Turkey is waiting for the other shoe to drop
I like how Urban Dictionary explained this idiom: “A guest who checked into an inn one night was warned to be quiet because the guest in the room next to his was a light sleeper. As he undressed for bed, he dropped one shoe which, sure enough, awakened the other guest. He managed to get the other shoe off in silence and got into bed. An hour later, he heard a pounding on the wall and a shout: ‘When are you going to drop the other shoe?’”
That’s how Turks feel whenever Donald Trump, Mike Pence or some other American dignitary open their mouths and talk about sanctions to “devastate the Turkish economy.” The actual sanctions twist and turn through the corridors of Capitol Hill, but so far remain trapped within it. This strategy has weakened the Turkish-American alliance in at least three ways.
First, the cost of waiting for sanctions – uncertainty – is larger than the sanctions themselves. So, unless there are some unknown set of actually serious sanctions in the waiting, Turkey has already absorbed the brunt of the “punishment” it was going to take.
Second, the idea of using sanctions in a carrot-and-stick play undermines their legitimacy. One moment we are told that sanctions will snap into action if Turkey crosses a certain line. It’s American law, say diplomats, it’s like clockwork, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Once Turkey crosses the line, however, we see that Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham dance about in panic, drawing another, much fuzzier line, and threaten economic apocalypse all over again. It’s insulting to everyone involved.
Third, while our American allies used to override Turkey’s legitimate security concerns with their regional strategy, they have now chosen to abandon both. There is vague talk of “the Kurds,” infuriated TV anchors, the president talking about the PKK as a “tough group” and plugging his anti-ISIS campaign any chance he gets, but nothing substantial. It used to be that people would criticize the Obama administration for not having a clear Syria strategy. Now America has abandoned the concept of strategy all together. Turkey, of course, has not.
Having examined the sanctions of the United States, I see no damage that a solid economic reform agenda could not amend fix. The Americans’ curious mix of weakness and willful ignorance has led to a search for something new among the Turkish public. It isn’t necessarily anti-Americanism, as much as indifference towards Uncle Sam. The vast majority of Turks on both sides of Erdoğan are beginning to think that America is just not going to be very relevant in their future. If this conglomerates into a fresh new vision, it could result in solid policy once again. The chaos of a disintegrating Turkish-American alliance could yield a much more robust Turkey.
Yet for the time being, we are a bit tensed up, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Once it does, (or once we find out that it already has), we might be able to relax and move on into a strong economic reform agenda. If America wants to remain relevant in Turkey, it should once again focus on what it wants, and act like the superpower it is supposed to be.