House votes widen U.S.-Turkey crack
As Turkey celebrated Republic Day on October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives took two important decisions to put more pressure on Ankara. One of them envisions military-economic sanctions to end the Syrian operation; the Republicans and the Democrats cooperated so it could pass with a staggering 403 votes against 16. The other decision has nothing to do with current issues. A bill that envisions the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide allegation, which had been proposed on April 11 this year, was now approved by 405 votes against 11. If the Senate approves these drafts, they’ll be submitted to Trump for approval.
This brings about an intriguing situation. Had the House of Representatives, most of which is formed by Democrats only issued sanctions in response to the Syrian operation, we could have assumed that they were doing so to corner Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan (who seems to be the main target of the sanctions) and also Trump through him. However, it looks as though the House brought up the Armenian draft resolution, which Turkey used to face every year around April 24, right at this moment just to hurt Turkey.
Therefore we could list the reasons for the House votes as follows:
1- A reaction to Turkey’s military operation in Syria and to the fact that it was targeting the YPG (the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party/PKK) which they viewed as “Kurdish allies” who “saved the Christians from ISIS persecution”;
2- A reaction to Erdoğan who’s collaborating with the Russians despite the U.S. objections and who American politicians no longer view as a “moderate” Islamist;
3- Using their votes to demonstrate the rise in reactive stances against Trump and attacking him also by using the Turkish card as they think that Trump has been defending Turkey.
The U.S. domestic politics have been so blinded by their struggle for power and some disagreements with Turkey, that they don’t refrain from jeopardizing state-to-state relations or from potentially severing a 70-year Western alliance tie.
What could the possible outcomes be?
According to American sources, it could have been more difficult for the sanction proposal to pass through Senate under different circumstances; the majority were Republicans and Trump had a certain influence on Senator Lindsey Graham. But there’s no guarantee on the Armenian issue; negative reactions towards Turkey (but really to Erdoğan) could manifest themselves there. This means:
1- It would be challenging for Turkey to maintain its decades-long diplomatic strategy of sidetracking Armenian bills by pulling Ambassadors or compromising on other issues. That’s why both Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu immediately and strongly retorted;
2- Under the spell of the Armenian bill, the Senate might lean more towards accepting sanctions. However, the Senate (as Graham said) may well wish to create and vote a new bill and send it back to the Representatives for correction;
3- If one or more of the bills pass at the Senate, (and there is always the two-thirds majority possibility) they’ll be submitted to President Trump, who will have to decide within ten days.
In this case, both Erdoğan and Turkey will be at Trump’s mercy.
But let’s say either the Senate of Trump reject the drafts, the big picture will still show us us that some of the cracks in the Turkey-U.S. relations are growing and getting more difficult to repair. It’s worth noting that the only different voice on the government floor in Ankara, when asked to buy a Russian-made Su-35s was National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s; he said no, as “We are F-35 partners”.
Is there a way out?
The relations between Turkey and the U.S are beginning to mold into the soldier-to-soldier style that they had back in the Cold War. But this time, there are contradictions between within the soldier fronts too.
The October 16 agreement between U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Erdoğan regarding Turkish military presence in Syria, and the Turkish permission to use the air space during the operation against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not seemingly help the relations run a little smoother. Yet the American media, with the effect of the YPG/PKK propaganda, is questioning why Turkey, who was supposed to have control over the Idlib region, has not noticed al-Baghdadi’s presence (who lives some five kilometers away from the Turkish border with his family) and acted accordingly. This situation must have also affected the unprecedented voting result at the House. The wrong assumption on the part of President Erdoğan and his AKP government that they could handle relations with the U.S. simply on a president-to-president basis is also one of the triggers of this situation. Neglecting the relations with Congress brought things to this point. Repairing relations will take time.
In the face of the current crisis, the harshness of the reactions from the United States indicates that there is also a certain log jam. When international relations get tangled up, it’s either sweet talk or sharp sword; one must avoid using the sword and not halt the talks. State-to-state relations between the U.S. and Turkey has been based on mutual strategic interests and too valuable to risk due to daily politics and discrepancies in the government-to-government relations. The way out of today’s crisis is through dialogue and diplomacy.