Trump’s letter to Erdoğan may haunt Turkey-U.S. relations for long time - Turkish journalist

The recent letter sent by U.S. President Donald Trump to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, admonishing him not to be “a fool,’’ is grossly insulting to Turkey’s strongman and may haunt Ankara-Washington relations for years, exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar wrote in the Washington Post.

In the letter dated Oct.9, and sent as U.S. troops were pulling out of Syria, Trump warned Erdoğan not be a "tough guy,’’ "devil,’’ and "fool,’’ threatening “to destroy the Turkish economy”.

While it is hard to imagine such language in many letters between presidents, it is a particularly astonishing insult to Erdoğan, "who carefully guards his public image as a strongman,’’ and has sent many people to jail for far milder comments, Dündar wrote. 

Between 2010 and 2017, 12,893 cases of insulting the president were filed Turkey. Of that total, 12,305 were filed by lawyers representing Erdoğan who assumed office in 2014. 

In fact, the former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief wrote, the text of the letter that recommended the Turkish president negotiate with Syrian Kurdish leader Gen. Mazloum Abdi, a man deemed a terrorist by Ankara, rocked Turkish politics.

The Erdoğan administration initially pretended not to have received the letter, the Washington Post article said. However, the Turkish president’s camp felt compelled to come to his defence amid increase its outcry over the text. 

Dündar recalled another letter sent to Ankara from Washington 55 years ago, which left a bad taste in Turkey’s mouth. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, expressing Washington’s frustration over Turkey’s apparent preparations for a military operation in Cyprus in 1964, wrote a letter to then Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü.

The letter expressed grave concern about the risk of a Turkish-Greek war in the Mediterranean and the damage it could cause to NATO, was a turning point in Turkey’s relations with the United States, Dündar wrote, underlining that the Turkish leaders had never forgot how a U.S. president had lectured them. 

Furthermore public reaction to the Johnson letter sparked an intense spate of mostly left-wing anti-Americanism in Turkey that peaked in 1968, he said. 

"Trump’s letter is almost certain to have a comparable effect. America’s popularity among Turks had been on a downward slope well before Trump’s letter, at any rate,’’ Dündar said.

A 2019 survey by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University revealed that when Turks were asked to name the countries that pose the greatest threat to Turkey three years ago, 44 percent of them picked the United States; however, this year the figure reached 81 percent.

The U.S. president’s letter could easily foment anti-American sentiment in Turkey just as Johnson’s letter did more than half a century ago, Dündar said.