Transatlantic Take

Build Trust with Ankara

A key challenge the new U.S. administration will face in the first 100 days is the partnership with Turkey.

A key challenge the new U.S. administration will face in the first 100 days is the partnership with Turkey. Though difficult at times, cooperation with Turkey makes it easier for the United States to deal with challenges from the Black Sea to the Middle East and North Africa. U.S.–Turkey cooperation has always been a high-value and high-maintenance relationship, but it has become exceptionally difficult to manage recently. Due to diverging priorities and mutual distrust, this relationship has been reduced to transactional cooperation. Anti-Americanism has always been widespread in Turkey, though not very deep, but it has reached a new level since the failed coup attempt, as the suspected leader of the upset resides in the United States with a Green Card.

What is new in current Anti-Americanism is that even the small, but influential, pro-U.S. constituency in Turkey is disillusioned with Washington. Turkey’s image in the United States is not any better. Turkey’s democratic backslide, the governing style of President Erdoğan, and disapproving public statements coming from Turkish officials about the United States have left Ankara without many friends in Washington. At the end of its “zero problems with neighbors” policy, Turkey ended up with few neighbors without problems. After the current Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım came to office last spring, a charm offensive was launched to normalize relations with both Russia and Israel. While improved relations between Turkey and Russia eliminates one crisis situation for NATO, and is a positive development for the United States, the building of any further  strategic ties with Russia would surely complicate U.S.–Turkey cooperation. Here is a list of important steps the U.S. administration can take to improve the quality of U.S.–Turkey cooperation:

• Build a Turkey policy: Policy toward Turkey has become an extension of other policy areas leading to perceived inconsistencies to Washington’s approach to Ankara. A new Turkey policy should define the scope of the relationship, the significance of Turkey for the United States, the factors internal or external to Turkey that would increase or decrease this significance, the relevance of Turkey’s democracy to the relationship, the key actors in the United States and in Turkey who will manage the relationship, and future risks in the cooperation and how they will be managed.

• Build trust: The U.S.–Turkey relationship suffers from mutual distrust and this must change. The new U.S. administration needs to take immediate actions to reassure Turkey that its security is a top priority of U.S. policies in Turkey’s neighborhood, such as in Syria and Iraq. Turkey must also take action to reassure the United States that it will refrain from policies that risk undermining U.S. efforts in the region.

• Widen the scope: U.S.–Turkey cooperation is largely a security relationship. Previous administrations have aimed at widening the scope, particularly to include economy and trade, but not much ground has been covered. These efforts should continue.

• Support: The United States should continue promoting Turkey’s further integration into the Euro-Atlantic community in ways that will not disturb European allies. While it is difficult to make the case for Turkey’s European Union accession these days, Turkey’s eventual inclusion in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is equally important.

• Engage: Anti-Americanism is at its height in Turkey and the pro-U.S. constituency is too exhausted to stand up for the relationship. It is crucial that the United States re-engages and empowers the pro-U.S. constituency in Turkey and listens to their analysis of what may have gone wrong in the relationship. Turkey would be advised to do the same with the pro-Turkey constituency in the United States. While it is no substitute for dialogue between officials, which should also increase, contacts between the wider policy communities on both sides should be increased and diversified.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of State