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Tussle between America and Turkey: The Whole Story

Michael Samuel

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An economic tussle between the US and Turkey has heightened over the past few months. Both countries are continuously imposing sanctions to paralyze each other economically. But why they are doing so? First of all, we have to keep in view the main reasons behind this tussle.

This tussle started after failed coup attempt by the Turkish Army on July 15, 2016 on which, a week after, Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for failed bloody coup attempt to topple Erdogan’s government and behind this failed coup attempt for Marshall Law, Gulen network was of intention to remove Erdogan from the way and to promote his philosophy of moderate Islam. According to Gulen, Turkey was heading backward because of Erdogan’s conventional and orthodox policies. Erdogan then accused Gulen of conspiring to overthrow him from the government by building a network and officially declared the Gulen movement a terrorist organization in 2016. Erdogan and Gulen were once allies until Gullen opened a corruption probe into Erdogan’s inner circle in 2013. Turkey’s repetitive requests for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition from the US to face trial were rejected by the US saying they need a proper evidence of Gulen’s involvement first.

Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish Preacher, imam, and writer, currently living in self-imposed exile in the United States. He is the founder of Gulen movement known as Hizmet which is 3 to 6 million strong volunteer-based movement mostly focused on education, hard work, altruism, and modesty. This movement serves in Europe, the United States, Asia, and Africa.

This rift intensified more when Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, currently living in Turkey, arrested by the Turkish government in October 2016, has taken to the court to face trials over an allegation of alleged espionage on behalf of Kurdish insurgents and Gullen network and involvement in the failed coup attempt in 2016. He was under detention of Turkish government for 600 days, almost 2 years, is now released from jail due to health issues and placed under house arrest on July 25, 2018. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, welcomed Andrew Brunson’s release from prison but said it is not far enough and demanded his complete release as they have not seen any credible evidence against Mr. Brunson but Turkish authorities neglected continuous demand for Brunson’s release by American policymakers.

Donald Trump rebuked Turkish authorities over their decision for not releasing their man in his tweet and said, “this is a total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected American pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison. He has been held hostage far too long. Erdogan should do something to free this wonderful Christian husband and father. He has done nothing wrong and his family needs him.” Turkish prosecutors are seeking a maximum prison sentence of 35 years for the pastor and the court has also imposed a travel ban on him.

The US’s Vice President, Mike Pence in response to this, threatened Turkey in his interview and said, “on behalf of the United States of America, release pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences.” Trump also said I thought Ankara and Washington had a deal that if Washington will help in the release of Turkish citizen in Israel on behalf of Ankara, they will fully release the pastor. Trump claimed, he urged the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu for the release of a Turkish citizen. However, Israel had even released Turkish citizen named Ebru Ozkan, on whom allegations are imposed that he was involved in abetting Hamas but Turkey instead, did not keep its words and moved the pastor to house arrest. Not fair. Not right.

In retaliation to Turkey’s betrayal, Trump administration levied sanctions on two Turkish ministers (Minister of Justice, Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior, Suleyman Soylu) over propaganda on Andrew Brunson, and also banned their entry into the US and made their assets even frozen to suppress Turkish government on August 1, 2018. In addition to this, Trump further reacted in ire and said, we are cutting back on Turkey and announced a doubling of tariffs on Turkey on August 10, 2018. He said in his tweet, “I have just authorized a doubling of tariffs on steel and aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong dollar. Aluminum will now be 20% and steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time.” He did not care much about that Turkey is their NATO ally. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin said, Turkey has “not proven to be a good friend” and we are ready to slap Turkey with more sanctions if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses the quick release of an American pastor on August 16, 2018.

In reciprocation to the US’s operations, Turkey took immediate steps by imposing heavy tariffs on products imported from the United States including cars, alcohol, and tobacco also on rice, nuts, cosmetics, paper, machines etc. Turkey placed 140% on alcohol, 120% on cars and 60% on tobacco and slaps sanctions on 2 US officials i.e., minister of Interior and Minister of Justice. Banned their entry into Turkey and had also frozen their assets. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a press conference, “our nation will boycott U.S. electronic goods. We will stop bringing iPhone. He said, if they have their iPhone, we have South Korea’s Samsung as an alternative. In our own country, we have a Vestel.”

