Trump and Erdogan share a similar worldview. Trump has his America First and MAGA ideologies, while Erdogan wants to revive the Ottoman Empire.
They are both quite brutal when opponents put obstacles in the parts of their dreams of national greatness.
These similarities have made them fast friends. Remember how they connected well at the last fractious NATO summit. Remember the cheerful fist-bumping.
But now Trump and Erdogan seem headed for a fist fight. Their diplomatic fists are clenched.
On Wednesday, the Trump Administration declared it would sanction Erdogan’s Justice Minister, Abdulhamit Gul. It also slapped sanction on his Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu.
Trump’s people are preparing to target them for their roles in Turkey’s continued detention of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson.
Brunson was arrested in 2016, accused of participating in a coup to oust Erdogan. He denies it.
Sanctions Against A NATO Member?
Interestingly, both The United States and Turkey are NATO members. Sanctions are normally directed against NATO outsiders not insiders. But Trump believes more in America First than the West First.
Trump Effect Hits Turkey
Trump’s ability to move markets against opponents by just making an announcement has affected global economic titans, from Amazon to OPEC.
But for the first time, it hit Turkey directly.
News of the planned sanctions had an immediate impact in Turkey.
The stock market reacted badly.
Also, it seemed like a direct hit to the Turkish lira, as it went into a tailspin.
Brunson In Exchange For Gulen – Not Ozkan
Reports say Washington moved mountains to get Israel to release a Turkish citizen, Ebru Ozkan, arrested on suspicion of collaborating with the anti-Israel group Hamas, as part of efforts to get Brunson released.
They thought they had done enough to satisfy Erdogan. Then Foreign Minister Cavusoglu dropped a bombshell.
Turkey was also insisting that an ongoing probe on Halbank, a Turkish bank be dropped by the US as part of the deal.
The additional demand enraged US officials.
The Deeper Issue
The Halbank demand looks like a negotiation delay tactic, not a simple demand.
What’s The Price We Suspect Turkey Is Going After?
Fetullah Gulen, the influential Turkish cleric on exile in the US.
Erdogan wants Gulen hauled back to Turkey to face trials.
He has been going after Gulen’s schools around the world. He has gotten governments to shut some down.
Erdogan has accused Gulen of being the mastermind behind the bloody 2016 coup that almost got him killed.
Since the coup thousands of Gulen’s followers in Turkey have been jailed or sacked.
But the Americans are unlikely to comply. America is not in the habit of releasing dissidents to strongmen.
Turkey’s Response To The Planned Trump Sanctions
Turkey has promised a tit-for-tat response. An opposition party has suggested that Trump Towers, Turkey be seized.
If Erdogan touches Trump Towers, Trump will not take kindly to that.
What Will Washington Do If Erdogan Strikes Back Forcefully?
Washington’s hands are tied in so many ways.
Trump will not want to be accused of making Erdogan take back the US Air Base in Turkey.
The US needs that base to project its power in the Middle East.
Also, Trump is bound to face pressure from the EU, because the EU depends on Turkey to keep Syrian refugees from flooding into it.
And Erdogan is capable of opening the Turkey-EU border if he thinks it will hurt Trump in a struggle.
He always itches for a chance to show the world that Turkey is a power that ‘bows to no one’.
In conclusion, while Erdogan may not have a nuclear button like Trump, he has very effective defensive weapons that would severely hurt US interests in a keen diplomatic contest.
Since the US is highly unlikely to hand over Gulen to Erdogan, it might be wise for it to look for other sweeteners that would compensate.