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The future of Turkey-US relations under Trump's presidency

President Donald Trump [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]
President Donald Trump [Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency]

Many articles addressing the reasons behind the election of US President-elect Donald Trump have been negative due to his rude and offensive campaign statements against Muslims in America, other minorities and women. He also has dangerous international relations with, for example, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Only a few articles have tackled the future of America under President Trump after January when he enters the White House; will he make the US stronger or weaker, or will he serve a full term or even be assassinated? Fewer still articles discuss the future of US foreign policy and those countries which will benefit or lose out under the Trump presidency.

What is important for all concerned is how — if — such countries should change their own policies if their links with Washington are altered in any way. They should not wait to see how Trump deals with them, but should instead explore how to create a successful relationship with America, regardless of who the US president is.

Should they surrender to America's new policies or should they create new policies for the new era in a way that serves their interests and protects their rights with the US following Trump's election? Talking about positive action is important and there should be talk about political plans that all Arab and Muslim countries should adhere to with Washington over the next 4 years, at least. This is because the fragmentation of the Arab-Muslim world is one of the main reasons why the US has been able to occupy one country after another, leaving a trail of sectarian and national wars. That's what has happened under Obama in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; he has allowed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps to run rampant in these countries and the Arab and Muslim positions on this have been very weak.

There is optimism in Turkey that US policy under Trump will be more understanding of Ankara's position. This was suggested by the president-elect when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called to congratulate him on his victory on 10 November. Trump expressed his respect and appreciation for what Erdogan has achieved for his country; he even said that his daughter admires the Turkish leader's personality due to the progress he has made for his country as prime minister and president. These initial signs suggest the possibility of a close relationship between the two men.

During his call, Erdogan presented a number of major issues facing Turkey's national security, such as acts of terrorism by Kurdish parties and Daesh. He mentioned his dissatisfaction that Fethullah Gülen, the man behind the failed 15 July coup, has not been extradited to Turkey; the fighting in Syria and Mosul also featured in the conversation.

Erdogan thus turned a diplomatic congratulatory phone call into a political discussion about issues of concern to Turkey and the region — especially Mosul and Aleppo — and heard in return Trump's understanding of the Turkish position, and the president-elect's respect for his soon-to-be counterpart. This could well be an indication of the upcoming convergence of the Turkish and US perspectives.

There is no doubt that the results of the US elections are important, especially for the Middle East, which outgoing US President Obama and his administration are leaving open to the wiles of Iran and Russia. In a mistaken and reprehensible perception typical of US policy in the Middle East, Iran and its sectarian medieval rulers have been granted an almost free hand with their destructive military action in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon; there has been no meaningful opposition from America and Israel. This suggests that the two allies have been and remain benefiting from Iranian actions and mistakes.

Since Republican Senator John McCain was one of the sponsors of this Iranian interference, the arrival of Republican Trump may not change the policy. It could actually be pursued as long as it creates chaos for the benefit of Washington and Tel Aviv; it could also help the US administration to push the region in a direction that best serves a right-wing, pro-Israel strategy.

If Trump's administration moves to adopt a decisive policy to end the wars in the Middle East, then the Turkey-US rapprochement will see mutual respect become real cooperation. This would please the people of both countries, as the Obama effect on the Turks was negative given the involvement of US intelligence agencies and the state department in the failed 15 July coup.

What is increasing Turkish anger is Obama's failure to hand over the coup leader, Fethullah Gülen, and the statement made by US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton that she would not hand him over to Turkey either. This made sure that the people in Turkey did not want a Clinton victory last week. Indeed, many hoped that Trump's hint about not intervening in the Middle East would be in the interests of regional states as well as Turkey; the government in Ankara wants stability in the region. There can be no prosperity without stability and no revival without democracy; this may ultimately convince Trump of the need to push Bashar Al-Assad aside in Syria. In Turkey's opinion, Assad is the cause of the crises in the region and his continued presence at the head of the Syrian regime will not lead to the resolution of any of them. This includes the fight against Daesh and the terrorist groups taking advantage of the Kurds, using them as mercenaries for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the American endeavours to exhaust Russia and Iran militarily in Syria.

The issue of the Kurdish parties may be one of the most difficult issues between Erdogan and Trump, as the latter believes that the Peshmerga forces fighting Daesh are heroes who deserve support. If fighting Daesh is looked at separately, and Turkey is able to present an alternative means to fight the extremist group, then Trump would have no excuse to hold on to the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, given the fact that they challenge Turkey's interests and national security. Ankara does not mind America fighting terrorism, but differs with it in terms of which forces actually do so without affecting Turkey's national security.

Based on all of the above, the Turkish government must understand the US position and present an effective vision, and then future Turkey-US understanding will be able to deal with the issues of Aleppo, Al-Raqqah, Mosul and the likes. However, if America continues to follow its former policies, then the rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow will accelerate at the expense of US interests in the region. This would be down almost entirely to US stubbornness and disregard for Turkish interests, including the need to impose a safe zone that first and foremost protects the Syrian people and secondly prevents border risks for Turkey; it would also slow the flow of refugees to Europe and the West.

The 45th President of the United States is the first Republican in the White House since 1938 to have complete support from both Houses of Congress. He thus has more potential to change his policies from those used by those who — in his words — "ruined America", not domestically but overseas, particularly in the world's main hotspot.

America's attempts under Obama to take advantage of Iran's sectarian and national expansionist mistakes have ruined the Middle East. Iran is unable to fill the void caused by its reckless policies, while Russia will not be able to achieve victory by military means alone. As such, there is a need for the US to rely on the moderate countries in the region, such as Turkey and the Gulf states, who are not depending on killing and destruction for control and domination.

Trump must also know that someone who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999 has failed in his three known attempts to destabilise Turkey. Will the US under Donald Trump still accommodate Fethullah Gülen when he is such a failure? Will the incoming president risk antagonising 80 million Turks for the sake of a failed coup leader? It would be a mistake to do so, and he must know that.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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