Americans should ask Germans how to deal with Turks
There are many similarities between the current crisis in Turkish-U.S. relations and the one that Turkey and Germany appears to have put behind.
Turkish-U.S. and Turkish-German relations were already strained before the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Turkey was unhappy with U.S. policy in Syria, whereas anti-democratic practices in Turkey were putting strains in relations with Berlin.
But the tension with these two countries, where the Gülenists had their strongest presence, has deteriorated even further after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. The lukewarm reaction to the coup from both Washington and Berlin had a cold shower effect on the Turkish leadership, especially Recep Tayip Erdoğan who took it personally. Turkish demands for the extradition or at least the arrest of Fetullah Gülen, the leader of the network that Ankara defines as the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and who is believed to be the mastermind of the coup attempt, were not met by Washington. Berlin, on the other hand, refrained from cooperating with Turkey to restrain the activities of the Gülen network on its soil. Germany became a safe haven for Gülenists, and those seen by Turkey to be coup plotters were granted asylum rights.
All this was perceived as hostile action against Erdoğan’s rule and consolidated the view that the German and American intelligence agencies were bedfellows with Gülenists. The resentment and growing distrust soon spiraled into a crisis.
Relations between Germany and Turkey hit rock bottom in 2017.
In February, the Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel was arrested in Turkey. Erdoğan called Yücel a “terrorist” and a “spy.” According to Berlin, Yücel’s detainment was “political hostage-taking.” Elections in both countries made things more difficult. German municipalities banned Turkish politicians from campaigning for the April 2017 referendum. Erdoğan called Germans Nazis.
And in July, German human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in Istanbul.
It is from that point on that the Americans should take a deeper look on what took place between Ankara and Berlin.
The same month then-German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (not Chancellor Angela Merkel) announced (not via Twitter) a “reorientation of policy toward Turkey.”
Travel warnings for Turkey were issued and a 1.5 billion-euro limit on export guarantees was introduced.
Erdoğan answered by saying Merkel’s Christian Democrats were enemies of Turkey and called on Turks in Germany to vote against major parties in the September elections.
Merkel never entered a war of words with Erdoğan, and Germany continued to quietly maintain pressure on Turkey. German businesses were advised against investing and doing business in Turkey.
The elections in September ended the election cycles in both countries providing an opportunity for a breakthrough. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who had warm relations with Erdoğan, was sent on a secret mission to Turkey. Ankara denied any correlation, but Steudther was released and returned to Germany in October.
At all times the channels of dialogue had been kept open between Gabriel and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu.
In January 2018, Gabriel hosted his Turkish counterpart in his hometown Goslar and the two were photographed with Gabriel serving tea to Çavuşoğlu with a çaydanlık, a traditional Turkish teapot.
This paved the way for the meeting next month between Merkel and then-Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım in Berlin, followed only 24 hours later by the release of Yücel, who immodestly went back to Germany.
Obviously there is a stark contrast between the hot tempered Twitter-loving Trump and the pragmatic cool and calm Merkel. There must, however, be certain lessons to be drawn from the Turkish-German crisis management, like using the right back channels with the right messages to find face-saving exits from the multiple stalemates.
If the Americans were to talk to their German and Turkish counterparts, I am sure they can get more details unknown to the public as well as some useful tips. That will not be limited to buying a çaydanlık.