Supporters were strongly fascinated by Erdogan’s statement that “don’t forget, if they have their dollars, we have our people, our God. We are working hard. Look at what we were 16 years ago and look at us now.” As their deliberated trade tensions are at its peak, Turkish Lira shattered badly against the US’s mounting dollar and tumbled up to 5%. Investors started to pull out their money from banks. Such withdrawals have also hurt other currencies. Argentine peso and Indian rupee touched their weakest level against the US dollar. Turkey’s economy is suffering severely due to escalating sanctions by the US and is facing a currency crisis. Loss of $12 billion or more is expected to both countries amid their crumbling relations. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it is also expected that these actions by the US can cause a loss of more than $500 billion to the whole world. It seemed like the only way for Turkey to get out of this crisis is by securing the help of IMF’s rescue bailout but Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said in a conference, there is no need to be panic, we will easily overcome this economic crisis and will emerge even stronger than before. He is taking its investors in confidence and also talks to France and Germany. Turkey is insistent that no matter what happens, they will not seek the help of IMF. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuelle Macron have agreed to improve bilateral relations as Turkey is passing through the dire strait. Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak engaged with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and have agreed to meet in Berlin to take steps for further enhancement of economic cooperation.

Turkish Lira was up 4% against US dollar following the conference call and reassuring words from French President Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. Qatar pledged to invest $15 billion in Turkey’s financial sector which will also help to stabilize and bolster their economy. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have also announced to help Turkey in their impassable time and deplored the US’s sanction on Turkey. Russian foreign minister calls US sanctions illegitimate. He further added that they are devising to end the US dollar’s dominance and envisaging to trade with Turkey and other countries as an alternative currency. Turkey’s president Erdogan also denied to stop trading with Iran after the cancellation of a nuclear deal between Iran and America and is likely thinking forward to purchase Russian Air Defense System if needed which America does not like.

On August 20, 2018, some assailants opened fire on the US Embassy in the capital Ankara. It has been suspected that this attack was carried out as a result of increased tensions between two NATO allies. Turkish Lira plunged further against the dollar after their spat with the United States on August 29, 2018. It has lost almost more than a quarter of its value. On the same day, Turkish media reported that Mohammad Ahmad, known as the spiritual son of Andrew Brunson, has been accused of being the link between the pastor and the Gulenist terror group. As on August 17, 2018, Turkish court in the province of Izmir, rejected an appeal to release Brunson, the lawyer of Brunson on August 30, 2018, has now decided that they would go to European Court of Human Rights.

The only way for both countries to reinstate their extremely disturbed relations is by reconciliation and consensus. Otherwise, the entire world would have to suffer from their delicate and shabby relationship.

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Americas

Trump’s New Wall? Mexico’s Southern Border

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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For much of modern history, Mexico defined itself in opposition to the United States. In recent years, the two countries stepped up cooperation on almost all relevant issues, and the two nations are now deeply intertwined politically, economically and culturally. This is bound to change. After months of ignoring Donald Trump’s provocations, López Obrador reacted rapidly to Trump’s shakedown and agreed to a number of resolutions of extraordinary scope and urgency: the new Mexican administration agreed to deploy the country’s federal police to its southern border to crack down on immigration; and opened the door to the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy that would turn Mexico into a Third Safe Country in less than a month from now.

As stated in the agreement, Mexico would take in all the refugees that the US decides to send back to Mexico to await resolution of their asylum process. This could take years, given the substantial immigration backlog in American courts. The agreement goes further: Mexico is responsible for the provision of education, health care and employment for such refugees. This could easily lead to a serious humanitarian crisis that Mexican institutions will be unable to deal with.

