From the pastor crisis to the S-400 showdown, Turkey-US conflict still ongoing

Published 04.09.2018 23:11 Modified 04.09.2018 23:16

Turkey and the United States are at loggerheads with each other over the issue of two "religious preachers" from their countries respectively. The crisis was started by the Trump administration when it refused to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cult leader Fetullah Gülen and his henchmen, who were the perpetrators of the bloody 2016 coup in Turkey, despite boxes of evidence of their involvement provided by the Turkish government. The crisis was then furthered by the Turkish side when American pastor Andrew Craig Brunson was placed under arrest in Turkey in October 2016. Originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, 50-year-old Brunson, who was running a small evangelical church in İzmir, was arrested for his involvement in aiding the coup and cooperating with the outlawed PKK at the same time.

President Donald Trump's bullying of Turkey over the pastor is only for a tiny reason: Appeasing the American religious rights for the upcoming midterm elections this November. For instance, the very same U.S. didn't impose sanctions on Israel when it detained Americans on more than one occasion or when it killed 34 Americans on the spy ship USS Liberty incident in 1967. The list of American pastors or Americans generally held or killed in foreign lands is too long.

Spy wars

Had it really been about the American pastor, there could have been a solution from their playbook. The United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War exchanged spies that each side had captured in their respective countries. Soviet spy Rudolf Ivanovich Abel was captured by the FBI in 1957. Francis Gary Powers was captured by the Soviets after his plane was shot down by a Soviet rocket over Sverdlovsk causing the 1960 U-2 incident.

Eventually, both sides worked out a plan where Powers was swapped for Abel. The entire episode is impeccably depicted in the movie Bridge of Spies. The U.S. pastor could be swapped with the Pennsylvania-based cult leader Fetullah Gülen, if the aim really is to bring the pastor back home.

"You have a pastor, too," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan talked about the case, and added, "You [the U.S.] give us that one and we'll work with our judiciary and give back yours."Turkey, the only Muslim majority member of U.S.-led NATO, is the second largest troop contributor after the U.S. It is also to Syria what Pakistan has been to Afghanistan, sharing borders with Iraq and Syria, where many U.S. soldiers are stationed. The Turkish military is best suited for their air support and supplies. It was Turkey that hosted American Jupiter missiles targeting the Soviet heartland, which prompted in the Soviet Union to deploy their missiles in Cuba causing the famous Cuban Missile Crisis. Turkey is a rare Muslim nation that has diplomatic relations with Israel, though the relations are complicated at best. Also, Turkey is home to Syrians as same as Jordan is to the Palestinians. Jordan is a buffer state between Israel and the Arab world, hosting exiled Palestinians. Turkey is home to over 3.5 million Syrian refugees who might otherwise be traveling to Europe and even the U.S.

The S-400 conflict

One of Turkey's "mistakes" (according to the U.S.) includes being well cognizant of the fiction of article 5 of the NATO treaty (collective defense) and taking their defense into their own hands by choosing to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, "I wanted to buy from the U.S. for the last 10 years; it didn't work. I couldn't buy from NATO allies, so Russia gave me the best proposal. And now I'm buying from Russia." Moreover, would the U.S. not invoke article 5 of the NATO treaty in coming to Turkey's defense because Turkey would have used the Russian missile defense system in the event of an attack on its soil?

According to the U.S., Turkey is in violation of the U.S. law called Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), by doing business with Russia. But it is not so easy to conclude that this factor alone is driving the sanctions against Turkey because the sanctions and the CAATSA are not so sacrosanct. However, the U.S. itself is violating them by allowing India to buy the same S-400 system from Russia.

U.S. Defense Minister James Mattis in April urged the U.S. Congress to provide India the national security waiver saying that hitting India with sanctions under CAATSA would hurt the U.S. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, "We have mentioned that CAATSA cannot impact the India-Russia defense cooperation."The real reason is that Turkey is also interested in buying the American-made state of the art stealth fighter F-35, which cannot coexist with the Russian S-400. India is not interested in the F-35 planes. Therefore, India is not frowned upon when it expresses the desire to purchase the Russian S-400.

Also, India will use it against an American foe, namely China, and its ally and India's own foe, Pakistan, with whom Washington is in an uneasy relationship. On the other hand, Turkey doesn't share an enemy with the U.S.Turkey's stated intention to purchase the S-400 creates a hurdle for the U.S. Lockheed Martin company to sell the F-35 that NATO countries plan to use against Russian activity. The S-400 and F-35 cannot coexist because the Russian S-400 system is designed to attack these very stealth planes.

Moreover, it could lead to technology transfer and as well as the data and vulnerability of the F-35 to the Russians. The democratic Senator from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, said, "We would be handing this technology over to the Kremlin if we granted Turkey these planes, and Congress will not stand for it." Disturbing the business interests of U.S. persons, dubbed as American national security interests, is a huge crime. Turkey is a potential customer of the F-35 and abandoning the S-400 paves the way for Lockheed Martin to seal the deal. It is noteworthy that the United States has given Israel its own missile defense system, called the U.S.'s MIM-104 Patriot. Israel used it to shoot down a Syrian warplane in July.

Turkey's other "mistake" is helping Iran avoid U.S. sanctions. Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish banker, was sentenced to 32 months in prison by a New York judge. He was the deputy general manager at the Halkbank and was allegedly involved in helping Iran use fraudulent gold and food transactions to spend oil and gas revenue abroad. While international law is not allowed to touch the U.S. actions abroad, U.S. domestic law can somehow reach international crimes. U.S. actions and sanctions are international but international law is not really international since it cannot cross the Atlantic.For Washington, containing China and bullying Iran are more important than respecting a key NATO member. President Trump has been openly critical of NATO. Therefore, he doesn't mind converting a NATO ally into a punching bag or even have it driven into the arms of Russia as President Erdoğan pointed out in his NYT opinion article.

* Pakistan-based Op-Ed writer

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