Even prior to last week’s doubling of steel and aluminium tariffs on Ankara and Washington’s sanctioning of two major Turkish ministers of state, Turkey’s President Erdogan made it clear that he felt a western hand was behind the recent downward trend in the value of the Lira vis-a-vis the US Dollar. But while Turkish authorities were able to implement rate hikes and rate streamlining initiatives that helped to stabilise the Lira just prior to Presidential elections without negatively impacting Turkey’s still strong economic growth, it was only after Erdogan’s successful re-election that the US became even more aggressive in encouraging negative speculation against the Lira.
The US began immediately escalating its threatening language towards its traditional Turkish partner after the Turkish Presidential election with an initial threat from a State Department official to sanction Turkey under Washington’s CAATSA provisions as a result of Turkey’s pending deal to complete the purchase of Russian made S-400 missile defence systems. Ultimately though, after exhausting multiple excuses as attempted justifications for punishing Turkey economically due to President Erdogan’s unwavering independent foreign policy, the US decided to use the trial of Andrew Brunson – a US national accused of colluding with terrorist organisations in Turkey, as the penultimate justification for both tariffs and sanctions against the country with NATO’s second biggest military. This has had the intended effect of further destabilising the Lira against a bullish Dollar.
While the last three years of Turko-US relations have marked a low point in the otherwise warm modern relations between Ankara and Washington, the timing of last week’s escalation of the economic war against Turkey is significant as it comes only months after both sides agreed to the roadmap for peace in the northern Syrian city of Manbij.
Early in 2018, Turkey commenced Operation Olive Branch in northern Syria whose aim was to neutralise YPG/PKK terrorists operating with impunity along the Turkish border. One of the biggest problems with the Operation is that beginning with Manbij and stretching to the Iraqi border, the United States has been fighting alongside the YPG/PKK who in US controlled territory tend to wage war under the SDF banner. After a tense period of negotiations, Turkey and the US agreed to work together to rid Manbij of the YPG/PKK element and turn municipal control of the city back to the indigenous Arab majority population. While operations in Manbij continued, it was always Turkey’s goal to work on a similar model with the US in other areas along the Turkish border where the YPG/PKK maintained a presence.
Now though, Turkey’s President has announced preparations for new forthcoming anti-terror operations in Syria and crucially his announcement makes no reference to the Manbij roadmap with the US nor any other cooperation with America. It remains a likely possibility that the increasingly open hostile position of the United States vis-a-vis Turkey could have effectively ruined one of the few areas in which both sides were willing to reach a compromise in recent years.
Turkey’s position on the YPG/PKK has always been consistent. Ankara’s officials have always condemned the terror group and those who support it while offering proposals to de-escalate tensions with the US over the latter’s battlefield support for the extremist group in Syria. But while the US has vacillated in both its statements on the YPG/PKK and its actions on the group regarding cooperation with Turkey, now the pro-Turkey elements of America’s military-industrial complex are about to face a major test as elements of the rival American academia-industrial complex face off over Turkey.
I previously wrote about the internal disputes within the US where a traditionally and currently pro-Ankara military-industrial complex is facing off against anti-Turkish forces within America’s so-called ‘deep state’ in the following way:
“While the military-industrial complex including both the Pentagon and Lockheed-Martin the makers of the F-35s remain committed to America’s longstanding alliance with Turkey, elements of an academia-industrial complex that have risen to prominence in the US media, Congress, think tank culture and intelligence agencies ever since the Obama years, has embraced a wide ranging Turkophobic agenda that stretches far beyond Andrew Brunson.
In this sense, elements in the US want to punish Turkey for its independent economic and security policies under the fiercely multipolar Presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Here, the Brunson matter is simply one of the easiest inroads to implement sanctions against Turkey because while it invokes a wider Turkophobic narrative, it does not directly challenge the American military-industrial complex’s generally pro-Ankara position as the sanctions in question relate to an internal judicial matter in Turkey rather than one of military/security policy.
Secondly, while Donald Trump himself is not and will likely never be an Evangelical, his Vice President Mike Pence is a fanatical Evangelical and it is widely thought that he is behind pushing the US President on the Brunson matter in an attempt to pander to the Evangelical voter base prior to November’s midterm elections. In this sense, the most Turkophobic elements in Washington have found in Brunson an easily geopolitical pawn to secure mutual advantage from their own deeply worrying perspectives”.
Thus, one sees a new reality where an alliance between anti-Turkish US intelligence agencies, anti-Turkish ethno-confessional lobbying groups, members of the US Congress, members of the increasingly anti-Turkish US media and some members of the White House have conspired against the Pentagon and US Defense Secretary James Mattis in particular who seek to preserve the long-time partnership between the US and Turkey.
Unlike the more ideologically driven anti-Turkish forces in the US, the military-industrial complex’s leaders realise that Turkey is not only a valued customer of US military hardware including the F-35 fighter jets, but that more importantly, Turkey’s İncirlik Air Base is NATO’s most valuable logistical asset in the wider west Eurasian/Middle East region.
Thus, while it is self-evident that the Pentagon will be lobbying against the anti-Turkish forces in Washington, should the Pentagon lose to those who already outnumber it in this respect, the very status of İncirlik could be in jeopardy leaving the US to rely on either Jordan or Israel – two far less stable nations than Turkey in order to replace the functions currently being served in İncirlik.
In this sense, the US stands to lose far more than just cooperation with Turkey in Manbij and neighbouring areas if it continues its relentless hybrid economic warfare against its NATO partner. While the Pentagon now represents a voice of reason in Washington where Turkey is concerned, it appears that thus far, Donald Trump’s ear has been seduced by the more radical, non-strategic and ultimately irrational voices in Washington who refuse to accept that Turkey can embrace its multipolar partnerships in the wider global ‘east and south’ while still engaging in positive relations with the US on a win-win model. The zero sum mentality of the anti-Turkish forces in Washington could end up sabotaging their country’s own long-term interests on the altar of an ill-throughout through extremist Turkophobic position.