Former US Allies peeling off under Trump: Turkey halts US Visas

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US and Turkey have ceased processing non-immigrant visas for one another’s citizens. That’s right. If you’re an American and were planning to visit Istanbul this fall, unpack your bags.

In a world of abnormal goings-on, this one is really weird.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has used the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, as a pretext for moving his country away from democracy and toward an illiberal authoritarianism. He has closed universities and newspapers, jailed journalists, dissidents and academics, and fired 150,000 people from government jobs. The Turkish government maintains that the coup was led by military officers from the Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gulen, a rightwing religious leader who fled Turkey in the late 1990s and lives in Pennsylvania. Only a fraction of those persons targeted, however, have been Gulencis (200,000 people did not act as coup plotters).

Members of the Turkish cabinet have openly charged Barack Obama with having been behind the coup, which is ridiculous. A billionaire crony of Erdogan attempted to buy influence with Trump by hiring the security firm of Michael Flynn, Trump’s first National Security Adviser. Flynn allegedly thought seriously about kidnapping the elderly Gulen and rendering him back to Turkey for trial. As it happened, Flynn was fired for not disclosing the extent of his foreign emoluments.

Since Flynn’s departure, US relations with Turkey have plummeted. Ankara abhors the US strategy of depending on the Syrian Kurds to defeat ISIL in Raqqa, fearing that armed and trained Kurds will turn separatist and make trouble over the border in Turkey. Erdogan’s bodyguards have beaten protesters on US soil whenever he has come to the US, viewing all of them as Gulenist terrorists, and the bodyguards were indicted, causing Erdogan to squawk.

But then a couple of weeks ago, Turkey arrested a US embassy employ of Turkish origin on grounds of being a Gulenist and hence a terrorist.

You can’t go around arresting embassy employees; international law frowns on that sort of thing.

So the US cut off all Turks from coming to the US except on immigration visas. Trips for tourism or business are no longer possible. Then Turkey reciprocated.

All this hurts Turkey economically in a way it does not hurt the US. Some 13 percent of Turkey’s GDP comes from tourism, which has taken severe hits the last couple of years. American tourists are a small percentage of the total traveling to Turkey, but American businessmen have lots of investments in the country. Erdogan boasted of having attracted $20 billion in foreign investment in his first decade in power as prime minister.

One of those investors who can no longer go off to inspect his property in Istanbul is Donald J Trump.

Turkey and the United States have been allies since the beginning of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union in the late 1940s. Turkey was a recipient of Marshall Plan rebuilding funds and was brought into NATO. Turkish troops fought alongside American ones in the Korean War and the Afghanistan War. Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base has been a key asset for US air power in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Neoconservatives of the early 2000s even counted Britain and Turkey, both allies of the US and of Israel, as the only two permanent friends the United States has.

Now the US-Turkey special relationship is in shambles.

As far as I can tell, the main blame for the deterioration of relations between the US and Turkey lies with the paranoid style of Erdogan and his officials.

It may also be, however, that Trump has cut such a bizarre figure that neither Turkey nor anyone else is afraid of the full might of the US at all any mor

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18 Responses

  1. International law frowns on arresting embassy employees. Breaking into embassy property would be frowned upon as well. Turkey has alternative ‘allies’, I don’t imagine Erdogan takes the prospect of losing US tourists that seriously, and no doubt a word in the right ear can provide visa exceptions for useful business entities. These things are childish and simply shouldn’t get that far but when you eviscerate your Department of State they do become more likely. We can probably expect more of them.

  2. We are witnessing the further fracturing of the post WWII US foreign policy. The core of that policy was to contain the USSR. This policy included a lot of bad stuff; supporting dictators and other miserable regimes like Israel, that could be justified as real politik. That policy no longer make sense.

    There are far more nimble players on the stage now such as China and Russia that need a more nimble US to counter. We have a foreign policy cast in amber that needs to change and change fast.

  3. Interesting post. A bit rough typographically, which doesn’t really matter, except here:

    > Erdogan’s bodyguards have been protesters on US soil

    I think you “beaten” (not “been”). That word makes a difference.

  4. One ally the US can count on in any military conflict is their favourite poodle, we Brits over here in the UK. It has just been announced that we are preparing an unfinished aircraft carrier with no planes to put on it for action in North Korean waters or very nearby. Presumably our halfwit foreign secretary, Boris Johnson and that old fool defense minister, Michael Fallon have been given their orders from Trump and his junta of generals. If this is the case then prime minister Mrs May will see this as heaven sent distraction from her woes as a truly useless leader. Never mind the millions of men, women and children that will be slaughtered, Trump and May need a distraction from their own domestic problems and what better way to achieve that than war.

