An ongoing court case in Turkey has fueled an unprecedented crisis between Ankara and Washington. In recent weeks, U.S. President Donald Trump called for the release of Andrew Brunson, an American citizen facing terrorism and espionage charges, sanctioned two members of the Turkish Cabinet and levied tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sanctioning two members of Trump's Cabinet, slapping on additional tariffs and calling for a boycott of U.S. products, including Apple's iPhone. Although U.S. officials continue to threaten Turkey with additional sanctions, the Trump administration has no choice but to sit tight until Brunson's next hearing on Oct. 12.
How the Trump administration handled the Brunson situation should alarm Washington and the capitals of U.S. allies around the world. After all, people will not just magically forget Trump's recklessness. He is running a tab that the United States, increasingly perceived as an unreliable and unpredictable country, will have to pay. Before things get completely out of hand, Trump must change the way he thinks or, at the very least, replace his inept policy advisers who thought that publicly threatening Turks was a good idea.
This is what happens when you develop policies without learning the ropes. Had administration officials taken the time to ask random people on "think tank row" how far Turks would go to protect their national interests and preserve their sovereignty, they would have known better than to bully freedom-loving people who have not been colonized at any point in history. Simply put, we will not just forget who we are because there is a new bully in town.
Ironically, the crisis that Trump single-handedly created has played right into the hands of Erdoğan, who currently enjoys unprecedented popularity at home. At the same time, Russia, China and the European Union, among others, have thrown their weight behind Turkey and its leader amid tensions with Washington. In particular, Turkey's rapprochement with the EU could be a game-changer.
Just a few weeks ago, Trump thought he could waltz into the casino and make history. Instead, he lost "bigly." Here's a piece of friendly advice: The golden rule of gambling is not to chase losses. It is time for the U.S. president to leave the table and do some damage control before this thing spins out of control.
Whether or not Trump continues to whine, Turkey's legal system will continue to ignore him. The pastor, who faces some very serious charges, will not be released overnight. Under the circumstances, the worst thing that Trump could do is to keep tweeting about Turkey and Brunson – only to be humiliated in front of his home crowd.
Needless to say, it is ludicrous that the Trump administration would push for Brunson's release with the court case against him still pending. A suspected spy cannot be sent home without a proper legal investigation. It's just not going to happen. Even if it did, the ridiculous amount of bullying that we witnessed in recent weeks would inflict irreparable damage to Turkey-U.S. relations. The best course of action is to let the court do its job and decide whether Brunson is guilty or innocent.
Finally, Brunson, who purports to be innocent, has a responsibility to respect the Turkish justice system and tell the United States government to stop casting doubt on his claim. Unless he wants the Trump administration to exploit his legal troubles for domestic political gain and be remembered as the man who poisoned Washington's relations with a key NATO ally, the pastor has no other choice. As always, Daily Sabah's opinion pages are open to a contribution from Brunson if he chooses to urge common sense and respect for the legal process.
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