Turkish-US relations have faced many serious stress tests over the past 50 years. The catalyst in overcoming those crises was making strategic considerations, which always underlined the dependence of the two NATO allies on each other, regardless of their differences.
These strategic considerations appear to be weakening now, as the regional priorities of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and the United States no longer overlap, and in many cases conflict with each other.
That is certainly the case in Syria, where the two countries are at odds over Washington’s alliance with Syrian Kurdish groups against the Islamic State (IS). Ankara insists these groups are linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging a terrorist war against Turkey for over 30 years to gain independence at best or some degree of autonomy at worst.
The fact that the PKK is also considered a terrorist organization by the United States has not prevented Washington from cooperating with what Turkey says are PKK extensions in Syria, namely the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
What really turned the tide in Turkish-US relations, however, was the failed coup attempt in July 2016, which Ankara says was masterminded by Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic preacher residing in Pennsylvania.
The refusal by the United States to extradite Gulen on the grounds of insufficient evidence, when linked with Washington’s alliance with the PYD and YPG, has convinced Erdogan and members of his administration that Washington is trying to destabilize Turkey.
Ankara is also angry over what it claims is US support, not just for Gulen, but for other members of what Turkish officials call the Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization (FETO). Supporters of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as well as many in Erdogan’s clique, have, in short, come to see the United States as an existential threat.
It is not clear, therefore, if the “strategic partnership” between the two countries can survive the latest bitter quarrel triggered by Washington’s decision to suspend non-immigration visas for new visa applications from Turkish citizens.
The background to Washington’s decision has been extensively covered by Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse.
The statement by the US ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, indicates that the decision was taken after the arrest of Turkish staff members at the US mission. Some say they were arrested on suspicion of collaborating with FETO, an accusation the American side vehemently denies.
One key barometer of sentiments toward the United States among Erdogan supporters, and no doubt many members of Erdogan’s clique, has been Ibrahim Karagul, the rabidly anti-American editor-in-chief of the daily Yeni Safak, a government mouthpiece.
Karagul believes that these latest developments are the latest link in Washington’s “undeclared war on Turkey.”
Claiming that the coup attempt was orchestrated by the United States, which used the FETO group to this end, Karagul wrote in his column that Washington’s aim was to “take control over President Erdogan in order to pull Turkey back into the US orbit.”
Karagul also accused Bass of being “responsible for all the murders” committed on the night of the coup.
Erdogan’s angry remarks aimed at the United States, and particularly at Bass, have further encouraged those who believe in a US hand in the coup attempt. Erdogan told reporters in Belgrade on Oct. 10, during an official visit to Serbia, that he no longer considered Bass to be the US representative, and tried to shift the blame for this latest crisis on the ambassador’s shoulders.
“If the ambassador took this decision on his own, then the US administration should not keep him here for one more minute,” E