American officials have often insisted on seeing Turkey, a NATO ally since 1952, as a close partner, which is why the recent fallout seems so shocking. Don’t these two countries share interests and values?
Not really. When you strip away all the happy talk, it’s clear the two nations aren’t really, and have never been, that close. This is a relationship doomed to antipathy.
Alliances are never perfect, of course, and there have been moments over the past seven decades that justify Turkey’s image as a close partner of the United States: President Turgut Ozal shut down pipelines carrying Iraqi oil through Turkey during the run-up to the Gulf War, at great cost to the Turkish economy, for instance. A decade later, the Turkish government was among the first to condemn the 9/11 terrorist attacks and quickly committed troops to Afghanistan. Turkey became an important and valued component of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in that country.
By that time, American officials had become accustomed to seeing Turkey as a partner, like their closest allies in Europe and East Asia. The country’s failure to live up to this role reveals more about our own desperation for Turkey to be something it isn’t, and about Cold War strategies, than about Turkish shortcomings.
.. In the decades since the Cold War ended, problems between the United States and Turkey have piled up, but Washington and Ankara no longer share a threat that mitigates these differences.
.. In 2016, Erdogan threatened to allow tens of thousands of refugees to enter Europe, apparentlybecause of suspended talks on Turkey’s European Union membership. “You did not keep your word,” he said in a speech in Istanbul. The threat, repeated months later by Turkey’s interior minister, stoked fears in Europe and the United States that such a move — intended or otherwise — would help further empower populist, nationalist and racist political forces already roiling the politics and potentially the stability of the E.U., a core strategic interest of the United States.
.. The danger from Moscow no longer justifies overlooking these significant differences in priorities. In fact, the Turkish government is buying an air defense system from the Russians that could provide Moscow with information about the American F-35 fighter jet, the newest high-tech plane in the U.S. arsenal, which Turkey also plans to fly. Under these circumstances, lamenting the end of our partnership with Turkey seems absurd.
.. A staggering number of Turks believe that Washington was complicit in the attempted 2016 coup d’etat. One poll conducted online in 2016 by a Turkish newspaper found that almost 7 in 10 Turks blamed the CIA. This patently false idea (which Erdogan and other officials have nurtured) along with Trump’s tweet makes Erdogan’s latest accusation that the United States is attempting an economic coup all the more plausible to the Turkish public.
.. The speed with which relations deteriorated after the deal to free the clergyman imploded highlights a relationship marked by frustration and mistrust, not common aims. It is no wonder the Turks seldom, if ever, defend their relationship with Washington. They believe America seeks to do them harm.