The roots of the present crisis dividing Turkey from its traditional American partner were not seeded this week let alone this year. One must revisit the second term of US President Barack Obama to understand the extent of America’s betrayal of Turkey – the only nation in its region that since its Republican founding in 1923, never caused the United States any strategic aggravation. Even prior to jointing NATO in 1952, Turkey was among the first nations to offer troops to fight along side the US led UN forces in Korea, even though a strong argument could be made that the events on the Korean peninsula would have never effected Turkey irrespective of which side prevailed.
For Americans who tend to support President Erdogan’s AK party, for those who prefer his opposition and for those who know and care little about the domestic party politics of Turkey, the fact remains that Turkey has never caused the United States trouble which is unique given that virtually all of Turkey’s neighbours have caused great stress to the US throughout the 20th century.
Under the highly controversial presidency of George W. Bush, US Turkey relations remained a bedrock of stability at a time when the neocons in the Bush White House began tearing up America’s traditional Cold War approach to the Middle East by naming Washington’s friends and enemies by listing an “axis of evil” while Bush himself said “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists“. Forgetting the dangerous simplicity of the Bush doctrine, when it came to Turkey, Ankara was always with the US and never with the terrorists. Upon Barack Obama’s election, things began to gradually change – the United States began to side not with Turkey but with the terrorists.
In spite of being putatively on the same side of the Syrian conflict, it was during Obama’s second term that the United States began arming and supplying the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG – something which as the world sees now in full view is a threat not only to Turkey’s territorial integrity but also to Syria’s territorial integrity which the Astana partners of Russia, Turkey and Iran have all vowed to preserve. Furthermore, it was under Barack Obama that the United States began its dangerous relationship with the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) whose obscurantist leader Fethullah Gulen aims to not only to overthrow the legal institutions of the Turkish Republic but to spread a geopolitically dangerous version of cultish Islamism throughout multiple continents via the use of indoctrination centres in the form of “schools” or “community centres”.
In 2016 when FETO terrorists who had infiltrated elements of the Turkish army staged a coup against the legitimate government of Turkey, the Obama White House went disturbingly silent. As more and more information came to the fore regarding America’s high level contacts with FETO, it became clear that elements of the United States government had a hand in the coup while the refusal of Obama and his colleagues to even express sympathy with the Turkish people at a time of grave distress was an insult added to injury.
2016 was without a doubt a watershed in Turkey-US relations but at the time many in Turkey could not fully bring themselves to believe that a fellow NATO ally would so brazenly align itself with FETO and the PKK even though much of the writing was already on the wall as of 2016.
Under Donald Trump, the US continues its controversial relationship with both FETO and the PKK only this time the end game is different. For Trump, any otherwise obscure excuse to weaken the economy of both long time friends and rivals is used in order to bolster his wider drive to violently remove the United States from the free trading global consensus which is now lead by a rapidly opening Chinese economy rather than a strong but increasingly closed, protectionist and non-user friendly American economy. In typical Trump fashion, when no excuse for inflicting economic damage on a partner is available he’ll simply make one up as he goes along. In the case of Turkey, the case of Andrew Brunson that until a few weeks ago was rarely discussed in American mainstream media happened to be the calling card used as the proximate excuse for Trump to do to Turkey the kinds of things he has done to China, Russia, Canada, Iran, The European Union, South Korea, India, Japan, Pakistan, Mexico and others.
But while Trump is willing to use Obama era policies to justify inflicting further economic harm on multiple nations, one cannot forget that whether heightening tensions with the nuclear armed Russia or provoking the nuclear armed China in the South China Sea, it was Obama era policies that provided the blueprint for what in the Trump years are merely excuses to cut off trade and inflict sanctions. For Turkey, this unkindest cut against not only against an ally but against the nation that provides NATO with its second biggest military after the US has been all the more meaningful as it threatens to end nearly a culture of placid cooperation between the US and Turkey.
While under President Erdogan, Turkey looks for good relations with China and the EU – Russia and the US – Iran and much of the Arab world, certain doors began shutting to Turkey’s west. Most crucially, it was not Donald Trump who shut these doors initially but Barack Obama. In this sense, while George W. Bush divided the world between friend and foe/US ally and terrorist supporter, Barack Obama did something even more dangerous. Obama turned against his unambiguous friends while aiding sinister non-state forces who threaten not only America’s friends but the US itself.