Silence before the storm in Turkish-US relations?
Whenever you ask diplomatic sources about U.S.-Turkey relations, the kind of answer you get is usually about the “absence of any problems.”
Relations between Turkey and the United States seem to work well at the bureaucratic level on matters of daily needs between diplomats, intelligence officers and soldiers. The fact that the Commander of the Turkish Land Forces General Hulusi Akar received a Legion of Merit medal from the U.S. Department of Defense is an indication of close cooperation in action.
However, it is difficult to say the same at the political level nowadays. For example, cooperation at the bureaucratic level did not help Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Volkan Bozkır, a former diplomat himself, get political appointments suitable for his position when he was in Washington DC earlier this month.
The last telephone call made public between Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama was on Oct. 18 (Oct. 19 in Turkish time), 2014. That conversation was mostly about the predominantly Kurdish-populated Syrian border town of Kobane, which was at the time under attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Obama was telling Erdoğan about the U.S. air drop that was due to start the next morning in support of the Kurdish fighters resisting against the ISIL advance.
With the help of that air drop and with Turkey’s opening of its territory for the passage of fighters from Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to Kobane, the ISIL attack was beaten back.
But since that call there have been a number of rows between the Erdoğan and Obama administrations, usually triggered by a remark from Erdoğan himself, and usually on matters related to Western hypocrisy about Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule in Egypt, Israel, or Islamophobia. The most recent example was Erdoğan’s slamming of Obama for not reacting to the recent killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina. “If you don’t, you won’t have the right to criticize ISIL,” he said. Obama condemned the killings the next day, but in the meantime the State Department had issued a strongly worded statement against Erdoğan’s words.
When you scratch the surface a little, you find “long-term stress” infecting Turkish-U.S. relations. By that expression, what is meant is a close cooperation between the two that started with Turkey’s entrance to NATO in 1952.
The reason for this stress is not only about Syria, Egypt, Israel, and the fight against terrorism exercised by certain radical Islamist groups - but rather Russia. Nobody talks on-the-record about it, but Turkey’s stance regarding its northern neighbor on the Ukraine crisis seems to be a source of problems.
Relations between the Erdoğan and Obama administrations are also heading to another test on the Armenian issue in April. There is almost no lobby left in Washington DC to work on Turkey’s behalf on the issue - not even an Arab lobby, let alone a Jewish one.
As you can read in Burak Bekdil’s piece in the Hürriyet Daily News today, the Turkish government has postponed its decision on a strategic anti-missile system until after April 24, a critical date for Armenian lobbying moves in the U.S. Congress.
And still no high level political link can be observed between Turkey and the U.S. Is this a silence before a storm in relations? Or is it worse, a silence before an even deeper silence?