Offended with a mountain

Offended with a mountain

The United States clamped on a web of punitive measures on trade with Turkey, particularly on iron and steel imports. Turkey retaliated, declaring boycott on electronic imports from the U.S. and a sharp increase of up to 200 percent in tariffs and taxes for a variety of imports, headed by cars. Both countries, of course, have alternatives to evade measures taken by the other. Still, such things happening between allies demonstrate a widening confidence crisis between the two allies, incompatible with the notion of what an alliance should be.

Which one of these two sides, which have been allies for well over 60 years, suffers most from this tempest? Will they be able to patch up as they did after the landmark March 5, 1964 letter of then-U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson to Turkey that if Soviets attack Turkey because of Cyprus, Ankara should not expect its allies to rush to its defense? Will they be able to bury all their hard feelings so easily, as they did after the 1975 arms embargo (which was later lifted in 1978)? Assuming the current political team ruling the country managed to leave behind the humiliating hood incident of July 2004, one might assume that tomorrow there might be a radical return to “allies as ever” mood. Yet things might not be that easy this time round, as there are stubborn leaders in both capitals who love to make the last call.

It is sometimes easy to explain some things with expressions; otherwise, one might need to write an article. “The rabbit was offended with the mountain, but the mountain did not notice” might be the direct translation of one such Turkish proverb.

The U.S. economy is huge. After China, the U.S. has the largest share in international trade. According to statistics, Turkey, with around $9.8 billion imports, ranked as the U.S.’s 28th biggest trade partner in 2017. Turkey, with around $5.6 billion exports to the U.S., on the other hand, is not anywhere high in the list of countries America has been importing goods to. According to statistical data, Turkey has a share of 0.07 percent in all American imports.

Stopping phone or electronic imports from the U.S. might force black markets to emerge in Turkish cities. Perhaps, most people might have forgotten about the old “American bazaars” in the 1970s in Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir and Gaziantep, where “cheap” contraband American and other foreign brand items were being traded illegally - in public. With the “Big Brother” applications and the need to register electronic devices with the communications agency, it might be difficult this time. But Turks are clever and will find a way out. The Americans, on the other hand, might “seriously suffer” if 0.07 percent of their imports faced some serious problems. Would they care? Most Americans will most probably not even hear about the Turkish measures.

The F-35 fighter jet issue, if it evolves into an embargo, will of course be a development with very serious consequences. Turkey is not a customer; it is one of the co-producers of the F-35. Why did Turkey not continue with the Eurofighter project and instead decided to engage in the F-35 program? Some people in politics and some people in the military will have to deliver an answer to that question. This will not be the first time the U.S. imposes an embargo on Turkey. If even a co-manufacturer can be subjected to an embargo, can the U.S. be a partner, strategic partner or an ally and forget a serious partner to cooperate in business?

With such measures, Turkey cannot do any impact on the American economy. However, if Turkey decides to halt, for example, buying Boeing planes, suspend all military procurements and stop defense industry cooperation, including closing down bases – a move Turkey should seriously consider – only then the U.S. might start understanding that Turkey is a country that cannot be sacrificed so easily. After all, almost 20 percent of Turkish imports from the U.S. last year was civilian aircraft and parts. If we want to be offended with the U.S., let’s stop playing around the bush and show them that we are offended.