Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has purged the ranks of Turkey’s political and military establishments, jailed his political opponents, curtailed press freedom, expanded his executive powers and suppressed press and social media. He stands accused of financial corruption and human rights violations.
And he is a master at blaming others for problems of his own making.
In the past, those others have included political rivals … and Jews. Erdoğan considers as his muse Islamist ideologue Necip Fazıl Kısakürek, whose publications included the Turkish translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and who praised industrialist Henry Ford’s “The International Jew.”
These days, though, the target of his ire is the United States.
What he blames our country for is the fall of the Turkish lira to record lows, a situation that has raised fears that the country is on the verge of an economic meltdown. On Friday, the Turkish lira suffered its biggest one-day devaluation in nearly two decades, dropping more than 14 percent against the dollar.
Turkey’s economic crisis, however, is the result of the country’s excessive foreign currency debt, combined with Mr. Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism and what economists call his “unorthodox ideas” about interest rate policy, which have resulted in soaring inflation. Put simply, the Turkish president has driven the Turkish economy into a deep hole.
President Trump has indeed, at least potentially, intensified that crisis, by levying new heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum.
But Turkey’s severe economic problems were not caused by American policies, only by Mr. Erdoğan’s headstrong, stubborn economic mismanagement.
Relations between Turkey and the U.S. are deteriorating. Once a close ally and reliable NATO partner, Turkey, under Erdoğan, has now come to portray the U.S. to his people as an enemy.
The change of relations has been brewing for a long while. For Erdoğan, the Americans, first under President Obama and now under President Trump, are patronizing bullies who expect Turkey to toe the line and follow orders. Anti-Americanism has been rife in Turkish politics in part because Erdoğan has fanned it and used the ensuing hyper-nationalism to his political advantage. Ankara views the United States as exhibiting extremely poor judgment in Syria, both during the early years of the civil war in that country, when Erdoğan pushed for a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone for anti-Assad rebels, to later on in the conflict, when Washington began partnering, arming and providing air support to Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey labels as terrorists.
But the U.S.-Turkey relationship has further soured of late. One of the more recent issues affecting U.S.-Turkish relations is a dispute over an American clergyman who has been jailed in Turkey since December 2016.
Turkey has accused evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Craig Brunson of spying and “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member.” Brunson is on trial and faces up to 35 years in prison if he is found guilty.
The United States considers the charges false, and that Mr. Brunson’s religion, not any association with “terror groups,” are at the root of his incarceration. The U.S. placed sanctions on two Turkish officials earlier this month because of Brunson’s case.
“Shame on you, shame on you,” Erdoğan declared at a rally, reiterating his refusal to release the clergyman. “You are swapping your strategic partner in NATO for a pastor.”
At the same time, the fact that a Turkish citizen is living freely in the United States has evoked tantrums from Mr. Erdoğan. Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish moderate Muslim cleric based in Pennsylvania whom Erdoğan blames as the orchestrator of an attempted coup. Erdoğan has asked for Mr. Gulen’s extradition for many years but Washington has refused to send him to what would likely be a long prison sentence or death until Turkey provides some concrete evidence of his guilt.
Now, the new tariffs are exercising Mr. Erdoğan. He has declared that Turkey is not afraid of outside “threats,” and added that the country will continue to enjoy good economic relations with several major nations, “from Iran, to Russia, to China and some European countries.”
In a New York Times op-ed published yesterday, the Turkish leader lectured the U.S. that, “Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”
The Turkish leader’s bluster, though, isn’t likely to deter President Trump’s hard line regarding an ally-turned-adversary. Nor should it.