AHI Capital Reports June-August 2018

Volume 10, Issue 2

Senator Ernst Criticizes Turkey at EU Security & Defense Symposium

AHI attended the seventh annual “EU Security & Defense Symposium,” June 13, 2018. Speakers and panelists gathered to discuss the future of EU, NATO, and U.S. relations. The program comprised of three separate panels and two keynote speakers. The Delegation of the European Union to the U.S., in partnership with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted, the event.

Two of the three panels were of interest to AHI’s audience.

Panel 1: “EU and US Defense Strategies: Shared or Conflicting Objectives?”

The panel opened with Thomas Harvey, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities at the U.S. Department of Defense; and Pedro Serrano, deputy secretary general for CSDP, discussing the necessity of NATO and EU coordination. Harvey noted the “long term challenge” presented by Russia, which continually attempts to create wedges between US-allied nations. Moderator Jeffrey Rathke asked the panel about transatlantic tensions within the EU and NATO.  Deputy Secretary Serrano explained it as a “difference of opinion” of how to handle issues in bilateral relations.

The morning keynote, delivered by U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), dealt with the view of transatlantic relations from the U.S. Senate. Senator Ernst stressed the need for the U.S. to: (1) assure NATO the U.S. is a reliable partner despite the current administration, (2) stress the importance of fairly contributing to the joint security fund, and (3) acknowledge Turkey’s alliance violations. The senator said, “no nation should treat its allies like Turkey has,” referencing the imprisonment of journalists and American civilians in Turkey. Senator Ernst also mentioned the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson, acknowledging the visits of Senator Thom Tillis’s (R-NC) to Brunson in Turkish prison. Also, Senator Ernst believes Erdogan violated the alliance by procuring S-400 missile systems from Russia, noting that it cannot operate within NATO’s missile defense system. 

On a more personal note, Senator Ernst stretches conflict within the U.S.-Turkey alliance back to her time as a company commander. In 2003, U.S. troops were not granted permission to enter Iraq through Turkey, delaying response time and prolonging the troops’ assignment. “When we needed them, they were not there,” Ernst said of Turkey, pointing to continued pushback from Erdogan and those before him.

The secondary keynote was delivered by H.E. Jose Alberto de Azeredo Lopes, minister of National Defense of the Portuguese Republic. He explained growth plans for Portugal’s investment in NATO defense, which are aimed to increase the country’s contributions to 2% of its GDP by 2024.

Panel 2: “Framework for Stronger NATO-EU Cooperation”

The panel comprised of Thomas Goffus, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO at the U.S. Department of Defense; Jorge Domecq, CEO of the European Defense Agency; and Jonatan Vseviov, permanent secretary for the Ministry of Defense of Estonia. The panelists discussed Article 3 of the Washington Treaty and progress on the improvement of EU/NATO relations. Throughout the conversation, panelists noted the joint effort of NATO and EU to combat hybrid threats, disinformation campaigns, and cyber-attacks. The need for cooperation on operations in the Western Balkans, Afghanistan, and the maritime domain arose, along with acknowledgement of Estonia’s remarkable 2% NATO defense funding as a “high achieving” member-nation.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Manbij Agreement & The Implications for U.S. -Turkey Relations

AHI attended “The Manbij Agreement: The Way Forward in U.S.-Turkey Relations,” held by the SETA Foundation, June 14, 2018. Panelists included: Ambassador James Jeffrey; Author and Foreign Policy Analyst Mark Perry; Bassam Barabandi, director of External Relations at People Demand Change; and Kilic B. Kanat, research director, SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C.

The forum focused on how developments in northern Syria may affect U.S.-Turkey relations, the ongoing Syrian conflict, and status of northern Syria. Author Mark Perry described the severity of the war in Syria. Perry referenced inquiries he received during his time as a journalist, one in particular from a United States European Command official, about coverage of the conflict in the mainstream media. Further, Perry explained “alienation of Turkey from the NATO alliance” created the current rift between Turkey and the U.S.  Also, Perry expressed growing anxiety that, 17 years after September 11, we “still haven’t gotten the War on Terror right. [Instead], we’ve deepened issues in the Middle East.”

Ambassador James Jeffrey voiced optimism for the success of the Manbij Agreement. Research Director Kilic Kanat argued that previous failures in U.S.-Turkey alliance resulted from the U.S. not keeping its promises to Turkey. The Manbij Agreement signifies an eleventh-hour quest for cooperation, given that the “fallout” between the U.S. and Turkey could have very well been permanent, Kanat said.

