Are Turkey and the USA on a collision course? Not necessarily

Where are we headed? The Brunson crisis has gone on for several weeks – does Erdogan really think Trump will concede?

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, | updated: 16:03

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Eliran Aharon

Modern Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ("Father of the Turks") - in 1923 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire during WWI (1917). He led Turkey into the modern age by abandoning Islam and using constitutional and governmental means to force a secular nationalist agenda on the country's citizens. The secular state allowed many of the things prohibited by Islam, such as the sale of alcoholic beverages and their consumption in public, civil marriages, casinos and betting, while some of the things permitted by Islam became illegal, such as polygamy and child marriage.

 As the years passed, the demographic makeup of the country changed, and the mostly liberal and secular urban public declined in number due to a lowered birth rate and high rate of emigration, while the rural public, more traditional and religiously observant, increased and gained strength due to its high birthrate and low level of emigration. This cultural change was reflected in the 1996 elections when Necmettin Erbakan, head of the Islamic Welfare Party, was elected prime minister and deposed in 1997, the following year.

Erbakan's pupil, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, head of  the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was elected prime minister in March 2003 and served  for two terms until August 2014, when he was elected President - one whose authority is steadily expanding as time goes on. The renewal of an Islamist party regime in a state which had an 80 year tradition of a secular government caused consternation in the West among leaders, journalists, intellectuals and academics who feared a Turkish version of the 1979 Iranian revolution that brought Khomeni to power.  In order to calm them down, Erdogan decided to play both sides simultaneously – at least in public.

Playing both sides in the religious sphere

In order to  assuage the fears of those inside Turkey and outside of it who were concerned about his becoming president, Erdogan ran a clever election campaign which included holding a press conference during daylight hours in the month of the Ramadan fast where he enjoyed  a sandwich in full view of the assembled  photographers and media representatives. Audible sighs of relief were heard worldwide, with no one understanding that this did not prevent him from simultaneously being a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist – and in fact, some time later, Erdogan admitted that the sandwich was a publicity stunt meant to soothe Western nerves. Playing both sides…

In the military sphere

Tiurkey is a full-fledged member of NATO and an honorary member from its founding. The Incirlik Air Base in Turkey was the front line position of NATO forces against the USSR, and U2 and SR71 planes took off from the base to missions above the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies, without any of those countries being capable of intercepting the high flying planes.

When the Islamist Party took over the Turkish regime, Turkey's relations with the West became complicated, starting with the Erdogan regime's decision to stop NATO forces from invading Iraq from Turkish soil. This came as a great surprise to the US, causing a major change in the plans for the Second Gulf War.  Erdogan did not leave NATO, but did not cooperate with any of the organization's military plans in any Islamic state: Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.  Simultaneously, a member and a non- participant. Playing both sides...

Relations with Middle Eastern states

Turkey is attempting to gain recognition as a regional power overseeing the area's other countries on the basis of 1) its national pride 2) j400 years of historical consciousness as an Empire (1517-1917) and 3) political Islamic ideology which leads Erdogan to believe that he alone is fulfilling Allah's will.

The Arab regimes have understood Erdogan's motives since 2003 and he has them greatly concerned. Bashar Assad had an excellent relationship with him until 2011, with the need for visas waived for Turks visiting Syria and vice versa. This is unusual in Arab states, where a visa is always necessary to travel from one to another. Erdogan blew a fuse, however, when Assad the Alawite began butchering his Sunni Muslim citizens and particularly Muslim Brotherhood members, Erdogan's ideological brothers. At that point, all the former agreements vanished into thin air, and in 2014, Erdogan even supported ISIS.

Erdogan has a dual relationship with Egypt as well: He wholeheartedly supported Morsi, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood president from late June 2012 till early July 2013, and has an ongoing feud with al-Sisi who deposed Morsi. This is not about the relations between Turkey and Egypt, but is concentrated on the personal relationship between Erdogan and whoever rules Egypt. Everything is personal and revolves around the ideological preferences of one person – Erdogan.

Erdogan's special love is reserved for Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdogan supports and helps them wholeheartedly in every way he can, although he is careful not to transfer funds to them so as not to go up against the US law that forbids transferring funds to Hamas as they are listed as a terrorist organization.

The most extreme incident was the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship filled with IHH terrorists that tried to sail through the blockade on Gaza in May 2010. On the one hand Erdogan has diplomatic relations with Israel and on the other, he supports those who call for its destruction. Playing both sides…

When it comes to Israel, Erdogan plays both sides in other ways. Turkish construction companies, headed by Yilmaz, build upscale office buildings in the center of Tel Aviv, Turkish factories manufacture clothes, food and electric appliances for Israeli companies. On the other hand, however, Erdogan sends tens of millions of dollars to support Islamic resistance to Israeli rule in East Jerusalem, an inseparable part of Israel's capital, its faith and history.

