The most important agenda item in the meeting to take place between President Erdoğan and US President Trump will be the S-400/F-35 crisis. Can Trump take a step to comfort Erdoğan despite the series of stern warnings by the leading institutions and actors within the American system? More importantly, will Erdoğan keep his strong hand abroad following the June 23 defeat?
Translation: Melissa Clissold / Subtitles: Egemen Gök
Hello, good day. It’s my second broadcast today. During the morning or lunch hours I tried to explain how jurisdiction has become politicised in Turkey through the Canan Kaftancıoğlu case. Now, I would like to talk a little bit about foreign policy. As you know, tomorrow morning there is going to be a meeting between President Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump. It is said that a lot will come up on the agenda for this meeting which will take part during the summit in Osaka, Japan.
Yet, because of the fact that Trump is a different type of American President, because it is said that he is not really someone who can concentrate in meetings, it doesn’t seem likely that everything will be discussed. But there are some critical matters. The most important one is the defence systems, the S-400’s that Turkey will buy from Russia. President Erdoğan says that these will be in place from July onwards, and that everything is ready. And we know that there are some serious objections regarding this from different ranks within Washington for a long time. Even if we have not heard anything very clear from Trump regarding this issue, a lot of important names in the US and the American Congress have made some very open objections.
It is being said that several sanctions may occur if Turkey purchases these defence systems. It is especially being said that it will be impossible for Turkey to buy F-35s, the project of which it is a part. President Erdoğan put across a very clear message. He said there was no turning back from S-400s, that this was an issue of the sovereignty of Turkey, and that he would not let anyone interfere. He cannot say, and has not said “We will buy them” regarding the F-35s. Yet, it has been said that this will be carried to the international court by Turkey. However, in the situation of there being a problem regarding the F-35 agreement, it was stressed that this would not be resolved in international courts, but will be negotiated between the parties. Therefore, it does not look likely that this will go to international arbitration.
In any instance, the S-400 situation is a serious foreign policy crisis for Turkey. It has been for a while. And it brings about the questioning of Turkey’s NATO membership. For this reason, it is a very important issue. The West and other members of NATO place grave importance on this issue. And Turkey is claiming that it is not that important. That this won’t impact Turkey’s NATO membership. After a certain phase, this is a very technical question in terms of military and diplomacy. Experts are debating this in different ways. We have discussed this a lot in particularly with Ömer Taşpınar and Gönül Tol on our program “Transatlantic.” This is a weight that Turkey has carried for some time, and it looks like it will be one of the most important crisis aspects for Turkey’s foreign policy and this respect Turkey, especially Erdoğan. When we mention Turkey, Erdoğan comes to mind; it’s like this in the West and the East. This is the same for Putin and for Trump; when one mentions Turkey, Erdoğan comes to mind. The Russian system is similar to Turkey to a certain extent.
Just as Putin is the first and last person there, Erdoğan is the same in Turkey. Yet, the same cannot be said of the presidential system in the US. Trump is not a Putin, neither is he an Erdoğan. He may want to be like them. He may be acting like them. But I don’t think he will ever have the opportunity to form a relationship with Trump the way he has with Putin. He may think that he has formed it, yet other mechanisms within the United States of America may, to a certain extent, prevent Trump from making decisions and applying them on his own. The American Congress is at the top of this list. But other than that, we can see after the latest incident, many important institutions and actors such as the American Ministry of Defence (Pentagon), The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The National Security Advisor look like they won’t compromise much regarding the issue of S-400s.
Can Trump solve this problem here, how can he solve it? In all honesty, I don’t that he can. He may appear to solve it, he may make certain promises. Yet, I don’t think he’ll be able to surpass, to by-pass all the mechanisms within the American system. It is certain that there will be very serious strategic and economic problems for Turkey due to the S-400s. Yet Erdoğan has always created an atmosphere as if this will be resolved by saying “We will discuss this all with Trump in Japan.” The first photo they took together was a good photo from Erdoğan’s perspective. However, I don’t think that a satisfactory result for Erdoğan will come out of the meeting tomorrow. Or even if Trump comes up with some promises, even if he makes certain promises, I don’t think that the American system will allow these to come into fruition. There’s a very serious situation at bay. Erdoğan is no longer the Erdoğan he used to be. On Wednesday when we spoke to Ömer Taşpınar and Gönül Tol on “Transatlantic”, they stressed this in particular.