This approach contradicts previous Mexican presidential vows for regional development and humanitarian relief rather than confrontation and enforcement. Conditions on the ground in Mexico are far harsher than the Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister, Marcelo Ebrard and the President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would like to admit, and this is partly due to the current administration’s miscalculations: López Obrador has dramatically cut the budget for governmental agencies responsible for managing refugees and processing removals. Mexican border towns are also ill-equipped for handling transient migrant populations; and Mexico also faces other more systematic challenges, such as corruption and lack of rule of law enforcement. The new policy agreed with the American government is likely to result in a significant increase in claims filed for asylum in Mexico. Mexico’s immigration bureaucracies are utterly overwhelmed, and López Obrador’s misguided budget cuts have exacerbated their failings.

Mexico’s immigration policy is now bound by an immoral and unacceptable deal that will effectively turn Mexico into Trump’s border wall. The global system for the protection of refugees is based on the notion of shared responsibility among countries. It is very dangerous for the US to use Mexico as a pawn to set an example and ignore its international responsibility. This agreement also violates international law on refugees: Mexico is a life-threatening country for undocumented migrants. Human trafficking, recruitment for organised criminal organisations, abduction, extortion, sexual violence, and disappearances are some of the issues migrants face in Mexico. Finally, Mexico’s National Guard, the agency that will be in charge of monitoring the southern border, was created by López Obrador to tackle domestic crime. Its members have no training nor knowledge on immigration matters. It is an untested new military force that could end up creating more problems than the ones it is trying to solve.  Deploying agents to the border could also have a high political cost for the president.

The agreement with Trump gives López Obrador 45 days to show progress. If Mexico fails, Mexico will be forced to set in motion some version of Safe Third Country agreement, or face further tariff bullying from the US. This deal has been sold by the new Mexican administration as a victory over the US. More migrants, less money, extreme violence and a recalcitrant, unpredictable northern neighbour are the ingredients for a potential, impending refugee crisis, not a diplomatic victory.

Could Mexico have taken a different approach? Yes. Trump’s decision to impose tariffs would exacerbate the underlying causes of immigration in the region and do nothing to address it. His bullying to force Mexico to crack down on immigration was a cheap electoral ploy to mobilise its base with a view to winning the 2020 elections. This is nothing new. Trump is not seeking a solution; he is seeking a political gain. He built his first presidential campaign on an anti-Mexico and an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It worked in 2016, and he is planning to repeat the same formula.

The Mexican administration lack of knowledge on diplomatic matters, and their inability to play politics let a golden opportunity go. Using trade to bludgeon Mexico into compliance with an immigration crack down makes no sense: Mexico is not responsible for the increase in migratory flows. Central America’s poverty and violence trace back to American policies in the 1980s. Mexico is not responsible either for America’s famously dysfunctional immigration system. Trump’s economic threats against Mexico may not even have been legal: both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the newly agreed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) require most trade between members to be tariff free.

Mexico could also have hit back with by levying tariffs that would have hurt swing-state voters, and in turn hurt Trump. This was the golden opportunity Mexico let slip from its hands. Mexico could have responded by hitting Trump where it hurts: Tariffs on American goods heading south. Mexico responded in a similar manner in June last year in response to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Mexico could have raised those tariffs each month in tandem with American levels.

This retaliation would have highlighted the gap between Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric and the underlying interdependence of the US and Mexico with stark consequences for the US presidential elections of 2020. Many of the biggest exporters to Mexico such as Arizona. Florida. California, Michigan and Illinois are swing states. New tariffs could have thrown Texas into recession and put its 38 electoral votes into play. It is all too late now, Mexico could have inadvertently helped Trump to get re-elected. Mexico has less than a month left to show some backbone and demand real American cooperation on the region’s shared challenges and rejecting Trump’s threats once and for all. The relationship between Mexico and the US could have been an example of cooperation under difficult conditions, but that would have required different American and Mexican presidents.

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Scandinavia Veers Left plus D-Day Reflections as Trump Storms Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Mette Frederiksen of the five-party Social Democrat bloc won 91 of the 169 seats in the Danish parliament ending the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party group that had governed for 14 of the last 18 years.  The election issues centered on climate change, immigration and Denmark’s generous social welfare policies.  All parties favored tighter immigration rules thereby taking away the central issue dominating the far-right Democrat Freedom Party which has seen its support halved since the last election in 2015.

