In an August 17, 2018 piece for Reuters Opinion, “Commentary: Trump’s botched Turkey policy,” POMED Nonresident Senior Fellow Howard Eissenstat argues that singling out the case of imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson plays well to President Trump’s base, but the administration’s narrow focus on this case has undermined the U.S. position vis-à-vis Turkey.
The crisis between the United States and Turkey, a NATO ally and traditional bulwark of American policy in the Middle East, is serious. While the relationship between them has often been fraught, the two countries have generally managed to keep difficulties within acceptable limits. No longer.
Most of the blame lays at the feet of Turkey’s irascible President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led a lurching foreign policy that has estranged all of Turkey’s traditional allies and most of its neighbors. In a recent New York Times column, Erdoğan offered a long list of grievances his country has against the United States. The American list of grievances is equally long.
Erdoğan is not simply an autocrat at home; he is one who has taken on an international role that often challenges U.S. interests. Ankara has growing ties with Iran that includes help with busting U.S. sanctions against Tehran; supported Jihadist movements in Syria, including some affiliated with al Qaeda; enjoys a close relationship with Hamas in the Palestinian territories, supports Islamist extremists in Libya and, perhaps most importantly, is developing an entente with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. To all of this, add Erdoğan’s practice of arresting foreign citizens and consular staff as political leverage, something many call “hostage diplomacy.” Allies can – and do – sometimes have differences and work at odds. These issues speak of something entirely different: an ally that is also a strategic rival.
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Photo: Shealah Craighead/White House