The Ankara Ultimatum

Subtlety and nuance are not a priority in Trump’s dealing with Turkey
May 24, 2019 Updated: May 24, 2019

Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy is less than subtle. It has been said that wherever he—the bull—goes, he brings his own China shop with him. But in some cases, like Turkey, it has an advantage: Everybody knows where they stand.

A Deteriorating Relationship

It’s no secret that relations between Turkey and the United States have deteriorated over the years. U.S. interests are increasingly at odds with the direction Turkey has chosen. A recent example was to go forward with an arms deal with the Russians. As a result,  American officials have confronted Ankara with an ultimatum: Should Turkey buy the Russian S-400 missile defense systems and continues its war against the Kurds, it will revoke a previously approved sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey.

But this is just the latest of many disagreements. Back in 2016, after a failed coup attempt in the country, Turkish authorities arrested Andrew Brunson, an American Christian minister, charging him with espionage and having terrorist connections. In response, the Trump administration applied sanctions and worked with Israel to arrange a prisoner swap to secure Brunson’s eventual release. The sanctions stayed in place, however, severely damaging Turkey’s economy.

Another pain point in the U.S.-Turkish relationship is Turkey’s overt support for Venezuelan dictator Victor Maduro. This puts Ankara on the same side as Russia and China against America’s backing of opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Israeli relations are also on the downside. Although Turkey and Isreal once enjoyed a mutually beneficial strategic relationship, Turkey’s growing Islamism has made it a growing threat to the Jewish state. As the former seat of the Islamic caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has turned its formerly secular government back toward its muslim roots. This alone does not bode well for the relationship. Ankara’s support of Hamas in Gaza, undermining Israel’s security, only underscores that fact.

What’s more, Turkey’s economy remains in a shambles due in part to U.S.-imposed sanctions. It undoubtedly views the vast new oil discoveries off the coast of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus as a much-needed source of wealth. But Turkey’s potential claim on Cypriot oil fields is not recognized by any other country. Israel has recently convened naval exercises, signaling its intention to defend its claim on the fields. This will likely prove to be a source of national security tension for both countries.

Selling more arms to an adversary of America’s closest ally in the region, if not the world, is neither a wise nor a sustainable strategy.

Turkey Looks Eastward

Meanwhile, Turkey’s growing Middle East political posture has put the country at odds with the West’s struggle against radical Islam in general, and specifically, the U.S. policy of supporting Kurdish fighters battling ISIS in Syria. Both Turkey and the Kurds are allies of the United States, with America training 30,000 Kurds in Syria to combat ISIS. The Turks, on the other hand, while battling against ISIS in Syria, have been fighting the Kurds for years to deny them their own territory, part of which stretches into Turkey.

Furthermore, the Turkish-Pakistani relationship has reached a high point. Military cooperation has deepened, with Pakistan recently purchasing $1.5 billion worth of Turkish ATAK helicopters. More close cooperation is anticipated, including a partnership that will facilitate both broader trade and military ties with China. This also conflicts with the U.S. policy goals of containing China.

Splitting NATO?

But there may well be another dimension to Turkey’s recent decisions. Ankara, Tehran, and Moscow have deepened their relationship, and for decades Russia has sought to diminish American influence in Europe. The deconstruction of the NATO alliance would be a major step in that direction. The inevitable split between Turkey and the United States could be the beginning of NATO unraveling. Ironic, as the country was indispensable during the cold war, providing the United States with a base to reach the Russian mainland with its missiles.

But it isn’t just Turkey that finds NATO at odds with its interests. Trump’s call for Germany, the largest economy in Europe, to meet its annual financial commitment to NATO of 2 percent of GDP grates on Germany’s leadership. Increasingly, they view the Trump administration and America as less of an ally and more of an obstacle toward normalizing their relationships with Russia and China. Germany’s Turkish population of over three million and its longstanding relationship with Turkey will certainly add to that perception.

Forcing Turkey to Decide

Turkey has benefitted from American arms deals, military protection, and access to the European market for decades. As a NATO member in receipt of said benefits, it is expected to support other NATO members in dealing with threats and adversaries, in particular, the United States, the leader of NATO. But given the reasons mentioned herein, Trump is forcing Turkey to decide where its loyalties and future resides.

Turkey engages in a delicate and dangerous ballet on the fence which divides its allegiances to NATO and the West on one side, and Russia and militant Islamism on the other. Turkey wants it both ways, but their dance is fooling no one. Trump won’t be tolerating that for too long.

Trump Repairing American Image

That may not be such a bad thing. The Trump administration is trying to re-establish American dominance around the world and erase the self-defeatism of the prior administration. No doubt that clarity in word, intent, and deed may well be considered a liability amongst the velvet-tongued lifers at the Deep State Department for whom patriotism and nation-state sovereignty are simplistic and atavistic concepts.

But not for Trump.

Trump’s contentious style of diplomacy is both blunt and sharp, and definitely results oriented. As he has pointed out many times, American “diplomacy” over the past couple of decades has produced a resurgent Russia, an increasingly belligerent and enriched Iran as well as a nuclear-tipped North Korea, to name just a few failures aside from a China that is now in a position to claim superpower status.  President Trump is set on reversing this trend—even if it means breaking a few pieces of China.

James Gorrie is a writer based in Texas. He is the author of “The China Crisis.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.