depth and speed of the sanctions declared by the U.S. administration accusing the ministers for their roles in the detention of Pastor Brunson were historically unprecedented and exerted yet another blow to whatever is left of Turkish-American friendship. Despite heavier strategic disputes during the Cold War, including the Cyprus Crisis, such sanctions against Turkish cabinet ministers were never considered by Washington D.C., which clearly signifies the radical divergence of the Trump administration from its predecessors. The decision to impose sanctions against the ministers of a NATO ally certainly goes as far as portraying Turkey as an authoritarian "rogue state," while trying to undermine the credibility and prestige of political leadership in the eyes of global public opinion.
While Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are abusing the Brunson case to please far-right evangelical voters before the congressional elections this fall, pariah-like treatment of a country hosting the second most powerful army in NATO is truly unacceptable. Since the Korean War, Turkish armed forces have been one of the most trustworthy partners of the U.S. military in different conflict zones, ranging from Afghanistan to Somalia and from Syria to Iraq. Turkey is a crucial regional actor in the Balkans, Caucasia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin with a functioning democracy, rule of law, a vibrant economy and strong industrial-technological infrastructure. Furthermore, Turkey's diplomatic, economic and sociocultural relations with both the European Union and the United States have deep historical roots and robust modern reflections. Therefore, unilateral attempts aimed at undermining the credibility of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Cabinet via external diplomatic and economic pressures are bound to fail, leading only to stronger social cohesion and political support.
The historical record of conventional and smart sanctions used against various countries such as Russia, Iran and North Korea has repeatedly proved them ineffective and unable to realize projected political goals. The latest round of sanctions announced against Turkey, and any potential follow-ups are also bound to fail, but they will certainly leave lasting damage on Turkish-U.S. relations.
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