Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu penned an opinion piece published by USA Today on Monday urging the Trump administration to lift sanctions on his country, insisting that Turkey deserves friendlier treatment from Washington because it pays more into NATO than other allies and hosts an American airbase.
The Trump administration first sanctioned Turkish officials, then levied tariffs on Turkish exports, after Ankara refused repeated demands to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, arrested in 2016 on charges of spying for the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and the Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Brunson denies the charges, and the United States insists Turkey has not provided any evidence proving its claims.
The tariffs and sanctions have damaged an already weakened Turkish economy and outraged President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who on Monday compared an attack on Turkey’s economy to a “direct strike … on our call to prayer,” implying that sanctions on Turkey are akin to a war on Islam.
Çavuşoğlu took a different approach in his USA Today piece, instead suggesting that Turkey is a more valuable and reliable ally than some Western European countries who have dismissed their NATO obligations on military spending. “New American sanctions targeting Turkey — and the threat of more to come — alienate one of the few NATO allies that has been ahead of the curve,” he wrote.
Unlike other nations that have not increased military spending in an attempt to reach NATO’s goal that every country invest the equivalent of two percent of its GDP on defense, “Turkey has committed to reaching this goal by 2024, and our spending on military equipment is already above the NATO guideline of 20 percent,” Çavuşoğlu noted. “We also are one of the oldest and most strategically located members of NATO — serving as guardian of the alliance’s southern flank and providing its second largest military force.”
Çavuşoğlu also made the case that the Incirlik Air Base, which hosts American troops, “has been a critical staging ground, putting allied forces hours closer than other bases in the region and has made a substantial difference in the ability to successfully root out ISIS [the Islamic State].”
“This snapshot of the role Turkey plays in our 2018 world ought to make plain that we are no rogue regime that can be shaken down on a whim,” the foreign minister argued, adding:
This reckless escalation needs to stop. The U.S. and Turkey may have divergent views on significant issues, but we strategically align on a wide range of others. For everyone’s sake, we should address our disagreements with diplomacy, rather than threats and provocation, and with a commitment to facts and perspective.
While making the case that Turkey is working to increase its military might, Çavuşoğlu neglected to note that Turkey largely failed to prevent Islamic State recruits from entering Syria, allowing its border to serve as connective tissue between Islamic State leadership in the “caliphate” and would-be jihadists abroad. Reports during the peak days of the “caliphate” quoted frustrated anonymous medical staff in Turkey lamenting that much of their work now focused on saving the lives of wounded jihadists crossing back into Turkey after getting shot or caught in a bomb in Syria. When the “caliphate” began to collapse in 2017, a flood of jihadists once again crossed the border back into Turkey.
Çavuşoğlu also failed to mention that the sanctions related to the Brunson arrest have done nothing to hurt Turkish-U.S. military cooperation, according to the Pentagon.
“There has been no interruption in our relationship with Turkey at all,” U.S. Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters at a briefing Monday, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
Washington has repeatedly condemned Brunson’s arrest, receiving little than scorn from Erdoğan, who admitted in September that Brunson was being held hostage to be used in a trade for Gülen. American authorities have refused to extradite Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, citing a lack of evidence tying him to any relevant crimes. At the beginning of August, the U.S. Treasury announced it would sanction Turkey’s minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gul, and its minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu, for their role in Brunson’s prolonged detention, which has severely damaged his health. Shortly thereafter, President Donald Trump announced he would double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum because “our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”
“An attack on our economy is no different from a direct strike against our flag and call to prayer. The purpose is not different. It aims to bring Turkey and the Turkish people to their knees,” Erdoğan said during his Eid al-Adha message this week, without mentioning the United States. “We are a kind of a people who prefer to be beheaded instead of being chained around the neck.”