President elect Trump wants to improve relations with Turkey

by omouggos

Michael Flynn, intelligence adviser to Trump wants better relations with Turkey.

Michael Flynn, intelligence adviser to Trump wants better relations with Turkey.

The seemingly unthinkable is upon us, following a dramatic election, and barring assassination, Donald Trump has been chosen to be the 45th President of the US. As the hysterical wailings of Hillary supporters resonate around us, now is the time to wonder how the Trump Presidency will potentially unfold.

To the opponents of Trump, they are hoping that his campaign promises were merely opportunistic rhetoric, meant to appeal to his base, and that he will not keep them. Obversely Trump’s supporters are praying that his promises were not empty rhetoric but that he will stick to his guns and implement them. Soon enough will we see whether he builds the wall, adopts an America first economic and foreign policy, and drains Washington’s fetid swamp of corruption among other things.

With all the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s future Presidency, in the realm of foreign policy, where his authority as Commander in Chief gives him some leeway, we can expect a more nationalistic slant as opposed to America’s past brand of globalism. China, Iran, ISIL, NATO, Russia and Syria are all geopolitical issues that Trump will be preoccupied with. However, rather surprisingly, since winning the election, Trump’s team has shown an interest in Turkey, with the apparent intention of improving Turkish-US relations.

Trump has not appeared to be overly knowledgeable towards Turkey, which is to be expected for an American business magnate, as most American’s know little about the country, outside of maybe Fezzes, kebabs and Turkish coffee, and even many of the experts seem to have a poor understanding of what is occurring there. During the US Presidential campaign, following the successful quelling of the July 15 coup, Trump offered his praises to President Erdoğan, much to the consternation of some of his supporters.1

During an interview Trump said “I give great credit to him [Erdoğan] for being able to turn that around. … The people came out of their homes, and they were not in favor of what the military was doing. So that was quite impressive from the standpoint of [the] existing government.” When asked about Erdoğan’s harsh response to the coup, Trump avoided being critical and instead argued that the US was in no position to lecture Turkey as it had its own problems, saying “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.

Beyond these statements, Trump has said little regarding Turkey, yet following the November 8 elections, that has changed. The Vice-President elect Mike Pence, speaking to Turkish newspaper Hürriyet said “Turkey is the U.S.’ most important ally in the region. We will bring our relations with Turkey to a better stance just like in the old days. … We will further enhance our relations.2

According another person close to the Trump campaign, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lieutenant General Michael Flynn the US should not provide a safe haven to Fethullah Gülen, the man accused of conducting the July 15 coup, and should seriously consider complying with Turkey’s extradition request for him. In an article Flynn wrote the following, which I am sure Erdoğan is greatly pleased by:3

“The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. … In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are. … We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests. Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS], as well as a source of stability in the region. It provides badly needed cooperation with U.S. military operations.”

Obviously the Trump administration believes Turkey to be a vital ally for America in the Middle East. Turkey’s strategic location means it has a pivotal role to play in the Syrian Civil War, the war against ISIL and it can potentially act as a buffer against Iran. Furthermore the recent warming of relations between Russia and Turkey is potentially problematic for the US. For these reasons, Trump and his administration’s promotion of good relations with Turkey appears to be a sensible foreign policy.

However, there is a little problem with this line of geopolitical reasoning, as it is predicated on the assumption that Turkey is willing to cooperate on America’s terms, whatever they may be, and not pursue her own agenda. Erdoğan is not a regular world leader who is only looking out for the interest of his nation, he goes well beyond that. He is an Islamist, just as Gülen is, who wants to expand the territory of his country to include the former possessions of the Ottoman Empire, a geopolitical transformation that I am sure Trump and Flynn do not desire in the Middle East.