The consensus of the panel was that the agreement, if successful, would encourage the implementation of diplomatic channels to solve ongoing and future international issues. Turkish citizens have “high hope” for the future of U.S.-Turkey relations, with the joint “elimination of the YPG threat,” serving as a pillar for denoting success. The panelists also agreed Manbij could serve as a model for Turkey to work with the U.S. in and around the Middle East in the future.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

THO Examines the Impact of Turkish Election on the U.S.-Turkey Relationship

AHI attended an event held by the Turkish Heritage Organization on “Election Results on Turkish American Relations.” The discussion featured panelists: William Parker III, Defne Sadiklar-Arslan, Luke Coffey, and Paul McCarthy. The conversation centered on analysis of the June 24 Turkish Election results.

Moderator Merve Hande Akmehmet opened the panel by asking about their opinions of the opposition in the election. Paul McCarthy, deputy director of Europe, International Republican Institute, stated this was “one of the most interesting campaigns” to come out of Turkey. Fearing the far-right conservative MHP political party would not meet the 10% threshold for parliamentary seats, Erdogan presented the opportunity for a coalition to the running parties. McCarthy held that the introduction of the coalition system was unnecessary, given that the MHP secured 11.1% of the vote. Instead, the coalition system allowed the opposition to increase their chances of success in the election. McCarthy also said that while there was “no direct constraint on candidates to campaign,” the election was unequal because of Erdogan’s control of the media.

Akmehmet then asked about whether Erdogan would end the ongoing state of emergency in Turkey. Executive Director and Representative of the Atlantic Council Turkey, Defne Sadiklar-Arslan, said Turkey needs to lift the state of emergency immediately, arguing the conditions of emergency status were detrimental to economic growth and foreign investment.

Akmehmet moved on to the topic of the Syrian War, asking Chief Operating Officer of the EastWest Institute William Parker III about how Syrian unrest could impact U.S.-Turkey relations. Parker referenced the strength of a military-to-military relationship and that Turkey had “done well with the refugee issue” coming out of Syria.

Concerning the new structure of Turkish government, Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Allison Center for Foreign Policy, said Turkey is entering “uncharted waters.” He referenced the rise of both secular and non-secular nationalism playing a role in the legislature in the seats gained through unpredicted success of opposition parties. Coffey considers the election a “new staring point” for the U.S. and Turkey, adding U.S. policymakers “need to learn to deal with the Turkey we have, and not necessarily the Turkey we want.”

Paul McCarthy explained that Erdogan’s win is a positive element for the Manbij Agreement in terms of continuity. He believes the U.S. and Turkey must come together on foreign policy goals in Syria and cites the fact that even the Assad Regime and Russia share the end goal of “curbing Kurds” in northern Syria. On this point, Parker mentioned Turkey is situated in a “complicated area,” surrounded by nations with which Turkey has longstanding political disputes: Iraq, Syria, Greece, and Armenia, among others. Parker said political stability internally and externally will bring about the economic improvements many Turks demand to see.

When Akmehmet asked about the uncertainty of the F-35 fighter jet and S-400 missile issue, Coffey said he does not believe Congress will pass a bill blocking the purchase of the F35s. As for the S-400 System, Coffey said, “I’m not going to believe it until I see it.” Coffey argues that Turkey deserves the F35s for its $200 million investment as a contributor to joint military spending programs with the U.S.

At the end of the discussion, Akmehmet asked for one-word answers to three questions: (1) Will U.S.-Turkey relations strengthen or weaken after the election; (2) Will Erdogan turn to the Atlantic or the Pacific for alliances; and (3) Will Turkey’s new government system create more stability or less stability? The panelists all agreed on the first two questions: the bilateral relationship will strengthen, and Erdogan will turn to the Atlantic.  As for the last question, although Sadiklar-Arslan and Parker saw stability as the singular outcome, McCarthy and Coffey had a different answer. They agreed there may be immediate stability in the region, but that there may be long-term issues as a result of the new governmental system.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Turkey’s Domestic & Foreign Policy After the Elections

AHI attended an event held by SETA titled, “Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy After the Elections,” June 28.  The panelists were: Professor Mujeeb Khan of UC-Berkeley, Professor Michael Reynolds of Princeton University, Academic Director Daniel Serwer of Johns Hopkins University, Ambassador James Jeffrey, and General Coordinator Burhanettin Duran of SETA. SETA Research Director Kilic Kanat moderated.

