U.S.-Turkish relations have become as opaque and disjointed as our dealings with the Russians and North Koreans.
A new thaw seemed at hand last year. On the day of President Donald Trump’s election, close adviser Michael Flynn proclaimed solidarity with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“The Obama administration is keeping Erdogan’s government at arm’s length — an unwise policy that threatens our long-standing alliance,” Flynn said in a published piece.
Flynn had done lobbying work that his own official filing said may have aided Turkey. Since then, he was fired as national security adviser and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
But Trump kept hailing Erdogan. In September, the president stood with the Turkish autocrat before reporters and praised him as “a very good friend of mine.
“He’s running a very difficult part of the world. He’s involved very, very strongly and, frankly, he’s getting very high marks.”
Erdogan, however, isn’t getting key things he professes to want from the U.S. These include a return of dissident Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, now in Pennsylvania; U.S. abandonment of Kurdish forces in the region; and the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab.
Zarrab ended up pleading guilty in New York and testified about a $50 million bribe to Turkey’s finance minister involving the evasion of sanctions against Iran.
Erdogan’s frustrations would seem to parallel whatever dashed hopes of Russian President Vladimir Putin may have had that the United States under Trump would ease sanctions.
This week, tension with Turkey suddenly re-emerged — if not in the diplomatic arena, at least in Trump’s Twitter world.
“Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
“They call him a Spy, but I am more a Spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!”
Brunson, 50, a Presbyterian missionary from North Carolina, has been held by the Erdogan regime for 18 months and faces a trial that could lead to longer-term imprisonment.
Shortly after a failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan, Brunson was arrested and charged with espionage.
Despite Trump’s Erdogan courtship, his Russia-probe attorney Jay Sekulow pushed all the while for Brunson’s release. Sekulow heads a conservative Christian organization, the American Center for Law & Justice.
For his part, Trump hasn’t reconciled why the government of his “very good friend” persecutes an American missionary.
Last week it was reported that a bipartisan group of 66 senators led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) warned Turkey of unspecified “measures” if Brunson isn’t released.
Trump has played to the grandstands, as if he were a voluble observer rooting from the sidelines. What he will actually do for the beleaguered minister is anyone’s guess.