Votta: Trump’s actions in Turkey present dim prospects for the future

Roberto Votta, Op-Ed Contributor

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On Oct. 4, Turkish authorities arrested Metin Topuz, a United States Consulate employee, on charges of espionage and treason, with alleged links to the Gulenist movement, the group the Turkish government holds responsible for the failed coup attempt last summer.

The next day, the U.S. Embassy in Turkey released a statement condemning the arrest, and followed this up by indefinitely suspending all nonimmigrant visa applications Oct. 8, which includes F-1 and J-1 student visas for future incoming Turkish students. Turkey replied tit-for-tat with a similar statement of visa suspension later the same day.

If the relationship between the world’s most powerful nuclear nation and the world’s most powerful non-nuclear nation was growing tense at any other point in time, heads would immediately turn. However, this is a time when the news cycle seems to be the Twitter feed of the Doomsday Clock, so it is not likely for news related to U.S.-Turkish relations to make the front pages of U.S. newspapers.

Yet, it is worth examining not only what happened, but how things have been handled since then by the current U.S. administration. It turns out that it was handled exactly how you’d imagine: with all the diplomatic intent and tact of a man at war with Saturday Night Live.

When the news broke Oct. 8 that non-immigrant visas were being suspended between both countries, President Donald Trump was tweeting at Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), much like the way a senile grandfather yells at the television. On Oct. 9, The New York Times, seemingly acting like the country’s new secretary of state, took it upon itself to lay out the grievances between the U.S. and Turkey, while the White House was busy releasing self-congratulatory statements of praise from cabinet members about immigration reform policies. Then, other parties joined the fray. Stephen Bryen, touted as “a thought leader on technology security policy” and a senior fellow at the American Center for Democracy, a Washington-based think tank, published an op-ed Oct. 13 calling Turkey’s future in NATO “uncertain.” Instead of denying or contradicting this claim, as they have previously done with other think tanks that exposed the nature of their reverse Robin Hood tax plan, Republicans and the White House focused on what seemed to truly matter to them: pissing off Iran.

The State Department decided to do something Oct. 19, in what to me seems characteristically Republican: finding a foreign policy mess and making it worse. That same day, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert released a statement saying “We’ve expressed to the Turkish Government our concerns on many occasions about this trend — the trend of curbs on free speech, detentions, the overall erosion of democratic society there.” Careful and tempered wording for a delicate situation.

One could accurately argue, though, that Turkish-American relations fluctuate constantly. In a 2008 Pew Research poll conducted in Turkey, 76 percent of responders said they were worried the U.S. could become a military threat, with 68 percent also saying that the U.S.’s influence was negative in the world.

However, there are two reasons why the current crisis is worse. The first is that the numbers in the polls decreased to 54 percent and 45 percent respectively by 2009. Public opinion was so low due to there being a highly unpopular president in office — President George W. Bush — and it went back up when Barack Obama became president. In June, the Pew Research Center reported that eight in 10 Turkish people have an unfavorable opinion toward the U.S. This time around, the U.S. president has only been in office for a year.

The second reason is that experts say relations have not been this bad since 1974, when Turkey invaded a U.S. ally in Cyprus and clashed with the U.S.-led Cypriot junta. This time, all grievances are diplomatic and, up until this incident, have been indirect.

Why does any of this matter? Turkey, a NATO ally since 1952, is key to stability in the Middle East, as it is one of the most stable countries in the region, despite all internal conflicts in the past years. It is the most powerful non-nuclear nation in the world, the fourth-most powerful nation in NATO and can field the second-largest army in NATO. So, if not for the emotional component of using the nation as a negotiating piece back in 1962, the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey should be saved for the great strategic value it holds.

Now let’s be clear, nobody is saying that Turkey is free of any blame. Trying to exonerate the Turkish president would be like trying to persuade the police you didn’t commit the murder while wielding the victim’s head. And while lambasting U.S. officials and calling the U.S. the problem itself does not help tensions, the Turkish president has attempted to patch the relationship between both countries by asking the secretary of state to find a diplomatic resolution. In an attempt to make amends, the secretary of state said both countries can “resolve (the) issues with mutual understanding.” The ball is now in the U.S.’s court, but the country’s leader seems to be too busy tweeting about the NFL.

Roberto Votta is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at robertovotta2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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