Via video-chat, Duran explained the election was “critical from many perspectives,” focusing mostly on the success of the jail-based, left-wing and pro-Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas. Even though Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate for Turkey's Republican People's Party, lost, his campaign proved politicians can gather votes from different sectors.

Professor Khan began by explaining the media bias against Erdogan and the AKP party, describing reports by CNN and the New York Times as being offensive and false. Khan said it was “not accurate to claim that the opposition couldn’t hold rallies” and the “elections were fair but not completely free.” He suggested the main takeaway of the election is “Turkish democracy is flawed,” and the U.S. has an even greater issue in upholding democracy through the vote. Khan ended by saying that the method of “counting ballots in Turkey is superior to that of the U.S.,” referencing the thousands of votes from “dead people” in the 1960 presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon.  To Khan, people should worry less about Turkey and more about the U.S., which is headed toward a “constitutional crisis.”

Professor Reynolds mentioned the tendency of Americans to make Erdogan the focus of U.S. problems with Turkey. To Reynolds, many Americans falsely believe that if Erdogan weren’t in power, U.S.-Turkey relations would be better.  Reynolds held that the election was unfair, and that Erdogan deserves criticism. However, without substantial fraud, Reynolds argued the results are still accurate to the will of the Turkish majority. Further, Reynolds pointed out the U.S. is not a reliable ally from the Turkish perspective, using the arming of the YPG as proof. Reynolds related the YPG issue to a hypothetical, in which Turkey supplies arms to an al-Qaeda group in Mexico.

Serwer contested his fellow panelists by saying the election was neither free nor fair, the opposition is fragmented, and Turkey is headed “deeper into one-man rule.”  Serwer argued, “it’s foolish to imagine that Erdogan will become generous to his enemies, forgive the coup plotters, end disagreements with the Kurds, patch the U.S. alliance, or even restrain his bodyguards on his next trip to the U.S.” Also, he argued the current occupant of the White House makes the situation even more complicated, given that Trump hasn’t lived up to Erdogan’s expectations of extraditing Fethullah Gulen. Serwer stated the only kind of relationship the U.S. and Turkey should have should be based on Turkey’s geographic availability. Concerning the refugee issue in Turkey, Serwer reminded the audience that the U.S. has sent $600 million in support to Turkey, and he believes the U.S. should continue the program.

Serwer listed all the irritants he believes will complicate the future of U.S.-Turkey relations, including the F35 fighter jets issue, the relationship with the Syrian Kurds, and the human rights abuse of holding journalists, politicians, and American prisoners in Turkey. Serwer clarified his hopes the U.S. will demand the release of all but direct coup plotters and with jobs restored for the wrongfully imprisoned. Serwer also offered a trade-off: Erdogan would loosen his “crackdown” in exchange for a release from sanctions from the U.S. In the end, Serwer said, “Erdogan won. Trump is president.  Elections have consequences.”

In a question about the future of Turkish initiatives in Cyprus, Serwer said it was a non-issue. The situation is “too well-managed, it doesn’t cause any pain.”  Serwer asked rhetorically why he should care if the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus are already living together and with Erdogan not causing any harm.

Ambassador Jeffrey compared Trump and Erdogan side-by-side, saying that the men are both “illiberal” and “not fans of the rule of law.” The ambassador presented his opinion of the most important factors in upholding the U.S.-Turkey alliance: the Manbij Agreement, which has been successful thus far; the extradition of Gulen, which is no longer a high priority for Erdogan; and the S-400 missile system procurement. The ambassador explained the word “ally” is simply a code word, denoting nations that will do what we [the U.S.] say, because of the egocentric American rationale of, “if it’s good for us, it’s good for you.” Instead, the ambassador said this method does not work with powerful leaders, like Erdogan, who want to be international partners instead of lackeys. Ambassador Jeffrey did mention, however, that the S400/F35 problem is a “real danger,” and the “Brunson situation” was made worse when Erdogan publicly tied him to Gulen.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

Brookings Institution Panel Examines Turkish Elections

AHI attended a discussion held by the Brookings Institution, “Who Won Turkey? Implications from Erdogan’s Snap Elections,” June 27.  Panelists included: Professor Ali Carkoglu of Koc University, BIAC Executive Board Vice Chair Charles Johnston of Citi, TUSIAD Senior Fellow Kemal Kirisci, and Robert Bosch Senior Fellow Amanda Sloat.  Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post moderated.

