Brunson is not the only issue
Taking the case of United States evangelical pastor Andrew Craig Brunson to the Constitutional Court with the demand that the continued house arrest and travel restriction has compromised the pastor’s rights may not yield any results. Carrying the issue to the European Court of Human Rights may not do any good either. Efforts to compel Turkey through various horse trade tactics to let the pastor travel to the United States may eventually produce results, but the crisis in Turkish-American relations will not be resolved anytime soon.
It could be argued one fundamental reason leading the Brunson issue to evolve into a major crisis in Turkish-American relations was the depressive need for U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to gain the support of evangelists and the Jewish lobby in order to win the upcoming November elections in the U.S. We could indeed expect an increase in the U.S.-Turkey standoff, or some tangible surprise moves, similar to accepting Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the U.S. embassy there.
However, the rift between Turkey and the West in general, with the U.S. in particular, is not one limited to the electoral designs of Trump or him being held hostage by evangelists. At the very root of the crisis lies the fact that Turkey has been double-playing between its Cold War era allies and foes for a long time, persistently distancing itself from the norms and values of the “free world” and giving strong signals of a will to join a club of autocrats rather than a club of democracies, which has kept it in the waiting room for over the past half century.
Sanctions against two Turkish ministers, suspending the sale of F-35 jets—of which Turkey is a manufacturing partner—increased iron and steel tariffs for imports from Turkey and similar developments are all strong indicators of anger against Turkey from the White House. The operation against Turkish currency—as Ankara has rightfully perceived—is indeed a financial declaration of war.
It may be overoptimistic to assume the Americans eventually will have to solve this problem and that the increased tariffs could be defeated at the World Trade Organization, as Ankara is a partner of the project, who has spent over $900 billion so far for it, and produced certain parts in Turkey. The threat to take the issue to international arbitration is equally nonsense, as Turkey agreed while signing the F-35 agreement that problems among the partners would be resolved through talks and no one had the right to take problems to arbitration. Of course, the Turkish audience might be happy to see the Turkish presidency take up such challenges, but the palace must be very much aware of how empty those statements were.
Turkey’s S-400 deal with Russia that symbolized the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara, the Astana process and similar dialogue between the two capitals have not been developments that have been very welcome for Washington. Furthermore, Turkey undertaking joint operations or security plans in Syria supported by Russia, while Washington has been actively supporting, abetting and indeed arming Kurdish groups that Turkey has considered a number one threat to its national security, are all elements that have compromised the 60-year-old allied relations between Washington and Ankara.
Last but definitely not least, U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran cannot be acceptable for Turkey as a country, which is energy dependent on Iran, in addition to it being a border country likely to be most-affected through such measures. The last time Turkey was provided exceptions from Iran sanctions was used by some Turks in an incompatible manner that landed, for example, a senior banker with a public Turkish bank, in a U.S. prison.
If the house arrest and travel restrictions on Brunson are to be lifted tomorrow, nothing will improve in Turkish-American relations. The course is one aimed at a head-on collision.