The phone call between presidents Erdoğan and Trump was the warmest development in Turkey-U.S. relations since Obama’s cold calls in past years. However, now, Turkish people need to focus on rational interests and diplomacy rather than act based on feelings.
In addition, to stop illegal immigration, the Trump White House reiterated its commitment to building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and issued an executive order to prohibit citizens of seven countries from entering the United States. At the same time, the administration launched a diplomatic effort to set up “safe zones” in Syria and neighboring countries by reaching out to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Since winning the presidential race in November, Mr. Trump has encountered fierce criticism from his opponents. His travel ban, dubbed the Muslim ban, was seen by the world media as a measure that could fuel racism, rights violations and discrimination – not to mention a huge favor to radicals around the globe. Again, there are rumors that the White House was preparing to terror-list the Muslim Brotherhood and talking to Gulf countries about it.
Based on what happened in President Trump’s first two weeks in office, it would appear that the immigration debate will focus on Muslims – just as the war on terror had been reduced to fighting “radical Islamism.” Moving forward, this trend won’t necessarily lead to more talk about Trump’s Realpolitik or “alternative facts.” It will aggravate the ideological debate in the United States.
In contrast, the Trump administration doesn’t seem too concerned about ideological resistance. If anything, the White House believes that their critics represent the mainstream media and expect the wave of attacks to die down soon. As a matter of fact, Mr. Trump thinks that his success depends on the administration’s ability to defeat the media.
To be clear, President Trump’s brand of politics has a serious following outside the United States. When the former host of “The Apprentice” entered The White House, the world turned into a stage. Nowadays, everyone around the world has their eyes set on Mr. Trump and what he says, with whom he speaks on the phone and, of course, his tweets – whether they love the man or despise him.
A similar division has emerged among Turks following the Trump presidency, as people try to understand where the world is going. Nowadays, many are wondering how Mr. Trump will influence Turkey-U.S. relations, which were severely strained during the Obama years. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, among others, had told reporters that he expected the “strategic partnership” between Washington and Ankara to be re-evaluated – a statement that looked like a token of Turkey’s interest to repair relations on the basis of mutual interest. And, finally the first phone call between Erdoğan and Trump held late Tuesday, was the warmest since Obama’s cold calls in the past years. During the 45-minute conversation, as expected, the two leaders talked about strengthening bilateral relations, taking joint action on the war against terror and developing mutual economic cooperation. It was very productive phone call as stated by the White House. Another affirmative indication that the frozen ties will be thawed appeared hours after Tuesday’s positive phone call, which is the news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will officially pay his first overseas visit to Ankara. Pompeo is expected to visit the Turkish capital on Tuesday to consult with Turkish officials about the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and the outlawed PKK’s Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). As is known, the fight against the two terror organizations, FETÖ and the PYD, was one of the biggest reason behind the damaged Turkey-U.S. relations. Turkey had demanded U.S. support in its fight against FETÖ, which staged the deadly coup attempt on July 15, and had also wanted its NATO ally to stop supporting the PYD terrorist organization, which was responsible for terrorist attacks within Turkish borders. However, then-President Barack Obama disregarded Turkey’s legitimate demands, causing bilateral relations to hit rock bottom.
The standing offer to turn over a fresh leaf in Turkey-U.S. relations and Ankara’s cautious stance toward the Trump administration should be seen as a line of credit extended to politicians trying to learn the ropes. As such, the Turks do not believe that it is necessary to play favorites between two ideological camps.
Today, it is not necessarily for Turkey to sing Mr. Trump’s praises nor to be hostile toward the new administration. To be clear, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to compare Mr. Erdoğan with his American counterpart either. Nor is it wise to buy into the anti-Trump propaganda spread by U.S. liberals.
Instead, there are two steps that the Turks need to take without delay. First, an aggressive diplomatic effort must be launched to identify cooperation opportunities between Turkey and the Trump administration. Moreover, they need to develop a deep understanding of which steps Mr. Trump actually wants to take regarding the war on terror and immigration. This is a time for neither hate nor love. Today, we need to focus on rational interests and diplomacy.