In opening remarks, Carkoglu pointed out that although Erdogan may have won, support for the Turkish president has not grown since 2014, even with the additional backing of the nationalist coalition. The professor also noted the peculiar nature of the election, saying that as a political scientist, he is “worried about the fairness and correction of elections.” He cited Turkey’s history of rigged elections seen most prominently in 1946. The latest elements of Turkey’s rigged election may be the choice to move polls to relatively unsafe rural areas or counting ballots that lack the nation’s official ballot stamp. Carkoglu said these elements open the door for questionable elections.

Answering a question about whether the election results would bring foreign investors back to Turkey, Charles Johnston said “the jury is still out.”  Johnston listed the dangers of investing in Turkey, where the GDP has been declining since 2013, foreign debt has risen, inflation is over 10%, oil prices are skyrocketing, the State of Emergency has not been lifted, and the Zarrab case have marred public image. The biggest factor, however, is the matter of the S-400 missile system procurement, which Johnston calls a “huge issue.”  He cited provisions to place an embargo on Turkey and noted the entire situation could turn into a recurrence of Cyprus in 1974. Johnston also explained his understanding of Turkey’s many internal infrastructure projects, which critics call burdensome to the already crumbling economy, by saying “infrastructure promises are good for the nationalistic psyche.”

Amanda Sloat suggested the election will just bring “more of the same” in terms of U.S.-Turkey relations. Sloat referenced the Twitter spat between Congressman Schiff (D-CA) and an Erdogan spokesperson over the methods by which Erdogan won reelection. Sloat also mentioned there tends to be an innate hostility toward Turkey from Washington, referencing the long list of grievances cited commonly on Capitol Hill, which include the imprisonment of Andrew Brunson and three other Americans and the S400/F35 debacle. Sloat closed noting the importance of remembering that nearly 50% of Turkey voted against Erdogan, which demonstrates promising numbers for future opposition campaigns.

Kemal Kirisci reevaluated his understanding of President Erdogan when responding to a question about Turkey’s future foreign policy endeavors. Kirisci said originally, “Erdogan came to power to govern and address a long list of problems in Turkey,” but that somewhere along the line, Erdogan’s rule became about “perpetrating his own power and not serving his nation.” Kirisci referenced the decline in Erdogan’s once considerable popularity in Arab nations.  For example, Erdogan’s approval rate today is a steep drop from 2011, when he drew massive crowds in places like Cairo. Kirisci noted the Erdogan of 2011 simply wanted to govern and promote discussion, but he has now polarized Turkish society into unprecedented levels. With this in mind, he predicted more nationalistic, anti-EU sentiment in the March 2019 election in Turkey. In his closing remarks to the audience, Kirisci forecasted that concession from the right-wing MHP party would be accompanied by demand for continuation of the nation’s State of Emergency, as well as the promise of forgoing any initiatives in Cyprus.

Written by: Alexandra Choate, AHI Intern

GPI & THO Host “July 15 Coup: Two Years Later”

The American Hellenic Institute attended a panel discussion jointly hosted by the Global Policy Institute and Turkish Heritage Organization titled, “July 15 Coup: Two Years Later.” The panelists included: Abraham Wagner, adjunct professor of International and Public Affairs and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University; Mark Hall, film director and producer of the documentary “Killing Ed;” and Mary Addi, professional educator. Deniz Karatas, executive director at the Global Policy Institute, moderated.

President of the Global Policy Institute Paolo von Schirach, Executive Director of the Turkish Heritage Organization Elvir Klempic, and CEO of Nimeks Organic/Natural Food Murat Guzel opened the discussion with solemn remarks on the attempted coup that rocked Turkey on July 15, 2016. von Schirach stressed that a constitutional government, such as that of Turkey, must be respected and that the use of force to “settle scores” is never justified. Expanding upon von Schirach’s remarks, Klempic acknowledged the coup has caused the bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey to “falter” in recent years; however, he remains hopeful that with support from the U.S., an effective dialogue can be constructed between stakeholders in both states. Guzel concluded by dubbing the recent coup, “the darkest chapter in Turkish recent history.” He also called upon U.S. lawmakers to understand more fully the events that occurred two years ago and emphasized that “negative rhetoric by politicians does not help relations between Washington and Ankara.”