    • Seems to me the UK and Israel have committed themselves to the management of the US as the strategic lynchpin of their foreign policies. All countries tend to that relationship, since in terms of economics (aside from any other issues), when the US sneezes the World catches cold.

      Israel has succeeded at this better than the UK, since it has done so well financially through the exercise of its power. The UK, at least historically, has at least been listened to sympathetically, but it comes off more as a supplicant. Never a good posture to assume.

      As for Erdogan shooting himselve in the foot with American tourists and trade, has there ever been that much compared to what Turkey does with Russia? Erdogan has the experience of cutting them off from a couple years ago, so he should know. What’s more interesting is how, in his egomania, the guy may begin to stray into the irrational. He’s always struck me as pretty shrewd, but evidence of that is more consistent in his past. I wonder at what point Erdogan’s current cunning becomes terminal hubris.

      ALSO, most embassies have dozens, if not hundreds of locals working for them, in service and support roles. Is it really true that the the host country, or international law, grants the gardeners and janitors some special status?

      • What you say about lesser military powers being stuck with the US is just part of the problem. Lesser financial powers seem to be propping it up too. Saudi Arabia was sucked into that role by using its OPEC votes to create the petrodollar; Japan came following with its boom money; now China is getting in far too deep. Why do they invest in a dollar that has been losing value since 1971?

        Between the countries that tolerate American power for military hegemony and ones that tolerate it for financial hegemony, we Americans can get away with infinite stupidity. No one can form a coalition to teach us a really deep lesson. Losing wars is not enough, it seems. Breaking the global financial markets in 2008 was not enough.

        It’s as if we’re holding the world hostage, and we’ve just now realized that we can thus indulge our worst delusions by electing a Caligula. Neither people within or outside America can put a stop to this madness unless they’re willing to bite the bullet and make real sacrifices for the struggle.

        • If he cancels NAFTA it will be a shock to the Canadian and Mexican economies. They will be looking for more reliable, non-bullying partners.

        • Not “infinite stupidity.” No. No one has ever gotten away with “infinite” stupidity, and we won’t either.

  5. The other aspect of this is Turkey’s geographic position which makes it possible to exploit conflict between the US and Russia. Britain will be able to do that too when she’s shot of the constraints of the EU.

  6. This is truly amazing. Maybe partly due to the shambles our State Dept is in?
    I wonder how this affects US military personnel- and their families?

  7. it is suprising that the U.S.A. has “gotten in it” with Turkey. There are just so many similarities between Erdogan and Trump you’d think they were brothers from a different mother. Of course is no one is home at many position in the American administration, then Trump and his ilk simply don’t know what they are supposed to do.

    Perhaps Erdogan, like Trump doesn’t think of the ramifications of his actions hence the neglecting of the tourist industry.

    Most likely at some future date Erdogan will crawl into bed with Russia.

  8. We can now place precise dates on the American Century, that period in world history when it was obvious to everyone (except perhaps ourselves) that we had become a Gulliver among Lilliputians on the world stage, that the United States’ influence was dominant economically, diplomatically, militarily, culturally, and even (to a point) morally in every region of the globe. It began in 1917 with the US entry into World War I and ended in 2017 with the inauguration of Donald Trump. 100 years exactly.

    Now we are more like the cyclops after he met Odysseus — a one-eyed monster now rendered completely blind, staggering around in a rage until we finally fall like a tree.

    But it was fun while it lasted.

    • I am really impressed by the ability and willingness of the Americans to engage in self-criticism and introspection. This is a wonderful trait and it is a sign of strength. As someone who has been critical of U.S. foreign policy during the past few decades, I should say that I am not so pessimistic about America’s future. America is still by far the most dominant military and economic, and yes moral, power in the world, despite the major mistakes by its recent politicians. I think that the situation is not irreversible. When I think about other powers and whether I would like to live under the hegemony of another power rather than America, I still feel that America has many strengths: freedom of expression, the good nature of most of its citizens, its general feeling of benevolence, its love for freedom and democracy, its optimism, its unbounded energy and creativity, etc. I am hoping that Trump’s disastrous presidency will provide the necessary jolt to put America back on a proper course, which would be good both for America and for the world. It is the make or break period. America will either emerge out of this dark period stronger and more humane, or it will drag the rest of the world to the abyss with it. Let’s hope and let’s work for the first option.

      • That’s refreshing to hear, especially from someone with your perspective. I live in a high-immigrant college town, and I must say, most of my foreign-born friends seem much less freaked out than me. I’ll do what I can. Thanks for responding.

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