Turkish-American ties head for the rocks

By Semih idiz/ Hurriyet Daily

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Following Washington’s decision to suspend non-immigration visas for new visa applications by Turks, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said it was “no wonder that over 80 percent of Turks don’t like America.”

Yıldırım referred to the “support the U.S. is giving to FETÖ,” the group attached to Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Ankara accuses Gülen of masterminding last year’s failed coup attempt. As for the YPG, it says this is a terrorist group allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

But if one looks at the “Global Attitudes and Trends” survey conducted annually by the Pew Research Center, anti-Americanism in Turkey predates the Gülen and YPG affairs, even though these things have undoubtedly increased it.

There are reasons for this anti-Americanism that goes back decades, but here is not the place to go into these reasons.

The short of it is that given the prevalent negative Turkish attitude toward the U.S. – as well as the widespread anti-Turkish sentiments in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere in America due to highly effective lobbying by Greek, Armenian, Assyrian and Kurdish groups – these two countries should really not be allies at all.

Shared strategic interests during and after the Cold-War cemented and kept the alliance together against the odds. Populism was generally kept out of ties by the two governments, even if there was ultimately little love lost on either side.

However, the common interest appears not to be holding this relationship together anymore the way it did in the past. Meanwhile President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a master populist, has never held back from stoking anti-Americanism.

This became particularly prevalent after the Gezi protests in 2013 and peaked after Washington’s inability to immediately condemn the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Erdoğan’s belief, and he makes no secret of it even though he names no names, is that the U.S. is actively trying to undermine his administration.

Washington, no doubt due to its regional interests, has so far remained diplomatic in the face of Erdoğan’s attacks, and the blistering press onslaught it has to face on a daily basis from both pro and anti-government sources in Turkey. Anti-Americanism in Turkey cuts across the board.

Of course, it is a startling contradiction that anti-Americanism has not prevented Turks of means, including Erdoğan, from sending their kids to be educated in the U.S. Similarly, if Washington were to suddently announce that it will be issuing thousands of work visas to Turks, there would undoubtedly be long queues outside to U.S. embassy.

But these facts are beside the point and have little bearing on the stage that Turkish-American ties have reached. In an article last week for the Financial Times, former U.S. assistant secretary of state Philip Gordon even went as far as to argue that “the relationship is probably beyond repair,” because “the two countries are discovering how fundamentally their core security interests have diverged.”

Turkish diplomats who have served in Washington remain optimistic that the strategic interest remains and will kick in to ensure that the seemingly dead “strategic partnership” continues.

But for this to happen the sides will have to concede on the issues that divide them today, and which have been extensively covered by the Hürriyet Daily News over the past days. From today’s vantage point, however, that seems unlikely to happen.

It looks like this relationship is heading for the rocks at high speed. But if one looks at developments in our region from a strategic perspective, and not a populist one, the bottom line is that neither country will benefit from such a rift in the long term.

Just like people, countries also sometimes need to lose something before they understand how important it was. In the case of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, it may be too late when this is understood.