The panel’s discussion centered on the increasing security threat of Gülenist charter schools that are continuously popping up across the United States. As Abraham Wagner noted, there is not a great deal of awareness on what the Gülen movement is and the extent to which its supporters have taken “large amounts of tax money for the support of schools and the potential damage a movement like that can cause.” As an expert on counterterrorism issues, Wagner went on to note these schools can serve as a breeding ground for terror activity. Mark Hall expanded upon Wagner’s point, explaining that there are currently 173 Gülen-affiliated charter schools in the U.S. and that these institutions have “skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers for non-educational purposes.”

Mary Addi, a former teacher at a Gülen-affiliated charter school in Ohio, corroborated Wagner and Hall’s comments, stating these schools “groom” young boys to be supporters of the movement and often will cheat and falsify state standardized test scores to get their students ahead. Addi also stated the administrators at the Gülen-affiliated charter schools are experts at money laundering and extortion, making their illegal activities hard to track down. Addi has provided ample evidence of the school’s illegal activities to various agencies such as the FBI, Department of Labor, ICE, and the Department of Education. She is still waiting for concrete measures to be taken against the individuals in these school systems.

When faced with the question of what should be done, the panelists agreed that extraditing Gülen back to Turkey would be a step in the right direction. They also agreed that deporting those carrying out illegal activities in the administrations of the schools would be key.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

The Legacy of the July 15 Coup Attempt on Civil-Military and U.S.-Turkey Relations

The American Hellenic Institute attended an event hosted by the SETA Foundation titled, “The Legacy of the July 15 Coup Attempt on Civil-Military and U.S.-Turkey Relations.” The July 16 event consisted of two panels and a keynote speaker.

Panel I: The Future of Civil-Military Relations in Turkey

The first panel focused on the future of civil-military relations in Turkey and included presenters: Dr. Sener Akturk, associate professor at Koç University Department of International Relations; Edward Erickson, scholar-in-residence at the Clark Center for Global Engagement, the State University of New York at Cortland; and Mark Perry, author and foreign policy analyst.  Kadir Ustun, executive director of the SETA Foundation, moderated.

Dr. Akturk began the first panel by drawing parallels between the PKK attacks that occurred in Turkey in July 2015 and the coup that occurred a year later, July 15, 2016. According to Dr. Akturk, both events were spearheaded by “illegal clandestine cult-like” organizations that faced “existential threats” due to Turkey’s newly-lifted restrictions on Kurdish and Islamic expression. However, a key difference between the two fateful July events lies in the aftermath. Unique to the July 2016 coup attempt there arose a new national identity for Turkey: one that is centered around democracy as a regime-type. Edward Erickson agreed with Dr. Akturk’s statements, asserting the establishment of objective civilian control was an essential part of defining what democracy is. Erickson also noted the idea of civilian control had long predated the attempted coup; however, July 15, 2016, effectively “accelerated” Turkey’s switch to a civilian government. Mark Perry, on a slightly different note, discussed one of the common Western criticisms that Turkey faces:  Turkey should follow America’s lead. However, as Perry explained, that is not so easily done. In the U.S., the military had represented debatably the American people in very fundamental ways Perry opined. The same is simply not true for Turkey. Perry is mindful Turkey is a very different society from the United States; one that has been “plunged in violence with deep economic divisions.” All this must be considered when discussing the future of civil-military relations in Turkey.

Keynote Address

Dr. Ravza Kavakci Kan, deputy chairperson of the AK Party, provided the keynote address.  Dr. Kavakci Kan’s keynote cataloged the sequence of events that occurred on July 15, 2016, in Istanbul and Ankara. In her account, Dr. Kavakci Kan noted that out of the horrific event, came an encouraging solidarity of the Turkish people. However, Dr. Kavakci Kan was sure to condemn the international media’s response for falsely representing what occurred on that fateful day. In particular, Dr. Kavakci Kan stated the poor international response to the coup was a key factor in straining the United States’ relationship with Turkey. Dr. Kavakci Kan also claimed she has “no evidence of [journalists and academics] being in prison because they criticized the government.” However, she noted the government has arrested those in support of terrorism, just as is done in “most developed nations.”

