Can Turkey continue to hit at the West?

Can Turkey continue to hit at the West?

The failed coup attempt has thrown Turkish-U.S. ties off kilter. Politico magazine reports that Washington is sending Vice President Joe Biden to Turkey next week “to make peace.” But Ankara’s anger at the West seems not to be abating. Washington is clearly worried about where things are going and wants to ensure that things do not get out of hand. 

In the background to all this, there is talk in the West, mostly shallow, about throwing Turkey out of NATO. There is equally shallow talk in Turkey about leaving NATO. Secretary of State John Kerry fanned this kind of speculation when he warned in a loaded manner after the coup attempt that NATO membership hinged on respect for democracy. 

This was taken as a warning that if the government did not go easy in its purge against suspected supporter of Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind of the coup, then its NATO alliance could be suspended. Kerry probably regrets having given that impression, knowing that NATO has worked happily with dictators in the past, let alone deficient democracies. 

He also knows that Turkey is far more important for NATO today than most of its European members, and especially those where less than sensible politicians are coming out with off-the-cuff remarks about burning bridges with Ankara. 

There is also a bitter irony here complicating matters further. Many Western commentators or former officials look on Turkey as a “terrorist-supporting state” for allegedly facilitating radical Islamic groups linked to attacks in the West.

Meanwhile in Turkey many people are convinced that the U.S. and Europe are supporting terrorism by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) - and its affiliate in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – which has carried out deadly attacks in Turkey. 

The passion with which Turks believe this is no weaker than the passion of many in the West who believe that Ankara is somehow complicit in Islamic terrorism. What we have is a true dialogue of the deaf.

By deciding to send Biden, Washington is signaling that it does not want this situation to go on. As usual, the U.S. is looking at the matter from a more realistic and broader perspective than Europe, which has no clear vision of its own future let alone anything else.

There is a problem regarding Turkey’s ratcheting up of animosity toward the West and especially toward the U.S. How long can Ankara keep hitting at Washington over the Gülen issue before it all starts becoming counterproductive? 

It is true that Turkey would be difficult to replace for the West, given its strategic place on the map, which is right in the middle of all the crises that matter for the U.S. and Europe. But if push comes to shove, is there nothing saying it cannot ultimately be replaced?

Recent remarks by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also show this ( Pointing to the growing instability in Turkey, which is also fueling anti-Western sentiments, Lew said the current turmoil in Turkey makes it very important that Greece’s fiscal troubles are resolved so that it can become an anchor of regional stability.

It is not difficult to assume that Washington is drawing contingency plans in the event that Turkey leaves the fold. To suggest that these plans would include shifting military facilities to other countries such as Iraq (especially the Kurdish part), Greece, Cyprus (where the U.K. has bases), Bulgaria, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Egypt, would not be far off the mark.

Put another way, relying unquestioningly on what it believes is its indispensability for the west to hit at the US and Europe, in order to force them into a specific positon, could result in Ankara making itself dispensable in the end. Turkey is unlikely to be happy to see the focus shift from it to regional countries like Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Ankara has to therefore tread cautiously with the west and understand what is at risk if it continues in the current vein.