In another blow to US interests in the Middle East, relations with Nato ally Turkey took a nosedive after the arrest of a Turkish staffer at the American consulate over charges of espionage and links to Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen. The latter was blamed by Turkey for last year’s failed coup that saw at least 300 people being killed and tens of thousands of suspected Gulen supporters being arrested in the aftermath. What has riled Ankara is that Gulen continues to reside in America and Washington refuses to hand him over. This has created much bad blood between the two countries and Turkish authorities have even arrested American citizens for ties with Gulen, including a pastor.
It’s against this backdrop that the recent arrest of the Turkish staffer saw the US embassy suspend the processing of all non-immigrant visas in Turkey. Ankara retaliated in kind by suspending visa applications by American citizens. Add to this other factors such as American personnel and material support to Syrian Kurdish forces in Syria and Washington’s charging of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personal bodyguards for clashing with non-violent protesters within its jurisdiction in May.
Plus, under Erdogan Turkey has embarked on an assertive regional policy that many say hark back to the days of the old Turkish sultanate. It has actively intervened in Syria, developed an understanding with Iran, worked out a deal to station troops in Qatar, and made a substantial pivot towards Russia – last month, it placed an order for Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles despite being a Nato member. Taken together, it would not be wrong to say that Turkey-US relations have hit nadir. Which is seriously bad news for Washington. With Saudi Arabia’s King Salman making a historic visit to Russia in recent days, Russia and Iran gaining the upper hand in Syria, and the Trump administration signalling that it would deal with the Middle East on a more transactional basis under a vague ‘America First’ policy, US assets and influence in West Asia are certainly declining.
This in turn has enabled a reordering of the power equations in the Middle East to the advantage of Russia and its allies. And Turkey wants to be in the front seat of this transformation. Unless Washington gets its act together, the Middle East will slip away from its sphere of influence. But then again, Trump probably doesn’t care anyway.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.