Furthermore, when Flynn describes Turkey as “a source of stability in the region” such a characterization while potentially true, in the sense that Turkey does have the political, economic and military power to do engender regional stability, does not appear to be the case in reality, based on Turkey’s recent behavior. Is Turkey bringing stability to Syria through their Euphrates Shield operation which is largely targeting Kurdish militias in northern Syria? What about the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi government? Or Erdoğan proclaiming that the cities of Aleppo, Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk, Batumi, Thessaloniki, Kardzhali, Varna, all of which are apart of neighboring independent countries, are rightful parts of the Turkish national contract (Misak-i Milli)?4 Or Turkey’s habitual violation of Greek airspace5 or the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber? Are such actions consistent with being “a source of stability in the region”?

Now if Flynn is cognizant of the dangers posed by Gülen, then one would presume that he is knowledgeable and intelligent enough to recognize the analogous threat posed by Erdoğan. So then why is he advocating a conciliatory stance against Turkey? One explanation may be that Flynn’s judgment is clouded due to business relationships. It has been revealed that his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group Inc., was hired by a Dutch company called Inovo BV to lobby congress.6 Inovo BV “was founded by a Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin7 who holds a top position on Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board” which suggests it could be a front company of the Turkish government or Erdoğan. Such a business connection does not prove Flynn is in the pocket of Erdoğan, but it does raises some questions that should be addressed.

Another explanation is that Flynn is just being pragmatic, and realizes that for all of Turkey’s problems, it nonetheless remains an important nation in the region and having it in line with US foreign policy, will make the realization of that policy much easier. However, such pragmatism, if not well executed and tempered, can lead to some problems in the region.

To help better understand why, here is a bit of Russian wisdom as relayed by Alexander Solzenitsyn during a speech he gave to the AFL-CIO in 1975:8

“We have a Russian proverb: ‘Don’t call a wolf to help you against the dogs.’ If dogs are attacking and tearing at you, fight against the dogs; do not call a wolf for help. Because when the wolves come, they will destroy the dogs or drive them away, but they will tear you apart as well.”

Applying the Russian proverb to our case, the dog in question is ISIL and the wolf is Turkey. While ISIL is undoubtedly a dangerous and wicked group that most normal thinking people want extirpated from the earth, it lacks the resources of a modern nation state, which tempers the threat it poses to the region and the world. On the other hand Turkey is a regional power, having a decent level of economic development and the second biggest army in NATO. It is much more powerful than ISIL, hence the wolf and dog analogy.

While in the past and even currently it seems that Turkey has been to varying degrees supportive of ISIL and has shown little desire in wanting to destroy the group, if Turkey truly wanted to, albeit with some difficulty, they could defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq. While many would be understandably happy with such an outcome, an undesirable consequence would be Turkey having a strong foothold in northern Iraq and Syria, a good starting point from which to start the reconstitution of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East would also be greatly increased, thereby adding legitimacy to her claims of regional hegemony. So in effect you have replaced the dog (ISIL), with a  more difficult to deal with wolf (Turkey).

It does appear that ISIL is Trump’s main priority in the Middle East. He has even commented that the US should not be focusing on removing Assad but on dealing with ISIL.9 This objective largely explains Trump’s move towards Turkey, which is seen as a potential effective ally against ISIL, notwithstanding Turkey’s past facilitation of ISIL. Yet, if Trump becomes too fixated with fighting ISIL and containing Iran then he may, in pursuit of these objectives, help to facilitate Erdoğan’s neo-Ottoman expansionist dream, which may be just as bad as anything dreamt of by Iran or ISIL.

One can only hope that Flynn, and by extension Trump, fully understand what they are dealing with in Erdoğan, that he is an Islamist wanting to territorially expand Turkey. At this moment I suspect Trump, due to his lack of relevant experience, is unaware of Erdoğan’s true nature, currently seeing him as an useful ally in the region and not realizing the potential trouble he could cause. But Trump does appear to be adaptable and responsive, useful qualities in business, and I suspect and hope that as he has more dealings with Erdoğan, that he will realize the latter is not a true ally but instead is a wolf.

O Mouggos


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[4] Erdogan views Thessaloniki and other Balkan and Middle Eastern cities as Turkish territory

[5] The Hypocrisy of Turkey’s Downing of the Su-24 , A week of Turkish violations of Greek territory , Turkish vessel harasses Greek fishermen on Good Friday

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[8] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Warning to the West 1976 pp. 21

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