During Q&A, Dr. Kavakci Kan addressed a particular topic of interest in Turkish international relations: the Kurdish population. Dr. Kavakci Kan explained, “There is no Kurdish problem in Turkey; however, there is a terrorist and PKK problem.” She then concluded by expressing her sincere gratitude to the Turkish civilians who “gave up their right to live” in order to defend their democracy.

Panel II: The Future of the U.S.-Turkey Security Partnership

The second panel centered on the future of the U.S.-Turkey security partnership. The panel consisted of: Mark Kimmitt, defense consultant, MTK Defense Consultants; Dr. Richard Outzen, senior U.S. Army advisor and member of Policy Planning Staff, U.S. Department of State; and Kadir Ustun. Kilic B. Kanat, research director at the SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C., moderated.

The panel discussion began with an emphasis on Turkey’s geostrategic significance in the area. As Kimmitt stated, Turkey is “not simply a gateway to Europe, but it is also the gateway to the Middle East for Europe.” Kimmitt remained steadfast in his belief the U.S. should remain in a close relationship with Turkey and noted that few countries can say they consistently fought alongside the U.S. in the way Turkey has.

In reference to the attempted coup, Dr. Outzen stated it is “very hard for Americans to understand the depth to which [the coup] shook Turkey and the reverberations that are still felt today.” Dr. Outzen also emphasized how the Turks have been at America’s side through some very difficult struggles and that security has always been at the “heart” of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.  However, Dr. Outzen did state the coup was not the worst dividing factor in the United States’ relationship with Turkey; rather, the illegal Turkish invasion of Cyprus was the single most divisive event in our relationship.

The final speaker, Ustun, reiterated Turkey serves as an “indispensable” force in the region but has also acknowledged that America’s relationship has experienced some hits along the way. Ustun explained, “this is not an exception,” however, “but a regularity.” He concluded by asserting the U.S.’ reaction to the coup under President Obama was perceived as weak in Turkey and was partly to blame for the deterioration of the U.S.-Turkey relationship. He now believes the United States is willing to listen and help Turkey.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

Senator Tillis & Shaheen Recap the 2018 NATO Summit at CSIS

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) titled, “From Washington to Brussels: A Discussion on the 2018 NATO Summit.” The July 19 event featured Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), co-chairs of the Senate NATO Observer Group and members of the U.S. delegation to the July 10-12 NATO Summit. Heather A. Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic; and director, Europe Program at CSIS, moderated.

The panel opened with a briefing on the status of NATO. Senator Shaheen began by commenting on NATO’s membership invitation to “Northern Macedonia,” but she does not expect the Senate to ratify its membership swiftly. The senator also asserted it is essential to remind the world how consequential NATO has been to global security and democratic values. Senator Tillis agreed, also noting the importance of promoting NATO and bringing “Northern Macedonia” into the alliance. According to Senator Tillis, he does not think President Trump has any true intentions of leaving NATO. If anything, his unorthodox tactics have brought allies closer to reaching NATO’s 2% spending of GDP on defense expenditures commitment goal. Expanding upon this, the senator stated, “The alliance needs to be at a productive level to discuss economic and military cooperation so that we can go after Russia who subverts democracy and China who has initiated economic warfare.” 

The discussion shifted to address Turkey’s position as a NATO ally to the United States. Senator Tillis noted the dichotomy between Turkey’s NATO membership and its disregard for NATO’s standard requirements. Though Turkey is positioned in a geopolitically complex part of the world, Senator Tillis made the point that imprisoning Pastor Brunson for over two years without indictment and discussing the potential purchase of Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft weapons is not how a NATO ally should conduct themselves. Senator Shaheen concurred with Senator Tillis, stating the U.S. government has made the case to Turkey that it is against the Turkey-U.S. allied relationship to imprison any American citizens. However, Senator Shaheen also assumed responsibility on the part of the U.S. government for sending “mixed messages” to Turkey regarding what is acceptable. As a motion to rectify this lack of clarity, Senator Shaheen confirmed that Congress has worked tirelessly to get strong language into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to not allow the F-35 fighter jets to land on Turkish soil until the issues between the U.S. and Turkey are fully addressed.

With regard to NATO’s future, Senator Tillis wants to focus on getting past the “drama” with our allies and make sure NATO member states are fully committed to their 2% annual defense contribution. Senator Shaheen, on the other hand, hopes to gain more allies, particularly within the Balkans, to help curb Russian aggression. The senator also hopes “Northern Macedonia” will become a NATO member by next year.

