Turkey and the United States: At Loggerheads
Unlike Trump, Erdogan does know what he wants – but, like Trump, he can’t get there.
May 21, 2017
The Turks are on their own, irregular course. Erdogan is as erratic and feckless as Trump. Unlike Trump, Erdogan does know what he wants – but, like Trump, he can’t get there without squaring circles and fitting square pegs into round holes.
Also unlike trump, Erdogan is bringing his own hoodlums to foreign visits, to beat up citizens as his host country – such as Erdogan’s attack dogs – officially called “body guards” – just did in Washington, D.C. They are rather the Praetorian Guard protecting Erdogan’s fickle ego.
In that latter regard, Trump is just like Erdogan. Except for that Trump can’t really find Praetorians willing to guard him. As he bemoaned: “It’s so unfair.”
Overly ambitious, bound to disappoint
Erdogan’s tactics, unlike Trump’s (who is a one-trick whiner pony at this stage), are constantly changing.
The Sultan’s ambition has been to create a facsimile of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.
That means grabbing the northern part of Syria along with Mosul in Iraq, while being acknowledged as the Supremo by the Sunni Arabs.
Toward that fantastic end, Erdogan has encouraged and succored the Takfiris — both ISIS and al-Qaeda/al-Nusra & Associates. They could not have organized and sustained themselves as they have done without crucial Turkish support on Turkish territory.
However, Erdogan’s gamble totally unraveled when the Russians entered the fray. Erdogan still wants to be the power broker in post-war Syria. And above all, he is desperate to block the Kurds’ move to dominate the Syrian-Turkish borderlands.
His weakening hand means that he constantly comes up with new maneuvers – trying to play all parties. To date, Erdogan’s greatest accomplishment is to alienate just about everyone and to isolate Turkey. On that score, he is actually ahead of Trump, who still has some feverish allies, like the Saudis and the Israelis.
Erdogan’s approach toward Trump
Erdogan gives the impression of being so puzzled by Trump that he has given up any effort to discern the White House’s plans or to anticipate its actions.
Anyway, so wrapped is he in his own convoluted strategizing that he finds it hard, if not unnatural, to take the bearings of another statesman – even a sober one (as Trump, the teetotaler is, by that definition).
Erdogan’s dealings with just about everyone — Putin, the Iranians, the Saudis and the ISIS leadership (who are now as much threat as surrogate) – are highly erratic.
For all of these reasons, Erdogan and Trump are like two ships sailing by each other in the dark of the night.
Of course, Erdogan would like to be “the man” and press ahead with his own initiatives regardless – even if that risks conflict with Washington over the aggressive role of the YPG Kurds around Raqqa.
Erdogan’s house of cards
And he would love to read Trump the riot act with charges that the CIA was behind last year’s abortive coup. And that the U.S. hand over Fethullah Gülen – or else.
Trouble is, Erdogan has very few cards. He is wrapped up in his own house of cards, which can easily come tumbling down.
Does he hope to force a trade of curbing the Kurds in exchange for continued access to Incirlik airbase? How will Trump react? Will he back off this past week’s pledge to arm the Kurds in the teeth of Erdogan’s denunciations?
Will he silently accept humiliation as Secretary (General) Mattis did a few weeks ago in Ankara in the face of a Turkish harangue – or throw a tantrum?
The grave danger in Syria is that two of three principal outside parties to the combustible conflict are led by unstable personalities who exhibit little intellectual or emotional control on their actions.
That adds a dangerous element to the mix — lowering the odds on a resolution and raising the odds on a wider conflagration.
Michael J. Brenner
Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh [Texas, United States] Michael Brenner is Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS/Johns Hopkins. He was the Director of the International Relations & Global Studies Program at the University of Texas. Brenner is […]