A new game with Washington

A new game with Washington

Turkey and its neighbors are getting ready for the new host of the White House. But the signs are confusing. Donald Trump’s policies sound like they will be remarkably different from his predecessor’s.

But when you scratch the surface and dig deeper, they sound like more of the same - at least in their foreign relations’ agendas.

During a nine-hour testimony, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, defined very clearly how and why Turkey had turned its face to Russia and China after the Obama administration’s apathy toward the Syrian crisis, and why the U.S. could not afford losing Turkey as a NATO partner. Tillerson, however, did not deny Washington’s previous position toward the Kurds in Syria either. As the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, who had done major business dealings with Kurds in northern Iraq, Tillerson sees the Kurdish factions inside the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as a relatively credible ally.

So despite Ankara’s non-stop crying foul over the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) presence, the U.S. will continue to work with them on the ground. One thing Ankara now realistically sees is NATO’s role as an anchor. One cannot help but notice how quickly the debate over the İncirlik airbase vanished after the spike in the U.S. dollar last week, as if someone hit the mute button on a TV remote control. In fact, one financial analyst’s report even put a positive spin on Tillerson’s rapprochement with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan using it as an excuse for a “buy Turkey” suggestion.

Daily Cumhuriyet’s seasoned Ankara correspondent Duygu Güvenç has even more juicy information on what is happening these days. On Monday she wrote that Ankara was not expecting the “honeymoon days” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to last very long. In fact, diplomatic sources who talked to Güvenç even openly admitted that they are waiting for Trump to take over so that the Russian shoe can drop. According the Cumhuriyet’s story, diplomats in Ankara acknowledge that Iranian charm had taken over Washington during the last years of the Obama administration but claim that “Iran benefits from instability in the region, which in the long run means the U.S. has to turn to Turkey again.”

Once again, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and diplomats are failing to find the right balance while dancing with two superpowers. Sadly, Iran does not feel the need to appeal to Washington and Moscow. Neither does Israel. So why should Turkey? 

History reminds us recent mistakes made. Rewind to the final days of George W. Bush in office in 2007. There was a summit in Washington D.C. and President Erdoğan had the chance to have a last bilateral meeting with the former president. The Ergenekon case had just started. A helping hand from the U.S. signaled a green light for a huge legal battle against the Turkish military, and so the Sledgehammer case started. 

Ankara was happy with the help it got but did not refrain from bashing the Bush administration for U.S. atrocities in its invasion in Iraq. After all, the neocons and Bush were leaving. Who would care for them anyway? Obama was the new guy. He came from the Black and “suffering” side of the society, so AK Party’s top guns could not help but adore him. Now after eight years, we are back to where we started.

Moral of the story: Overestimating Trump can create disappointment very quickly.