Turkish-US relations: Waking up to the grave reality of unrealistic expectations

Published 28.07.2018 00:37
Updated 28.07.2018 10:42

It is true in any relationship that there are bound to be expectations. Relationships tend to break down when expectations from each other become unrealistic. This leads to disappointment and rash overreactions. However, in international relations, breaking up and making up is not that easy.

Turkish-U.S. relations have not been on a comfortable track for the past couple of years. Over the course of that time, there have been divergences over Syria, Turkey has repeatedly called for the extradition of Fetullah Gülen after the failed coup attempt in 2016, Halkbank's Deputy Director Hakan Atilla was arrested by the U.S. on charges of breaking Iran sanctions, U.S. consular staff and an American pastor Andrew Brunson were arrested by Turkey under grievous charges of espionage and links to the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ).

The coup attempt in Turkey that caused the deaths of 250 people and injured thousands of others, the following trauma of eradicating FETÖ members embedded in government institutions, increased terror attacks by the PKK, gaining support from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) strongholds across the exceptionally long border Turkey shares with Syria, has inevitably led to a an exceptional heightened level of national security.

Yet, the state of emergency, which was in place since the coup attempt two years ago, was recently lifted and throughout its duration one could not see the visible signs of this security measure affecting the life of ordinary citizens. There were no armored vehicles, checkpoints on the streets or no-go zones or curfews – a familiar sight for those who can remember the martial law imposed after military coups in this country or the martial law imposed in the South East regions in the 1990s. In fact, the new constitution is morecivilian than any constitution this country has ever seen and it does away with martial law all together.

Yet time and time again, Turkey's allies have preferred to turn a blind eye to the dire security threat Turkey faces in this particular time. Turkey must be the only state dealing with three terrorist organizations at the same time: the PKK/PYD/ People's Protection Units (YPG), Daesh and FETÖ. The terror threats from the PKK/PYD/YPG and Daesh have exacerbated since the beginning of the civil war in neighboring Syria. FETÖ, on the hand, is home grown and consists of a direct national security threat due to its infiltration of government institutions. The PKK/PYD/YPG and Daesh have carried out terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Ankara and other major cities throughout the country, leaving scores of civilians, military personnel and police dead. The third were undeniably behind a bloody coup attempt that left hundreds dead and thousands hanging on for life. I remember the height of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. I was living there at the time, old enough as a high school student to remember the horrible bombing of the bandstand at Regent's Park. I recall also the heightened national security measures in place at the time. And as someone who has lived through the period of the worst IRA terror in the United Kingdom and the terrible terrorist attacks and the coup attempts in Turkey the past few years, I can say that although what the U.K. went through in the 1980s was indeed horrible, traumatic and difficult to deal with, it in no way compares to the level of the national security threat faced by Turkey today.

Therefore it baffles me that in this day and age, when international cooperation in counterterrorism is so essential, that Turkey's allies have been slow to condemn the coup attempt, incredibly slow in accepting the role of FETÖ behind it (some are still in denial despite heaps of evidence submitted by Turkish authorities), callous to the point of having more empathy with the terrorist group across the Syrian border, than a NATO ally. Over the past two years I have come to the brink of believing that some of our allies have indeed gone mad.

Which brings us to the recent crisis or shall we say spat of words over unrealistic expectations between Turkey and the U.S. It is obvious that President Donald Trump feels a lot of domestic pressure over the detention of the American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson has been in jail under an ongoing judicial case under grievous charges of espionage and links to FETÖ. While U.S. authorities have dismissed the indictment, these are very serious charges in a country facing a dire national security threat from different directions as explained above. This makes the case a sensitive one for Turkish national security. It seems evident from Trump's tweet that he seemingly posted in a moment of anger and frustration yesterday, that he was under the unrealistic expectation that Brunson would be released. The reasons why he was under the impression that such a thing would happen yesterday remain a mystery. But it is very clear that President Trump has been misinformed about a series of facts concerning Turkey and this particular case. Brunson was removed from jail and placed under house arrest the other day. This is to ensure that he would be in a more comfortable detention while waiting for the next court hearing regarding his case in October. This by no means implied that he would be released following his house arrest. While it remains a mystery as to why President Trump believed he would be released, it is also very clear that it is not possible in any country, to cut short an ongoing case before the due court appearance and force the judiciary to reach a decision before that. Anyone with any notion of due process ought to know that.

But it seems that the United States and for that matter some of Turkey's other allies are still under the impression that you tell, then you yell if necessary and somehow the Turks will just get it done. It is time to wake up from this delusion. The condescending tone of President Trump's tweet disregarding Turkey's judiciary, pronouncing someone who is under trial in another country innocent before the conclusion of his trial, telling a country's authorities which decision they "ought" to make, will undoubtedly exacerbate the wave of anti-Americanism in Turkey that has already reached an unprecedented level. The United States has to give up on this view of the world as it "ought" to be and wake up and see the world today as it is. I write these words from the BRICS summit I am attending with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is evident that the United States view of the world as it "ought" to be is not the case, especially when you look up to the northern hemisphere from the south. It is time we all embraced the new "win-win" notion of a multipolar world – one of cooperation, collaboration and respect. Otherwise, it is America that will lose. And that does not befit a nation that has always risen to the challenge of changing times.

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