The Hillary effect
Would it be right to predict the outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential elections in the United States? If the outcome would have a serious impact on our everyday lives as well as on the domestic Turkish political scene and the international conjecture, why not? Probably to Turkey’s dismay, Democrat Party candidate Hillary Clinton will climb the ladder to the U.S. presidential seat with a margin of 6 to 7 percentage points. Could there be a Republican Donald Trump surprise? Very unlikely.
Turkey would very much like to see Trump as president, purely for opportunistic reasons. Very much like the case with Russia, it is a fact that there is a very high rate of compatibility, bordering indeed on histocompatibility, between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and leaders who have “I did it my way” style.
Whoever is elected president in the upcoming elections there will be little change in the U.S.-Turkey relations. Potential crises in three areas will continue to impact relations irrespective of who is elected. One problem, perhaps the most important one, will continue to be the issue of freedom of expression, press freedom, independence of the judiciary and issues pertaining to the unfortunate situation of the separation of powers in Turkey.
Although there was a relative decline compared to September, when the number of journalists imprisoned increased to as high as 205, as of mid-October, it is very unfortunate that there are still 195 journalists behind bars. A number of journalists have fled the country to escape persecution. Over 10,000 journalists have been left jobless, including some 3,500 of our colleagues rendered unemployed because of the operations launched against the Fethullah Gülen Islamist fraternity declared as a terrorist organization because of its alleged leading role in the July 15 coup attempt. A number of academics have been expelled from universities, some were put behind bars on grounds they made donations to the Gülen movement. Many businessmen were declared to be the “financial wing” of the putschist gang and thus were not only taken in, but their managements were placed under court-appointed trustees, transformed and liquidated. Thus, the right to invest came under serious challenge.
Under Trump’s presidency, these issues would perhaps pose less of a problem between the two countries because of the atypical political platform the Republican candidate holds. Yet even a potential Trump presidency would not stay indifferent to such issues, because of the separation of powers and the importance of all such ideals, norms and values for the American society and the establishment. Under a potential Hillary presidency on the other hand, an implementational style should be anticipated, much like the style she demonstrated when she was secretary of state.
Put aside the allegations of donations made to her campaign by the Gülenists, the political handling of Turkey’s demand for the extradition of the Pennsylvania-based Gülen, particularly in light of Turkey’s not-so-bright record on justice, will likely fall on deaf ears at the White House. Even if Turkey could provide sufficient evidence proving the active leadership of Gülen in the coup attempt, the U.S. will only agree to hand him over to Turkey if the federal court makes such a decision. If the process reaches that stage, no one might know now what dirty laundry Fetullah Gülen’s lawyers might throw on the floor of the courthouse to defend Gülen’s innocence. One such test case might be Reza Zarrab’s case which soon is yet to reach that stage. Was it because of such worries that the Turkish president is very vocal nowadays about the Americans “unnecessarily” holding a Turkish national in prison, who was tried under the same charges and acquitted in Turkish courts?
A third area of potential complication is indeed the already-complicated contradictory foreign policy and defense interests of Turkey and the U.S. What would happen if she again tried to get Turkey and Armenia to engage in serious reconciliation that apparently even though both countries see no interest in walking such a road? Such an “imposing leadership” of the “ally America” might be averted with limited damage but it is almost certain that Obama-style approaches in the Middle East will not end in a potential Hillary presidency; on the contrary, the U.S. will be even more demanding and proactive.
U.S.’ alliance with the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamist State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) was most probably a product of Turkey’s late response in the engagement. Yet, such a collaboration might pose existential threats to Turkey’s territorial and national integrity. Indeed that was the driving concern behind the Operation Euphrates Shield. Has the U.S., taking into consideration Turkey’s concerns, changed its strategic perspective regarding Syrian Kurds? Developments indicate it hasn’t.
A new regional arrangement of borders might be put on the agenda in a more assertive manner tomorrow, even if the viability of a Kurdish state in northern Syria might be questionable. The Mosul crisis as well demonstrates that “whoever enters first might as well be the new ruler” dangerous perception that might trigger a very serious explosive situation. Rehashing old memories, talking about that the Lausanne Treaty has lost its relevance today. It might endanger Turkey’s current borders, reasserting outdated claims on lands that used to belong to the country’s forefathers. Foreign policy disorientation or confrontation between Turkey and the U.S. in a potential Hillary presidency, unfortunately, might extend to an unprecedented existential crisis.