Because Erdoğan, until recently, was seen as the only power in Turkey. He was seen as an undefeatable power. He was seen as someone who was impossible to challenge. This idea was shaken on the March 31. There was an expectation in the West, especially in Washington, that Erdoğan would win in one way or another. But the exact opposite happened and Erdoğan was faced with a stinging defeat. Therefore, in the world’s eyes, be it for Americans, Europeans, Russians or the Chinese, Erdoğan is no longer seen as the leader that always wins, a leader destined to win. He is seen as a leader that has started to lose and perhaps a leader destined to lose. Thus, we can see once more how the June 23 decision was a huge strategic mistake in Erdoğan’s political life.
This wrong decision will truly weaken his hand when it comes to foreign policy. Because, the changing atmosphere with this election, the political balances that will inevitably change with the election, among all this, foreign actors who keep all of this in mind, will feel stronger in the hands of foreign actors. From this moment on, Trump’s position in the United States of America is pretty secure. Even if there are plenty of investigations regarding this issue, he doesn’t look like he is being affected by this much. Because he is manging the economy relatively well. And it looks like it is certain that he will be the Republican Candidate for the next election. And it is said that his chance of winning is quite high. Because he has managed to do certain things. Even if he made a lot of mistakes, even if he lied etc. with regards to foreign policy and internally, he always managed to do something. Especially with the economy, he has captured a certain stability and growth. He is creating jobs in the face of unemployment. And the path in front of him is open. But on the other hand, the path in front of Erdoğan is now blocked.
Currently, friends are pointing out Pastor Brunson. This was one of the most important issues between Erdoğan-Trump. This American priest who was being put on trial from being a part of Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) – and he had a very important place in the eyes of Americans – in Trump’s eyes. Because he is an Evangelist pastor and the Vice President in America is an Evangelist. It was an issue they placed a lot of importance on. They had managed to bring back the priest after negotiations. And the Pastor, in the speech he made the other day in the American Congress, blamed Turkey for exporting radical Islam. When he says Turkey, he probably doesn’t mean any old civilian. He is blaming the Turkish government.
Pastor Brunson, who has a certain amount of popularity in America (and who also of course has a certain popularity in Turkey because of the Turkish judiciary) has also joined the bandwagon of dissing Turkey and the Turkish government. Generally, Erdoğan doesn’t have a very good image in the West, especially in the United States of America. During a certain time, favourableness was attributed to him. Now, for a certain time unfavourableness is being attributed towards him. Yet, no matter how much they criticise, American journalists, columnists, or politicians, always thought that they would have to work together with Erdoğan due to the perspective that Erdoğan would and could never be defeated. But everything changed on June 23.
Erdoğan seriously needs Trump. He wants Trump to keep him away from certain problems. There’s already an economic crisis in Turkey. There is a deepening economic crisis, there are raises etc. On top of this, with sanctions, with new sanctions that will come about due to the S-400’s, changes in the exchange rate and additional financial troubles, will not be good for Erdoğan, those ruling Turkey and the political power in Turkey. Therefore, he needs Trump to stop this from happening. But we can’t really say that Trump needs Erdoğan. Of course, he will prefer to do certain things with him. But I think this is the case.
I am someone who spent around two and a half years as a journalist in Washington. I know the political balances and institutions to a certain extent. And now, after June 23, certain mechanisms will have started to come into play – in terms of waning towards people who may take Erdoğan’s place. İmamoğlu comes first, of course. But I am also of the opinion that names like Ali Babacan, who are breaking away from the AKP, will also be evaluated in Washington. I don’t have anything tangible, but these cannot be ignored. His name is one they know quite closely, it is a name they have worked with quite closely and have trusted especially with regards to the economy. Therefore, Erdoğan is no longer a person that doesn’t have alternatives. And parallel to Turkey’s situation getting worst in foreign relations, it is also weaker in foreign politics, Erdoğan will not be paid attention as much as he used to. And this will show itself in relationships with the United States of America. It will show itself in the S-400 and F-35 crisis.
Let me say this again: Trump, The President of the US may say things that Erdoğan wants to hear. This is highly likely. But even if he says what Erdoğan wants to hear, this does not mean that Erdoğan will be able to act the way he wants to within the American system or get them to give on what they want. Because, the American system that sees that Erdoğan is weakening, institutions and individuals within the American system that do not like / take gratification from Erdoğan will do anything to punish – yes, this is the saying- Erdoğan. And therefore, Erdoğan’s relationship with the US, but also Europe and other countries, will not be as easy as it was before. Let’s end this week on this note. That’s all I have to say, have a good day.