Playing both sides in Europe and the US

Erdogan's dream is to be accepted to the European Union so that he can reap economic benefits from joining one of the world's strongest and largest economic bodies. Up until the economic crisis of 2008, Erdogan was insulted to the depths of his soul if some European leader said something against Turkey joining the EU, because he realized that Europe did not want to give him the opportunity to export millions of Muslims to Europe and speed up its Islamization.

On the other hand, when Greece was in dire economic straits and needed massive European economic aid, Erdogan was glad not to be an EU member. The last thing he wants to do is to help the Greek Christians he hates so much. He wants to be accepted to the EU, but not really….

Then came the migrant wave of 2015 that flooded Europe with over 1 million refugees, some of them Syrian but most of them Iraqi, Afghan or Pakistanis who, if they managed to survive crossing the Aegean Sea, landed in small, rickety boats on the Greek coast. Where did they sail from? Syria? Iraq?   Not at all. They embarked on the dangerous sea journey from Turkey, the country they fled to from their collapsing states. According to international law, the minute a refugee arrives in a functioning state, he may not be expelled from it and must be granted refuge within its borders. In other words, all the hundreds of thousands of refugees who reached Greece were sent on their way by Turkey, which is not in a state of war.

Do you get it? Erdogan, the celebrated Islamist, sent hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, the overwhelming majority of them Muslim, to drown (remember the little boy with the red shirt lying on the shore?) or to reach heretic European states.

Why didn't the Europeans stop the Erdogan-created migrant wave before it hit their shores? Who knows.  

Later on, they paid him a billion euro to stop the migration from Turkey to Europe. He took the money and continued sending migrants. Why? Because that is the way to turn Europe into a Muslim continent. Why did he want to do this? Because he is an Islamist.

Then US  President Barack Obama, said not a word against Erdogan and the wave of immigrants he created. Conspiracy theorists will tell you that Obama, like Erdogan, wanted Europe to become Islamic. The extensive reports in the media about the refugee wave helped Trump win the election, because he spoke of stopping the lesser wave of migrants that reached North America. Trump knew who was responsible for the wave of migrants, and it makes sense to infer that his opinion of Erdogan already began to be forged during that period.

The personal aspect of the issue cannot be ignored. Trump and Erdogan are both extremely sure of themselves and their ideas, two men whose style of leadership is at once personal, loud and emotional. They both love to speak straight to their supporters, rallying them to whatever cause they are espousing and radicalizing their opinions.  The chance that the two will have a head on collision  is  the same as the probability that two billy goats trying to cross a narrow bridge from opposing ends will bump into one another.

Trump's opinion of Islamist leaders is well known. He has the same level of affection for Erdogan as he has for the Iranian mullahs, but instead of taking that into account, Erdogan has done everything he can to infuriate the US president. In Syria, Erdogan collaborates with the Russians, says nothing about the heavy bombing that shattered the US-supported anti-Assad forces, and battles the Syrian Kurds although he is aware that the US that armed them so they would fight ISIS.

Erdogan came out loudly and publicly against Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and once it was a fait accompli, called a conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) representing 57 Islamic states in order to condemn Trump's action and work against it. What was he thinking? That Trump would send a recorded blessing to the conference?

That's when the Pastor Brunson issue surfaced. Erdogan has had him incarcerated since 2016, at first in prison and now under house arrest, for allegedly taking part in the rebellion against the government. I do not know what really happened there, but it seems that Trump simply does not believe that a Christian leader, whose activities are totally religion-oriented, would take part in a military coup. Trump convinced Israel to release a woman suspected of transferring funds to Hamas, expecting the quid pro quo to be Brunson's release, but that did not happen. What was Erdogan thinking?  That a leader whose voters are in a large part Evangelists would give up the efforts to release an Evangelist pastor?  Yet the Brunson crisis has gone on for several weeks – does Erdogan really think Trump will concede?

Trump took the economic steps he knows how to do without burning all his bridges, from sanctions against two ministers to a tax on metals. These are sanctions that can be stopped in a moment, but Erdogan has not given in and is ready to sacrifice his country's economy on the altar of his inflated ego. The Turkish lira is in a state of collapse, the stock market has crashed, Qatar – another terror and Muslim Brotherhood sponsoring country – is offering aid, but Erdogan has not yet freed Bronsun.

Where are we headed? It looks as though there are behind the scenes contacts whose goal is to find a solution, but it is clear that Trump does not see Erdogan as a partner despite his formal NATO membership. He may even have given the USAF orders to prepare for the day Erdogan expels the US from Incirlik – yes, even that is being talked about by some voices in Turkey.

It is possible that some kind of solution will be found, one that allows both leaders to preserve their honor and images. It will not be easy, but from this important podium I would like to humbly suggest a solution to the two of them:  Bronsun has a weak heart, he is beginning to feel ill, his health is deteriorating and his llfe is endangered. Erdogan can arrange the "patient's" medical transfer to Europe as a lifesaving goodwill gesture and after two days of tests in the US army hospital in Germany, Trump can remove the sanctions, welcome Bronsun and let Erdogan come out a winner as well. Playing both sides again – but so what?

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky


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