Dec 13 2018

Washington "sick of Turkey," but policy changes unlikey - scholars

Washington has become “sick of Turkey,” experts have told Greek lobbyist Endy Zemenides, writing for Greek newspaper Kathimerini. However, for the foreseeable future the U.S. policy towards its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally will remain at the status quo despite continued hostility from Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was once held up as a pillar of democracy in the region and a model to emulate by the United States. However, as the party has adopted more authoritarian practices and veered away from a democratic rule of law, issues causing contention with the United States have also multiplied.

“Since Turkey’s failed coup attempt in July 2016, Erdogan has pursued a reckless policy of taking over 50 Western nationals and permanent residents hostage to extract concessions from his NATO allies,” Aykan Erdemir, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish Parliament, told Zemenides.

Erdemir referred to Turkey’s imprisonment of Western nationals, many of whom it has kept jailed for long periods pending trial for alleged links to terrorist organisations or espionage. One of these, American pastor Andrew Brunson, provoked U.S. sanctions on Turkish ministers after being held for two years. Brunson was eventually released after sustained pressure from the United States.

“Erdogan’s rogue tactics have not only drifted Turkey from the transatlantic alliance and its values, but also fueled Turkey skepticism on both sides of the US Congress,” Erdemir said. “It will take future Turkish governments years, if not decades, to undo the damage from Erdogan’s anti-Western policies.”

The issue of “hostage diplomacy,” combined with conflicting policies in Syria, where the United States supports Kurdish militias deemed as enemies by Turkey, and Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, have caused headaches for U.S. policymakers seeking ways to deal with their wayward ally.

Steven Cook, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, has presented a response in a report to congress that would see the United States reducing its cooperation with Turkey by removing it from the F-35 fighter jet production programme.

However, for the time being at least, Cook does not see any major change in U.S.-Turkish relations as likely.

“Gone are the days when most people thought of Turkey as a reliable ally, but there does seem to be a fair number of people in Washington – mostly in the bureaucracy – who want to ‘save’ the relationship,” Cook was quoted as saying.

“That said, the bureaucracy is divided on the issue, but the people who are inclined to overlook Turkey’s bad behavior in the service of some aspirational future cooperation seem to win the argument.”