Ms Frederiksen promised more spending to bolster the much loved social welfare model and increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy.  A left wave is sweeping Scandinavia as Denmark becomes the third country, after Sweden and Finland, to move left within a year.  Mette Frederiksen will also be, at 41, the youngest prime minister Denmark has ever had.

Donald Trump has used the 75th anniversary of D-Day commemorations to garner positive publicity.  The supreme promoter has managed to tie it in with a “classy” (his oft-chosen word) state visit to the UK spending a day with royals.  It was also a farewell to the prime minister as her resignation is effective from June 7.  Add a D-Day remembrance ceremony at Portsmouth and he was off to his golf course in Ireland for a couple of days of relaxation disguised as a visit to the country for talks — he has little in common with the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is half-Indian and gay.

Onward to France where leaders gathered for ceremonies at several places.  It is easy to forget the extent of that carnage:  over 20,000 French civilians were killed in Normandy alone mostly from aerial bombing and artillery fire.  The Normandy American cemetery holds over 9600 soldiers.  All in all, France lost in the neighborhood of 390,000 civilian dead during the whole war.  Estimates of total deaths across the world range from 70 to 85 million or about 3 percent of the then global population (estimated at 2.3 billion).

Much has been written about conflict resolutions generally from a cold rational perspective.  Emotions like greed, fear and a sense of injustice when unresolved lead only in one direction.  There was a time when individual disputes were given the ultimate resolution through single combat.  Now legal rights and courts are available — not always perfect, not always fair, but neither are humans.

It does not take a genius to extrapolate such legal measures to nations and international courts … which already exist.  Just one problem:  the mighty simply ignore them.  So we wait, and we honor the dead of wars that in retrospect appear idiotic and insane.  Worse is the attempt to justify such insanity through times like the “good war”, a monstrous absurdity.

It usually takes a while.  Then we get leaders who have never seen the horror of war — some have assiduously avoided it — and the cycle starts again.

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To Impeach Or Not To Impeach? That Is The Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Robert Mueller let loose a thunderbolt midweek.  Donald Trump had not been charged, he said, because it was Department of Justice policy not to charge a sitting president.  Dumping the issue firmly into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lap, he reminded us of the purpose of the impeachment process.  According to Mueller there are ten instances where there are serious issues with the president obstructing justice adding that his report never concludes that Trump is innocent.

So here is a simple question:  If Mueller thought the president is not innocent but he did not charge him because of Justice Department policy, and he appears also to favor impeachment, then why in heaven’s name did he not simply state in his report that the preponderance of evidence indicated Trump was guilty?

Nancy Pelosi is wary of impeachment.  According to the rules, the House initiates it and when/if  it finds sufficient grounds, it forwards the case to the Senate for a formal trial.  The Senate at present is controlled by Republicans, who have been saying it’s time to move on, often adding that after two years of investigation and a 448-page report, what is the point of re-litigating the issue?  They have a point and again it leads to the question:  if Special Counsel Mueller thinks Trump is guilty as he now implies, why did he not actually say so?

Never one to miss any opportunity , Trump labels Mueller, highly conflicted, and blasts impeachment as ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word’,  He has also stopped Don McGahn, a special counsel at the White House from testifying before Congress invoking ‘executive privilege’ — a doctrine designed to keep private the president’s consultations with his advisors.  While not cited anywhere in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held it to be ‘fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the Separation of Powers under the Constitution.’  Separation of powers keeps apart the executive branch, the legislature and the judiciary, meaning each one cannot interfere with the other.

Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from the young firebrands.  Rep Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has already expressed the view that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump given the obstruction of lawmakers’ oversight duty.

Speaker Pelosi is a long-time politician with political blood running through her veins — her father was Mayor of Baltimore and like herself also a US Representative.  To her the situation as is, is quite appealing.  Trump’s behavior fires up Democrats across the country and they respond by emptying their pockets to defeat the Republicans in 2020.  Democratic coffers benefit so why harm this golden goose — a bogeyman they have an excellent chance of defeating — also evident from the numbers lining up to contest the Democratic presidential primaries, currently at 24. 

Will Trump be impeached?  Time will tell but at present it sure doesn’t look likely.

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