Opinion: The Erdogan-Trump rivalry turns dangerous | Opinion | DW | 15.08.2018
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Opinion

Opinion: The Erdogan-Trump rivalry turns dangerous

Turkey is a country in crisis, the Lira's freefall being a case in point. President Erdogan needs to tackle this, but a diplomatic row with the US could force him to go against his nature, writes DW's Seda Serdar.

Every day the pressure on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasing. He is being dogged by a worsening economy, the unresolved Syria conflictthe case of Pastor Andrew Brunson  and most recently by US President Donald Trump's decision to block the delivery of fighter jets to Turkey.

Instead of finding a solution, Turkey chose to retaliate by increasing import tariffs on certain US products. But to deescalate the tension, Erdogan could and should end up doing something he's not used to: take a step back and free Pastor Brunson.

Power struggle

The Trump administration is demanding the immediate release of Brunson, who has been held since 2016 on terrorism and espionage charges. Erdogan isn't keen to return the pastor, because he is hoping to exchange him for Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, currently living in exile in Pennsylvania. The aging religious leader is considered the mastermind behind the 2016 failed coup.

Meanwhile, Erdogan is even thinking about pursuing alternatives to the US-Turkish partnership in case the two countries aren't able to resolve their issues. But this isn't a realistic approach. Russia or China cannot be alternatives to the traditional Western alliance. Such relations would be against the values of modern Turkey, a country that still ostensibly believes in democracy and freedom of speech.

Seda Serdar Kommentarbild App

DW's Seda Serdar

Certainly Turkey needs to have good relations with oil-rich Russia and economic giant China, and it's no secret that Erdogan feels more at home looking eastward, but Turkey needs to be cautious in establishing close relationships with these autocratic regimes. In such an unstable region, Turkey needs its NATO partners and vice versa.

Erdogan is aware of this. Pastor Brunson is not the main issue in this conflict. He's just a symbol of the power struggle between Trump and Erdogan. But the diplomatic crisis around the pastor is harming Turkey.

Turkey and the US are both NATO members and allies, and must strive to remain so. But unless the Brunson case is resolved, the tension with the US will not diminish and Turkey's political climate at home will remain volatile. For that reason, Erdogan must send Brunson home. The sooner Ankara makes this happen, the better for everyone, especially for Turkey.

Watch video 02:35

Turkey's tumbling economy

Read more: Can Turkey turn to the Arab world for support?

Dialogue, not alienation

Turkey needs the West as much as the West needs Turkey. The Europeans know this so much better than Washington. When there is instability in the region, Europe is the first to face the consequences, not the US across the Atlantic.

Turkey's goal should be to be a strong partner to the West. The Western nations might not always come across as best friends in Turkey's eyes, but they remain reliable partners when it comes to security and strategic issues.

Meanwhile Berlin has been closely observing the whole debate. While Trump is pushing Turkey to its limits, Berlin is trying to continue a dialogue as a representative of Western values.

When Erdogan visits Germany at the end of September, he will be given military honors and a banquet. But while the red carpet is being rolled out, Germany will continue to regard Erdogan with a critical eye, considering Turkey's democratic deficits.

It is important to keep the dialogue channels open. The conflict with the US ought to be resolved by then and it depends on Erdogan how pleasant his Berlin visit will be for both sides.

Erdogan's problems will not end with the pastor's fate. He still has to make his country attractive again for investors, and in order to do so, he needs political stability and a concrete plan to fix the economy. And this will most likely have Turkey knocking on the International Monetary Fund's door once again. 

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