Turkish-US relations have to be put on ice

Turkish-US relations have to be put on ice

I have long put the 40th year of my journalism career behind me. One of my foremost endeavors during these four decades has been to closely follow the Turkish-U.S. relations.

I have spent a significant amount of this time in the Turkish capital first as a diplomatic reporter, then as my paper’s Ankara bureau chief, while an additional six years spent in the US capital, striding the halls of the Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department as Hürriyet’s correspondent stationed in Washington D.C.

When I started out in Ankara as a young reporter in the mid-1970s, one of the first issues I covered was the crisis caused by the arms embargo that the U.S. Congress had imposed on Turkey. I still vividly remember how, in 1978, the Carter administration and the newly formed Ecevit government together had fought tooth and nail to have that embargo lifted.

I had the chance to closely follow these relations right from the field, either in Ankara or Washington, both during their heydays as in the Özal era, and when they have hit rock bottom such as the time when the Turkey’s parliament on March 1, 2003 refused to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish soil as a base for the invasion of Iraq. The infamous “hood” incident when Turkish soldiers were raided by U.S. special forces in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq in 2003 was another episode of this sort.
This has never been an easy relationship. Based on my observations, I have come to conclude that despite being such close allies, these two countries often fail to understand each other. I do not think the Turkish decision makers have been able to fully decipher the workings of the American system. And I have never attributed the level of sophistication to the American decision-making mechanisms that they are believed to have by those in Turkey. U.S. decision-making processes are rather prone to making serious miscalculations. And they have often committed not just big, but very big mistakes vis-a-vis Turkey, and they are still making them.

Nevertheless, the common interests that bind the two sides together have always been so deep-rooted and overriding that, in spite of periods of serious tension, the gravity and indispensability of these interests have ultimately prevailed, and issues have always been worked out eventually.
When I look at the crisis we are having today, I see that it is unlike any other we have previously encountered, that it has turned into a real deadlock due to the interplay of several adverse factors and developments on both sides, and things have gotten largely out of control. There is no magic wand to solve this deadlock with a single touch and there will not be one…

Here is what I am trying to say: There is currently a state of “anomaly” between Ankara and Washington as things have already passed the bounds of rationality. Hence, neither expertise nor experience nor a healthy, realistic analysis built on these two will accomplish anything.

Saying this, I have to make it clear that I am not the kind of journalist who subscribes to the idea of “all or nothing” where only one side is right and the other totally wrong. In complicated crises such as this, that both sides have varying degrees of culpability is usually conceded in hindsight, often through painful experiences.

For instance, I have the impression that the true extent of the grievances the case of pastor Andrew Brunson could cause with the U.S. side was not grasped by Ankara in a timely and satisfactory manner. I can produce further examples like this.

However, I also believe that there is an inexcusable level of insensitivity on the U.S. side toward a number of rather vital issues for Turkey. This includes the embarrassing matter of hosting the leader of a bloody coup attempt. The fact that there has been no serious progress on this issue since July 15, 2016, is seen as a sign of great disrespect for Turkey’s population of 80 million.

Also, disregarding Turkey’s security concerns in Syria for a very long time and blatantly building a military alliance with the Syrian extension of a terror organization targeting Turkey is another instance of such heedlessness.
In the beginning of the article, I mentioned that one of the first cases I had ever reported on was the lifting of the U.S. arms embargo. Now, exactly 40 years later, I find myself in the truly bizarre situation of witnessing the passing of similar resolutions from the U.S. Congress and the administration’s calls for imposing sanctions on Turkey; it feels like a journey back in time…

I must admit that I have no idea as to where Turkish-U.S. relations might go from here. The only thing I can foresee is that this relationship will not be easily mended in the short term. Furthermore, after all that the two countries have been through, I feel uncomfortable to come across such statements as “We are two important friends and allies,” “We are strategical partners,” etc. as if nothing has happened.

Perhaps, it will be best for both sides to put this relationship on ice for a while. How can this be done? Honestly, I have no answer for that query.


* This article was originally published by Hürriyet's Turkish edition on July 31.

Sedat Ergin, Diplomacy, Turkish Foreign Ministry,