The recent pair of hurricanes haven’t shut down all business taking place at the White House and some of that has come on the foreign policy front. While the media was largely busy with natural disasters, President Trump was working on a disaster of another type, specifically our relationship with the Tyrant of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a Reuters report from over the weekend, Trump was on the phone with Erdogan and the two leaders were planning another in-person meeting and vowing to strengthen ties between our two nations.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan spoke on Saturday and agreed to continue to work toward stronger ties and regional security, Erdogan’s office said, a day after he lashed out at U.S. authorities for indicting one of his ex-ministers.
Ties between the United States and its NATO ally have been strained by Washington’s support for the YPG Kurdish fighters in the battle against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group.
Ankara has also been frustrated by what it sees as Washington’s reluctance to extradite the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Turkey blames Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, for last year’s failed coup.
Trump and Erdogan reportedly will be getting together in New York City later this month during the upcoming meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Reuters correctly notes the “curious” timing of this call, particularly given all the pots that Erdogan is stirring around the world. Turkey just filed a complaint against the United States for indicting Zafer Caglayan, the former Turkish minister of the economy, on charges that he was funneling money through Turkish banks to Iran in violation of current sanctions. At the same time, Turkish backed rebels recently opened fire on American troops in Syria.
Add to that the fact that American Pastor Andrew Brunson is still being held in one of Erdogan’s prisons (going on a year now) with no signs of progress toward securing his release. And Turkey continues to stick their thumb in Germany’s eye on a nearly daily basis. To say that our relationship is “complicated” is an understatement.
I get that we need Turkey’s military support for our operations in Syria and Iraq. They also hold a key position in controlling the flood of refugees and other migrants streaming into Europe. Given those considerations there’s obviously a limit to how aggressive Trump would want to get with Erdogan, but I’d dearly love to know what he’s thinking. Could Trump be getting ready to offer up Fethullah Gulen as a bargaining chip? If he is, I certainly hope he plans on getting a lot in exchange, including the release of Pastor Brunson.
The President is playing this one close to the vest so I suppose we’ll just have to wait for some sort of official announcement. But Turkey is a place where democracy has essentially failed and they’re turning into a problem which is going to have to be dealt with sooner or later.