“O mon dieu, délivrez-moi de mes amis!” (“May God defend me from my friends: I can defend myself from my enemies” – fr.) Some historians attribute this catchphrase to Napoleon Bonaparte, others to King Louis XIV, although it is not that important, because, after all, what friends can royalty have?
The Kurds have used this phrase more than once recently in assessing their relations with the United States, which, after publicly declaring friendship, has repeatedly thrown them into the Middle East meat grinder.
And now it’s Turkey’s turn to pay the price for Washington’s earlier displays of affection. Although it should be noted that the spiraling deterioration in US relations with Ankara has been approaching for a long time. After the active use of Turkey as a combat flank of NATO against the Soviet Union and the loss of interest in it since the 90s, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the “friendly feelings” towards this country in the United States began to cool down gradually. Bilateral relations gradually began to deteriorate with the advent of the nationalist Erdoğan, who is more concerned with the reincarnation of his country’s Ottoman grandeur and is largely “difficult to contain”, as Washington tries to keep him as little more than a pawn in its political game.
They became particularly acute after the attempted coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government in July 2016, in the organization of which the Turkish authorities accuse the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a permanent resident of the United States since 1999, and Washington’s use of him in countering the ambitions of the Turkish president. It should be recalled that the victims of the attempted military coup in Turkey on the night of July 15-16, 2016 were more than 250 people, more than 2,000 were injured. After this failed coup attempt, the Turkish authorities imposed a state of emergency, which was lifted only in July 2018.
Tens of thousands of people have since been detained in Turkey, including members of the military, police, prosecutors and judiciary, journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of other professions. Turkish authorities consider Gülen, a preacher permanently residing in the United States, the leader of the “terrorist network” FETÖ, and have unsuccessfully sought his extradition from the United States.
The relationship between Ankara and Washington deteriorated further in 2018, after the United States charged one of the heads of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank with violating US sanctions against Iran. Then the Turkish leader Erdoğan called the case “a political coup attempt” and “a joint effort by the CIA and FBI” to undermine Ankara. After the court verdict in the US against the CEO of Halkbank, Erdoğan emphasized: “Those who were unsuccessful in the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, are now looking for another attempt in our country.”
Bilateral relations took an even darker turn after Ankara purchased Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) and Turkey’s plans to put these defenses on combat duty. As Hulusi Akar, head of the Turkish Military Ministry, stressed, the purchase of Russian defense systems was not a choice for Turkey, but a necessity for the security of its 83 million citizens.
On January 26, the Ahval news and analysis website published a sensational statement by the former head of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff Intelligence Directorate (2007-2012) Ismail Haqqi that the Turkish government has evidence that the United States is preparing “assassination plans” for opinion leaders in Turkey. A supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said this during a discussion program on the Turkish TV channel Ulusal. When asked who was on the US list of intended targets for physical elimination, he pointed out: “There are opinion leaders. If you make an attempt on these leaders, then Turkish society is bound to react negatively”.
There is little doubt that the United States is stirring up the internal political situation in Turkey and that Washington is paying back for its past friendship in this way. Especially since Washington, together with its “black business sidekick” Tel Aviv, has recently shown the world that eliminating VIPs has become commonplace for them.
However, signs of a dark new phase in Turkish-US relations with the arrival of President Joe Biden in the White House became especially clear in mid-January, when a key person in his foreign policy team, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, called Ankara a “so-called strategic partner” of Washington. Blinken is known for his criticism of Turkey, but his referring to the NATO ally so dismissively as a “so-called strategic partner” even before he took office suggests that Ankara faces challenges in building a relationship with the Biden team.
Neither is Ankara happy about Joe Biden’s appointment of three other high-ranking officials in his administration: retired General Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense, Brett McGurk, the former US president’s special representative for combating the terrorist organization DAESH (banned in the Russian Federation) as coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa on the US National Security Council, and Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who have previously voiced their criticism of Erdoğan’s policies and advocated US support for Kurds in Syria and Iraq. Last but not least is President Joe Biden himself, who has already criticized Turkey many times in recent years, as a senator either sponsored or supported many resolutions contrary to Turkey’s interests. In particular, Ankara drew attention to these factors, which may in the near future noticeably worsen relations with Washington.
On January 25, in the pages of the Saudi newspaper Arab News, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış (in 2002-2003).
So, in the next four years, it looks like Ankara will have the hardest time of all in its relations with the new American president.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.