Erdoğan’s difficult decision to visit Washington

An official letter U.S. President Donald Trump sent to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was quickly overshadowed by the weight of regional developments, but deserves a closer look as it is emblematic of the gulf between Turkey and the United States.

The developments included Turkey’s new military operation in the northeast of Syria, votes in the U.S. House of Representatives - one on the so-called Armenian genocide, the other a draft bill to impose sanctions on Turkey because of its Syria operation in Syria - and many other problems.

Trump’s letter preceded another event - Erdoğan’s visit to Washington, which is scheduled for Nov. 13. 

Erdoğan hesitated until the last moment on whether to go to Washington, but after a telephone conversation with Trump on Nov. 6, he announced he would. Trump tweeted that he had had a useful conversation with Erdoğan and that he was very much looking forward to see him in Washington.  

What made Erdoğan’s decision difficult was a letter he received from Trump on Oct. 9 that will go down in the annals of diplomatic correspondence as an example of what a head of state should never do. Almost every single sentence of the letter was a problem. 

“Let’s work out a good deal!” read the first sentence of the letter, complete with an exclamation mark. “You don’t want to be responsible, continued the letter, for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying Turkish economy –and I will. I’ve already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson”. 

To say that Turkey would be likely to slaughter thousands of people is a claim that Erdoğan would furiously reject. 

But there is more in the sentence. Pastor Andrew Brunson, an American cleric, was kept in Turkish prisons for 21 months on charges that he was part of a plot to overthrow the Turkish government and helping the terrorists. When Trump acted “to destroy the Turkish economy”, it turned out that Brunson had not tried to overthrow the Turkish government and he was released and repatriated within days. 

Trump insinuates in this sentence that Brunson’s incarceration was not justified and that Turkey yielded to U.S. pressure to release him. But Trump does not stop there – he says he would do it again if necessary. 

The second paragraph of the letter starts by saying “I have worked to solve your problems”. Turkish analysts said this a reference to the help that Trump may have extended to reach an amicable solution to the judicial process against Halkbank – a Turkish state-owned bank indicted in a U.S. court with circumventing sanctions on Iran. 

What may have infuriated Erdoğan though, was probably the reference to the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces as “General Mazloum”. Farhad Abdi Shaheen - with the nom de guerre Mazloum Kobani - who is wanted on terrorism charges in Turkey. He is wanted on an Interpol red notice and the Turkish government has offered 4 million lira for his capture.

Not only Trump did refer to him as general, but also invited Erdoğan to negotiate with him. Erdoğan, as a legitimate head of state, for good reason refuses to be put on an equal footing with the head of a group of fighters that Turkey considers a terrorist gang. If this were not enough, Trump enclosed a copy of a letter from Kobani. 

The entire exercise looks like a comedy designed to infuriate Erdoğan and insult Turkey. 

The letter continues with even more inappropriate sentences saying: “History will look upon you favourably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if things don’t happen”.  

The last paragraph of any diplomatic letter invariably reads as follows: “I avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.” 

The last sentence of Trump’s letter to Erdoğan was: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be fool. I will call you later.”

It will be interesting to learn what Trump has to tell Erdoğan about this unusual letter.

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.