13.05.2023 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

USA Continues to Put Pressure on Turkey

USA Continues to Put Pressure on Turkey

Observing the electoral process in today’s Turkey provides information that experts could not previously have guessed (or they were making their own assumptions without being able to confirm them). This refers to topics of primarily external nature rather than just to internal political interactions between the ruling party and the opposition bloc.

The author is reminiscing on private discussions he had with knowledgeable analysts regarding the nature and patterns of relations between Turkey and its biggest NATO partner, the United States. At the time, despite direct consultations with members of the American political and expert community, some of the interlocutors were unable to confirm specifics about the future of Turkish-American relations or whether the State Department and the CIA perceived Turkish policy as a threat to their plans and interests. Perhaps this was due to the Turkish authorities’ seeming lack of action, especially under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presidency, against those same US interests in the Middle East and the post-Soviet space. It’s plausible that the interlocutors were engaging in wishful thinking, given their subjective views and attitudes about Turkey and the US.

However, there is still no denying the mounting evidence of difficulties in US-Turkish relations. The United States has obtained in Turkey a kind of “France of the East,” and American diplomacy frequently stumbles over the “crude Turkish rock” when deciding how to proceed with various initiatives in the Middle East. The reality remains that with the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union Turkey lost, for purely objective reasons, its prior role as an “anchor on the southern flank of NATO.” In the Black Sea region, where the United States and NATO now have new allies and partners, including new alliance members Bulgaria and Romania, in addition to new partners in the form of Ukraine and Georgia, the situation has also changed.

Under Turgut Özal’s leadership, Turkey started to develop a new political strategy and diplomacy with a leaning toward bolstering its independence and resentment of imperial ambitions, which coincided with the historic event of the fall of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. On the other hand, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey has implemented policies that were more radical and rather unexpected to the West. In particular, Ankara’s refusal to allow the US 4th Division to use Turkish territory to intervene in northern Iraq in 2003; the conclusion of a number of economic and military-technical agreements with Russia beneficial for Turkey (the TurkStream gas pipeline, the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in Mersin, the purchase of Russian S-400 “Triumf” surface-to-air missile systems, etc.); the growing Turkish-American controversy in northern Syria over the Kurdish issue; Turkish assessments of the organizers of the July 2016 coup; the Turkish-American conflict over preacher Fethullah Gülen, who emigrated to the United States, to name a few.

Experts no longer require an additional informed interlocutor to declare a crisis in Turkey-US ties. Of course, this trend is being closely followed in Russia by competent structures, foreign policy departments, scientific and expert communities for very objective reasons, not the least of which is that Turkey is Russia’s crucial geographical neighbor. Moreover, regional and global security frequently depends on US diplomacy in a specific region. Lastly, Turkey and the United States are members of the NATO bloc, which, unfortunately, still regards Russia as a threat and the post-Soviet space as a priority geopolitical and geo economic aspiration.

Returning to the topic of Turkey’s impending general elections, President Erdoğan’s campaign is more informational and pretentiously provocative than his primary opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). In this controversy, the topic of the US has in a sense moved from the rank of foreign diplomacy to the object of domestic political struggle and criticism. For obvious reasons, Erdoğan’s followers are betting on the charismatic, unyielding, and independent nature of the present president, accusing his primary opponent Kılıçdaroğlu of pro-American interests and servility.

Is this just another election approach and methodology for bringing down one’s opponent, where all methods are permissible? Or are witnessing a clash of two political forces and cultures, with one of them, Erdoğan’s party—conditionally Islamists, nationalists, and revanchists—arguing for Ankara’s independence from the United States (speaking of Turkey’s general dependence is absurd because the Republic of Turkey has retained its sovereignty since its proclamation in 1923), while the other (Kılıçdaroğlu’s party—conditional supporters of Kemalism, i.e., secularists, republicans, pragmatists, and pro-Westerners) puts Turkey on a path subservient to the US and NATO?

This is a difficult question to answer today. In this regard, this reminds the author of one of the apt words made by Ramazan Abdulatipov, the former head of Dagestan. Mr. Abdulatipov had previously noted that we are currently witnessing the formation of two civilizations that are gradually turning against each other when examining the socio-cultural situation in his native Dagestan. These social customs were dubbed “some undressing, others dressing” in the past. Namely, these were modernists who embrace a secular way of life and Islamists who support religious traditions.

In Turkey, a similar picture emerges, with adherents of Islam and the secular way of life, East and West, being proportionately divided. This factual truth has an impact on modern Turkey’s political life, including election results.

Meanwhile, Minister of the Interior Süleyman Soylu is a more active part of Erdoğan’s team, marked by his fierce anti-American sentiments. Specifically, he openly called for the United States to remove its “dirty hands” from Turkey; he then advanced an accusatory version of the United States’ involvement in the devastatingly huge earthquake in southeastern Turkey in February 2023; and then he recalled American pressure on him to collect the identities of Syrian refugees who had sought asylum in Turkey; finally, he accused the US of arranging all coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1998, and the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey.

If such comments were made by a Turkish average citizen or a representative of a small opposition group, it is unlikely that external powers would take notice. However, when a representative of the ruling regime, who is also the Minister of the Interior, speaks out about it, the picture changes. Süleyman Soylu is known for his nationalist (or rather pan-Turkist) statements and stance. Given Erdoğan’s political partnership with the pan-Turkist Bahçeli, Soylu’s choice as head of the Turkish Interior Ministry makes sense. However, whether such harsh words by the minister will help Erdoğan win the presidential election remains to be seen.

If the Turkish authorities publicly accuse a foreign country, in this case the United States, of organizing all coups d’état in their country, but they do not recall their Ambassador from Washington, do not break off diplomatic relations with the United States, do not withdraw from the same NATO run by the United States, do not demand the withdrawal of American military bases from their territory, and also accept financial aid from Americans in connection with the earthquake, then how should the public statements of Minister Soylu be assessed in this case?

However, the United States is unlikely to pardon such liberties of an allied country’s Minister of the Interior, and it is unlikely that it will limit itself to placing this person on a list of unwanted visitors to the United States. So, either Erdoğan will deal with his minister after the elections, or Erdoğan will lose and go to a well-deserved rest with Soylu, or Soylu coordinates his statements against Erdoğan with the US. In any case, the author wishes the Erdoğan-Soylu tandem success, because Turkey’s course independent of American diktat is, above all, in the interests of the Turkish people itself and is also welcomed in Russia.

Aleksandr SVARANTS, PhD in political science, professor, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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