Written by: Alexis Tsapralis, AHI Intern

U.S.-Turkey Relations: A Desire to Return to the Status Quo

The American Hellenic Institute attended an event organized by the Global Policy Institute (GPI) in conjunction with BAU International University titled, “U.S. Turkey Relations, Current Challenges and Opportunities,” August 21, 2018.

The panelists were: Khush Choksy, senior vice president, Middle East and Turkey Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Selman Kurt, commercial counselor, Embassy of Republic of Turkey; and Howard Beasey, CEO/president, American-Turkish Council (ATC). Sinem Vatanartiran, BAU International University president, moderated. While the panelists acknowledged the complexity of current U.S.-Turkey relations, all of them seemed vested in re-establishing Turkey as a close “ally” of the United States.

Counselor Kurt highlighted the consequential nature of President Donald Trump’s economic sanctions against Turkey. He gave several statistics to back up his argument, pointing out that eight percent of Turkey’s foreign direct investment (FDI) is from the United States. He also claimed the United States is one of Turkey’s top five trading partners and there are at least 1,800 American companies in Turkey. Most importantly, Kurt emphasized that both countries were poised for a significant increase in deal flow.

Choksy, who represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also cautioned against economic sanctions.  He emphasized the longstanding economic ties between Turkey and the United States. Similarly, Choksy believed that political tensions should be solved through political dialogue rather than through economic sanctions. He argued Turkey is of geostrategic importance to American companies and the American military, and thus, should be seen as a country with which the United States should have a good relationship. Lastly, he pointed out President Reagan’s remarks praising Turkey during then-Prime Minister Ozal’s visit to the U.S. in 1988 as evidence for Turkey’s decades-long ‘good relations’ with the United States.

Beasey reiterated the harmful effects that tensions between President Erdogan and President Trump are having on Turkey and the need for the two countries to come to a swift political reconciliation.  Beasey recommended back-channel negotiations as the primary means of ameliorating tensions between Turkey and the United States. He also dismissed concerns about Turkey’s reliability as a supposed “ally” of the United States in addition to worries over Turkey’s drift toward conservative, and even fundamentalist, Islam.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant

U.S.-Turkey Relations: A Consensus of Concern

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) attended a tele-conference panel organized and moderated by the Wilson Center titled, “U.S.-Turkey Relations in Crisis: Where Are We Headed?” The panelists for the August 22 event were: Asli Aydintasbas, senior policy fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations and columnist for Cumhuriyet; Henri Barkey, professor at Lehigh University, senior fellow for Middle East Studies in addition to having involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations; Soner Cagaptay, former director, Wilson Center Middle East Program and author; and Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Barkey painted a stark picture about relations between the U.S. and Turkey. He believed there are there are deep structural problems in relations and the Pastor Brunson case is not the only controversy. In addition, Barkey claimed Turkey has not been a partner of good faith in the fight against ISIS and has been problematic on the Kurdish issue, and thus, Turkey should not be surprised that American officials have reservations about its desire to acquire the S-400 missile system. Barkey in a bold claim, asserted that Erdogan is pushing his own citizens to be anti-American and that U.S.-Turkey relations will be tense as long as Erdogan remains in power. Although Barkey contended the pastor will be released, he harbored serious concerns about U.S.-Turkish relations in the long-term, stating, “I would say, fundamentally, the Turkish-American crisis today is actually very severe… since 1974, when the U.S. imposed a temporary arms embargo on Turkey. The rhetoric in Turkey against the U.S. has never been this bad.”

Aydintasbas echoed some of the themes touched upon by Barkey.  Aydintasbas also believed Turkey has been drifting from the United States, adding that anti-Americanism has increased in Turkey since the failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.   Furthermore, Aydintasbas claimed Turkish officials who she has talked to believe the decline in U.S.-Turkey relations began with the Obama administration. According to Aydintasbas, Trump and Erdogan’s initial reaction seemed to be “love at first sight.” However, she implied that to believe such a relationship would last ignores Turkey’s increasingly anti-Western sentiments. On balance, Aydintasbas believes Turkey has lost major opportunities due to its souring relationship with the United States.

