The end of Trump’s good cop role in relations with Turkey?
Turkey’s ruling elites have an oxymoronic attitude in their outlook toward the United States administration. On the one hand, they think U.S. President Donald Trump is not part of the “establishment,” which is against Turkey, yet on the other, they pin their hopes on him to stop the deterioration in bilateral relations.
It appears that the advisors to Turkish decision-makers are not convinced that Trump rules the country. Trump came to power defying the U.S. establishment, he is, therefore, not part of the “current establishment” that shapes Washington’s policy toward Turkey, and as such certain steps are being taken behind his back. This seems to be what they think. How else can we explain the statements of Turkey’s president implying the possibility that the departing U.S. ambassador might have taken a personal initiative and decided to stop issuing visas to Turkish citizens?
“We are not a tribal state, no one can treat us like a tribal state,” Turkish politicians often say. Yet it looks like some among them treated the U.S. like a tribal state by thinking that a seasoned U.S. diplomat like John Bass would, by himself, take a decision certain to create shock waves in relations, bypassing the White House.
This line of thinking: Pinpointing a finger at the U.S. envoy as the main responsible for the recent crisis seems to be an effort to still portray the U.S. president as the “good guy” and all the rest as the “bad guys” holding a grudge against Turkey. As some endorsed the mistaken line from the very beginning that once elected, Trump would solve the problems in bilateral relations; they try to find a scapegoat to still keep Trump’s record clean so that they are not proven wrong.
But one has to admit that this misguided view was encouraged by Trump himself, who knowingly or unknowingly chose to play the role of the “good cop” in his relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In all his bilateral meetings with Erdoğan, he gave him what he wanted: Rhetorical appreciation and respect at a time when he was suffering tremendous unpopularity in the transatlantic community. He has actually not delivered much to facilitate Turkish sensitivities.
Actually it was Trump who gave the go ahead to Pentagon’s plans to openly arm the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) Syrian wing to fight “Islamist terrorists,” in the words of Trump, who is immune to criticism from Erdoğan, who roars against any other using that terminology.
Trump, therefore, remains untouchable for all the U.S. wrongdoings against Turkey. Why? Because he is not part of the establishment. Yet he is the one on whom hopes are pinned to solve the problems? How is that going to happen? Is the U.S. a tribal state whereby with the clap of his hand he can have Fetullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident cleric believed to have been behind last year’s coup attempt, extradited to Turkey? Even if he had the power, would he let Reza Zarrab, accused in the U.S. of violating sanctions against Iran, let go at a time when he favors a tougher policy against Tehran?
The key issue in problems with the U.S. is the inability of the Turkish ruling elites to read Washington correctly. The habit of misinterpreting U.S. steps continues with regard to the current crisis. The unexpected U.S. decision to suspend visas, which came right after the arrest of a Turkish national working at the U.S.’s Istanbul consulate, is interpreted as a sign of panic.
Americans are making a big fuss, according to Turkish officials, because they are about to be caught red-handed. But if that was the reality, in other words, if there was a solid case against the Turkish national under arrest, the preference would be to keep it on the down-low and solve it behind closed doors.
Incorrect analyses and mistaken judgments about each other’s intentions will make the exit from the current crisis more difficult. Even if Trump were to interfere into the current crisis - as is expected by Ankara - and maintain his role as the good cop, it will only provide a temporary relief. Not just because Trump is not the good cop, but if relations are to improve, radical policy changes are needed both in Washington and Ankara.