FEW US presidents have shaken up the international order as much as the current incumbent of the White House. While the Donald Trump-led administration has trained its guns on traditional foes such as Iran, even close allies of the US — such as the Europeans and Turkey — are not immune from the American president’s abrasive style of ‘diplomacy’. In fact, the row with Turkey threatens to scuttle the relationship between Washington and Ankara, an alliance that dates back to the Cold War. However, the detention of an American pastor by the Turks has not gone down well with Mr Trump; the man has been accused of being involved in the 2016 Turkish coup. As is usual with the American leader, he announced a major foreign policy decision via Twitter last week, saying that he was doubling tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium, and apparently gloated over the slide of the lira. “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” he bluntly added in the tweet. Expectedly, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has not taken well to the US moves, saying that if “this trend of unilateralism and disrespect” were not reversed, Turkey would “start looking for new friends and allies”.
Ever since he took office in 2017, Mr Trump’s foreign policy approach has been unorthodox, to put it mildly. Where Iran is concerned, he seems convinced that pushing the Islamic Republic to the brink is the best option for Middle East peace. His trade war with China also threatens to rattle the global economy. Yet while Iran and China can hardly be described as American allies, the Europeans — long ‘special partners’ of the US — have also not been spared, as Mr Trump has raised tariffs against EU states. Turkey, meanwhile, is a member of Nato and a long-time US ally. However, tensions between Ankara and Washington have been simmering for a while, especially over Syria, where the Americans have backed Kurdish fighters whom the Turks have termed ‘terrorists’ allied with the PKK. The pastor’s imprisonment, it seems, has only been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rather than pick fights with both enemies and friends, Mr Trump and his hawkish foreign policy team need to reassess their approach where bilateral and multilateral ties are concerned. If anything, these policies are putting the global community on the road to conflict in a world already wracked by terrorism and war. Better sense should prevail and the Turkish leadership should respond in a statesman-like manner and not be provoked. While Mr Erdogan is indeed free to choose his allies, he can take the moral high ground by opting for dialogue instead of confrontation.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018