Prof. Dr. Çağrı ERHAN

Distrust Disrupts Progress in Turkish-US Ties – Daily Sabah (12.09.2023)

Various factors are stoking an unwillingness in Washington to cooperate with its NATO ally on many points of conflict, and an election isn t enough to change the course of bilateral relations, experts say


JOE BIDEN’S administration is linking F-16 Fıghter jet sales to Turkiye with the Turkish ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership bid, and this “seriously upsets” Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday as he addressed a news conference after a G-20 summit in the Indian Capital New Delhi.

The Turkish leader’s lament is not the fırst occasion he has expressed Ankara’s discomfort with Washington’s insistence on the correlation and highlighted an uııdercurrent that seems to pervade the relations between the two NATO allies.

Experts say that a firm distrust on both sides is constantly undermining any tentative attempt at progress in Turkish-U.S. ties, already made fragile by a slew of unresolved disagreements and even a potential change in leadership in Washington will not be enough to upend the scales.

“The evolution of the Turkish-U.S. relationship since the ’90s reveals a shifting dynamic where Washington lost its dominant advaııtage over Turkiye after the latter began prioritizing its national interests over its ally s,” argued Ferhat Pirinççi, an expert on Middle East and U.S. foreign policy and professor of International Politics at Uludağ University.

For the president of Altınbaş University and a member of the Presidential Security and Foreign Policies Council, Çağrı Erhan, Washington also cannot trust Turkiye because of its relationship with Russia and is further concerned because “the Turkiye they’re dealing with is not the one they had been used to for decades.”

Over the years, the more Turkiyes strategic importance increased, the more the ııature of its relationship with the U.S. changed. The trend has fueled a negativity that today persists in almost ali U.S. institutions, from the Oval Office to the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to the House of Representatives and especially the Congress, Pirinççi explained.

According to Erhan, Turkiye in the past “danced to Washingtons tune” due to certain military and economic dependencies, but the Turkiye of today can “turn its back on any prompts from the United States about its own resources, defense, economy or energy and act independently for its national interests in the Middle East or Africa.”

A string of incidents contributed to this strong resistance within the U.S. establishment, Pirinççi said.

He listed the critical turning point that was the March 1 Declaration in 2003 which rejected hostiııg foreign troops in Turkiye during the Iraqi invasion – the 2013 Gezi protests, the pullover of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) trucks, the attempt to arrest then-spy chief Hakan Fidan, and fınally, the Gulenist Terror Groups (FETO) coup attempt and its international fallout.

Erhan cited Turkiye’s exclusion from the F-35 program, Sweden’s stalled NATO membership, which Ankara objected to over security concerns until it agreed to ratify it in July, and the FETO ringleaders continued residence in the U.S. as other major issues that deepen the gap of trust.

There is also the critical problem of Washington s stance in Syria, where the terrorist group that stokes instability, strives to bring one-third of the country under its yoke and has its barrel trained on Turkiye, is in alliance with the U.S., Erhan said.

“Moral support, arms and consultancy supplied to this group by the U.S. undermine Turkiye’s efforts to eradicate terrorism there, too,” he stressed.

Especially in its ties to Russia, Turkiye has a message to the West and it is that this relationship is critical for the globe, African nations below the hunger line, as well as Western countries receiving nearly 45% of their grains from Russia “because there is no other NATO member besides Turkiye that is in dialogue with Russia,” Erhan said.

But, he continued, as long as this relationship is upheld at their current strategic level, the U.S. perception of it cannot change into anything positive.

Pirinççi, too, believes the sides are currently in a limbo where neither Washingwhich must stop treating Turkiye “like its stili the 90s.”

The F-16 deal, cutting off support to PKK/YPG terrorists, or even a couple of FETO extraditions present opportunities for positive strides. Without progress here, however, the foundational problem of distrust will persist and perhaps the sides won’t be having new crises on their hands but they will also not be able to forget the old wounds, he said.

Erhan doesn’t believe Washington would change its current position, either on Turkish-Russian relations or any other crisis.

Similarly, he pointed out that doubt in the collective consciousness over the U.S. role in the July 15 attempt, their continuous weapons supply to Greece, construction of a military hub in Alexandroupoli (Dedeağaç), and lifting of the arms embargo for the Greek Cypriot administration are among the factors holding Turkiye back from viewing its alliance in a positive Outlook.

For Pirinççi, the executive structure and congressional pressure on the president, especially from certain groups like the Greek and Armenian lobbies there, are what primarily lie beneath this unaccommodating stance.

Echoing Pirinççi’s daim and citing Erdoğan’s new postelection foreign policy of “not adding to the problems if they cannot be resolved with diplomacy,” Erhan concluded: “Until the U.S. elections in November 2024, Turkiye will be after doing the groundwork for conflict-solving, at least in the future, while trying to keep things from going further south.”

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