The US just lost its most visible point of leverage against Turkey
While the term “win-win” is typically applied to traditional geopolitical relations, the decision of a Turkish court made in respect of the American national Andrew Brunson has geopolitical implications that for Turkey represent a substantial win-win. The United States had continually protested that Brunson was innocent of charges relating to his activities aiding PKK and FETO terrorists who threaten the security and peace of the Turkish people. After a substantial trial, the Turkish court found Brunson guilty as charged, thus affirming before the eyes of the world that he was indeed a terror collaborator.
However, what appeared more important to American policy makers was that Brunson was freed and allowed to travel back to the United States. Hours ago, it was confirmed that while Brunson was found guilty, he is nevertheless a free man as the time he spent in prison during his trial covered the length of the court’s custodial sentence of three years one month and fifteen days as judges further considered Brunson’s personal state in foregoing any requirements for Brunson to serve further prison time.
Now that Brunson is on his way back to the US, Washington can no longer use his imprisonment in Turkey as a form of leverage to put pressure on Ankara. Accordingly, the sanctions and tariffs that the US placed on Turkish officials and the Turkish state respectively ought to be immediately dropped as the justification for these provocations was the detention of Andrew Brunson which is no longer an issue.
Turkey takes the high ground
While terror suspects abducted by the US are infamous for languishing for decades in the Guantanamo Bay penal colony without so much as the right to a lawyer or due process, Andrew Brunson had a qualified lawyer and received a trial in the modern Turkish court system which operates along the lines of most court systems in the European Union. The fact that his sentence was so short and that the court allowed for his release based on time already served, is testament to the comparative leniency of Turkey’s courts comapred with those of many other nations facing the kinds existential terror threats that Turkey has faced for decades.
In this sense, justice was done in the normal way and even so the US still got what it wanted as a result of Turkey’s self-evidently moderate and globally aware courts.
Saudi Arabia is a state infamous for beheading those convicted of offences far less severe than that which Andrew Brunson was convicted of. The mysterious disappearance and likely murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has put further strain on the already poor Saudi relationship with Turkey, although the Turkish authorities continue to act in a diplomatic manner and have invited Riyadh to participate in the ongoing investigation. Here again Turkey took the high road. By contrast, when Britain accused Russia of attempting to kill two foreigners on British soil, London delivered a guilty verdict before the investigation had finished while to this day, no Russian authorities have been invited to the crime scene in southern England.
All eyes on Saudi Arabia
The response by the US to the Khashoggi incident has left many pointing to the flagrant hypocrisy that exists among US policy makers. No major White House official has attempted to lay any suspicion let alone blame at the feet of Saudi Arabia even though the evidence that has thus far come out makes it virtually impossible to conclude that anything else happened to Khashoggi other than a Saudi state sponsored murder.
By now taking one of the most public elements of the Turkish-US disputes out of the picture, Turkey has necessarily thrust the spotlight on the American politicians who are self-evidently walking on eggshells to protect Saudi Arabia, a nation whose socially reactionary model (even after the so-called MBS reforms) contrasts poorly with the modern, open democracy that is The Republic of Turkey.
With Saudi Arabia failing to produce any convincing explanation as to what happened to Khashoggi, all responsible voices in the US, even those who previously misunderstood the Brunson matter, ought to encourage more US cooperation with Turkey regarding the Khashoggi investigation while also more thoroughly scrutinising Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in the incident.
The release of Andrew Brunson won’t solve all of the problems facing Turkey-US relations overnight. On the contrary, America’s continued hesitation to implement the Manbij agreement to neutralise YPG/PKK terrorists remains a major strain as does the closeness of the US establishment to wanted terrorist Fethullah Gulen.
That being said, so far as perception management goes, Turkey has just released a guilty man into the arms of America, while the US resident Jamal Khashoggi appears to have been savagely murdered by the Saudi state. The contrast could not be bigger. If the US does not alter its policy making even slightly as a result, it demonstrates just how deep the US position of unilateralism truly has become.
In a final twist of fate, as many of Donald Trump’s domestic supporters tend to have negative views of Islam as a whole, perhaps their temporary love-affair with Andrew Brunson will be short lived if he begins extolling the virtues of FETO’s Islamic cult like extremism in front of the US media.