Latest Turkey-US crisis is unlike any before
The turbulence that has broken out with the arrest of a Turkish citizen working at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, the U.S. ban on visa applications in Turkey, and Ankara’s response in kind, looks like no crisis we have ever come across in the history of Turkey-U.S. relations.
There have been many incidents in the past in which relations hit rock bottom, such as the weapons embargo placed by Congress in the 1970s and the Turkish Parliament vote on March 1, 2003 refusing the passage of U.S. soldiers to Iraq (followed by U.S. soldiers placing a sack over Turkish soldiers’ heads in Süleymaniye on July 4, 2003). But the latest crisis seems unique.
However tough problems were in the previous crises, the parties placed sanctions and diplomatic measures beyond the scope of human relations. This time, with the visa ban communication on a human level has received a severe blow. The results of this ban will spread across a large area from sports to education, from culture to health.
The negativity of this step is not limited to the outcomes for people. Damage has also been done to the image of Turkey, which has been categorized as a country whose citizens can be the subject of such a ban.
In this respect, the U.S. imposed the kind of ban previously applied to a limited amount of countries like Libya, Sudan, Somali, Iran and North Korea. This time it has been applied to NATO-member Turkey, which shows that alliance relations have gone also downhill.
We can say that for now the “alliance” between Turkey and the U.S. is empty, left only on paper. It is an absurd situation that two countries in the same defense alliance, who formally consider an attack against the other to be an attack against themselves, and who are committed to helping each other in that situation, have now imposed visa bans on each other’s citizens.
There is an even stranger situation that is particularly hard to understand. Almost one month ago, on Sept. 8, the U.S. took an important step regarding U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen and the failed July 2016 coup attempt, handing over a key document through official channels to Ankara. The document proved that Kemal Batmaz, one of the civilian leaders of the coup attempt, stayed with Gülen in Pennsylvania in the beginning of 2016.
This move by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was an important initiative, making it more possible to directly link the coup attempt with Gülen.
But at a time just after this flexibility in the U.S.’s attitude emerged, the cautiously optimistic atmosphere that emerged was destroyed by arrest of the consulate official in Istanbul and the subsequent steps.
There is little doubt that Gülen and his supporters are delighted at this new situation. The fact that relations between Turkey and the U.S. have entered one of the biggest crises in their history perhaps strengthens the thesis that Ankara-Washington ties are at the whim of Pennsylvania.
Saying that one party is absolutely right and one party is absolutely wrong will not help solve this latest crisis. The U.S. has long shown incredible negligence in not realizing how hosting the leader of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), responsible for the July 2016 coup attempt, has made relations with Turkey much more difficult. It has also appeared insensitive regarding Ankara’s concerns on U.S. cooperation with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
As for Turkey, the list is long but we can at least say that Ankara was not able to foresee the consequences that would be triggered by the arrest of a consulate official in Istanbul. What’s more, an opinion that has taken shape in the minds of U.S. decision-makers, and openly mentioned today in the U.S. press, that the arrest of some Americans in Turkey is being done simply to create an opportunity for bartering over Gülen. This has also played a role in leading to things getting out of hand.
Last but not least, the presidency of Donald Trump has made the complicated decision-making process in Washington even worse. This is just one other factor that has brought U.S.-Turkey relations to the current crisis.