The relationship between Turkey and the United States grew increasingly strained over the last decade with the Islamization of Ankara. That’s reached a new nadir as President Donald Trump threatened Turkey over the fate of an imprisoned American pastor.
Andrew Brunson, 50, lived and worked in Turkey for the past 22 years leading a small Protestant church. He was held without charge from October 2016 until March 2018 when he was indicted for “spying” and “insurgency” against the government and membership in an unnamed terror organization.
That organization is assumed to be the Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Gulen was behind the unsuccessful 2016 coup attempt.
Trump issued a statement via Twitter warning Turkey in very general terms of what is to come bacuse of the failure to release Brunson:
The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being. He is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Erdogan responded by saying threats won’t work:
“We will not take a step back when faced with sanctions. They should not forget that they will lose a sincere partner.”
While the rhetoric seems little more than a diplomatic spat, it smacks of a much deeper distrust between Washington and Ankara. Here are just a handful of relatively recent examples of the bad blood between the U.S. and the wannabe Ottoman emperor:
- Wikileaks documents showed in 2005 a senior U.S. diplomat said Erdogan “relies on his charisma, instincts, and the filterings of advisors who pull conspiracy theories off the web or are lost in neo-Ottoman Islamist fantasies.”
- In 2010, the Obama administration said if Ankara failed to shift its position on Iran and Israel,the U.S. might have to reconsider weapons sales.
- Obama refused to hold a formal meeting with Erdogan in Washington in 2016 reportedly in part because of Turkey’s treatment of its own Kurdish population.
- While the U.S. remains supportive of Kurdish fighters in Syria, Turkey sees them as an enemy force.
While the Brunson case is deeply disturbing and a large campaign is underway for his release, it is only one tiny piece of a far larger puzzle that involves Turkey’s relationships with Iran, Russia and many others whom the U.S. sees as problematic while at the same time Ankara remains active in NATO and positively hostile towards America’s main ally in the Middle East, Israel.