With or without S-400, in both cases the loser is the Turkish taxpayer
Ian Bremmer, a CBS News contributor, recently conveyed an anecdote about the recent NATO summit in Brussels that was highly interesting.
Speaking on a CBS program, Bremmer said that only Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was left unscathed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s angry rebukes during the summit.
“Trump was very frustrated; he wasn’t getting commitments from other leaders to spend more. Many of them said, ‘Well, we have to ask our parliaments. We have a process; we can’t just tell you we’re going to spend more, we have a legal process.’ Trump turns around to the Turkish president, Recep Erdoğan, and says, ‘Except for Erdoğan over here. He does things the right way,’ and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president,” Bremmer said.
Turkey’s ruling elites had serious problems with the administration that preceded Trump. The divergence of view over Syria that grew even more by U.S. assistance to Kurdish forces in the region, the arrest of a Turkish-Iranian businessman related to U.S. sanctions against Iran and inaction against Gülenists in the U.S. had heightened the allergy against the Democratic administration. Washington’s lukewarm reaction to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt had further exacerbated the dislike against the Democrats.
Ruling elites in Ankara were counting on a Trump victory. Close relations were forged with some of Trump’s advisors before elections (who later left the White House), and there was clear overjoy among certain quarters in Turkey to see Trump elected. Many were expecting to see a clear improvement in relations.
Yet, relations further deteriorated. Those who had pinned their hopes on Trump started to blame the remnants of the Democrat administration and continued to think that a direct relationship between Trump and Erdoğan will solve the troubles.
Indeed Trump and Erdoğan seem to have established a somewhat “warm” dialogue. But Turkish officials would be delusional if they were to think that this can also be described as a “working dialogue.”
For cultivating a special relationship with Trump doesn’t get you anything and the best example to show this is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s experience with the U.S. president.
Abe’s strategy of cozying up to the American president hasn’t saved Japan from Trump’s “America first” policy. Not only Abe was taken by surprise by Trump’s move to meet North Korean leader but also blindsided by his decision not to grant Japan a waiver on new steel and aluminum tariffs. And then came Trump’s call to impose tariffs on cars that will hit the Japanese economy.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that while he praised Erdoğan for doing the right things in NATO, Trump called it a “disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison.” In a tweet he posted a few days ago, he said Brunson “has been held hostage far too long,” and called on Erdoğan “to do something” to free him.
In contrast to Trump, forging good relations with Erdoğan could pay off. He is much more emotional than Trump, but his emotions don’t weigh on his pragmatism.
It is worthy to note that Trump sees Brunson as a hostage. If this is indeed the case, then Washington should not expect Erdoğan to step in; unless he sees some U.S. action against the Gülen network and certainly not before the Halkbank decision is announced. (The conviction of the bank’s former high level executive accused of evading U.S. sanctions is expected to be followed by a fine against Halkbank.)
The U.S. officials say the Brunson case is increasing hostility against Turkey in Congress, which wants to suspend the delivery of the F35 jets to Turkey. Ankara is obviously not going to jeopardize a project for which it already paid millions of dollars for an American prisoner.
It is Turkey’s decision to purchase the S-400 anti-aircraft systems from Russia that poses a real problem. And not only for the U.S. Congress but also for other countries that participate in the F35 project.
Twelve countries, which include Israel, are worried that even if Turkey were to use the system as a stand-alone without integrating it to its general system, the S-400s would still be able to gather sensitive information about allied aircraft flying the Turkish airspace.
So either these S-400s are going to be stored somewhere without being installed, or Turkey will purchase something else from Russia, which would be a very costly endeavor to appease Moscow. And in either case the biggest loser might end up being the Turkish taxpayer.