Cagaptay provided a nuanced, or in his words, “granular” take on Turkey.  More specifically, Cagaptay initially provided insight into why Trump was so outraged about the Brunson matter. According to Cagaptay, because Trump helped obtain the release of Ebru Ozkan, a Turkish prisoner in Israel, Trump expected that the same be done for Pastor Brunson. President Erdogan’s perceived unwillingness to assist Brunson in a similar manner rubbed Trump the wrong way, Cagaptay claimed. However, he added a caveat, stating that although Trump and Erdogan have made attacks against the policies and actions of the other side, they have avoided attacking one another directly and by name. Cagaptay said this is done so that Trump and Erdogan can at least maintain a working relationship, even if a warm and cordial bond is out of the question. Cagaptay also explained the general difficulty in punishing Turkey for its aggression or irredentism. According to Cagaptay, there are no technical mechanisms in the North Atlantic Treaty to remove Turkey from NATO. Moreover, he asserted Turkey still has allies in Europe. Lastly, Cagaptay opined that although President Erdogan views himself as Turkey’s new Sultan, Turkey is ultimately not Russia. Cagaptay pointed out that while Putin usually wins with 70% of the vote, a clear demonstration of authoritarian power, President Erdogan ekes out victory of 51% and 52%, indicating that President Erdogan is far from having complete control in Turkey.

Dr. Hintz mainly explored Turkey’s status as an “ally,” and more broadly the question, “What does it mean to be an ‘ally’ of the United States?”  Dr. Hintz cited Turkey’s support for Al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, as well as other Islamic extremists as deeply concerning. In addition, Dr. Hintz also pointed out President Erdogan’s tendency to blame foreign conspirators, in particular the “Israeli/Jewish lobby” for the purpose of political gain. Granted, Turkey recent released the honorary chair of Amnesty International Turkey, normalized relations with the Netherlands, and has been taking care of millions of refugees. However, Dr. Hintz insisted these are acts based on realpolitik rather than humanitarianism. More specifically, Dr. Hintz speculated these acts were attempts to one-up the United States. Overall, Dr. Hintz argued Turkey’s status as an “ally” needs to be looked at more closely in the age of Erdogan.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant

Money Talks: The Influence of Commerce on U.S.-Turkey Disputes

 AHI attended an event organized by the SETA Foundation titled “U.S.-Turkey relations on the Brink?” on August 30, 2018.  Panelists included: Luke Coffey, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Center; Jennifer Miel, senior director for Turkey & Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Kilic Bugra Kanat, research director at the SETA Foundation Washington D.C office. Kadir Ustun, executive director at SETA Foundation’s Washington DC branch, moderated.

Each panelist described what they perceived to be the current state of U.S.-Turkey relations and prescribed what they thought would be potential solutions to difficulties in U.S.-Turkey relations.

Coffey attempted to portray a nuanced and balanced picture of U.S.-Turkey relations. He asserted that personal rapport between the leaders of Turkey and the United States are at an all-time low, presenting serious challenges and potential consequences. On the other hand, he insisted America maintains vigorous institutional ties with Turkey, citing collaboration between Turkey’s and the United States’ respective militaries.  Moreover, he couched the ongoing political and economic disputes with a similar neutrality. He did not make an indication or statement demonstrating that he was biased toward a particular side. Rather, Coffey asserted that both sides have legitimate concerns and there is a need for mutual empathy between the two countries.

Miel, given her role with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, approached current tensions through an economic lens. Her central point was that Turkey and the United States should not let political tensions influence and dictate economic or trade policy. Miel insisted sanctions and tariffs would simply hurt business. She insisted that political disputes should be handled with diplomacy and dialoguing, not economic measures. Miel ended by stating there is tremendous, untapped opportunity that can come out of a robust, unhindered economic relationship between the United States and Turkey.

Kanat concluded the panel discussion by speaking about the various lenses through which U.S.-Turkey relations are viewed. Currently, there are two main schools of thought. Mr. Kanat asserted certain experts have an essentially pessimistic outlook. These individuals believe the Pastor Brunson imbroglio, for example, is not an isolated incident, but symptomatic of deep-seated issues between the United States and Turkey. Alternatively, there are others who view U.S.-Turkey relations in a much more optimistic light, seeing former Secretary of State Tillerson’s relatively recent visit to Turkey as evidence of healthy diplomatic ties. Due to recent events that include, but are not limited to, the Brunson scandal, Kanat’s point of view has shifted from the later viewpoint to the former. Ultimately, Kanat believes trust between the United States and Turkey is at a low point and serious work needs to be done in order to repair the relationship.

Written by: Elias Gerasoulis, Legislative Assistant