While Iran Is Very Much On The Front Burner, There’s Another Military-Related Conflict That May Be About To Boil Over…
That involves Turkey’s decision to buy a missile defense system from Russia instead of the U.S., and Trump’s escalating attempts to mete out punishment for that…
Update: The opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu won as Mayor of Istanbul for the 2nd time, and this time by a much bigger margin, taking 54% of the vote. This time his opponent representing the ruling party conceded, and Turkey’s President Erdogan congratulated the victor, signaling at least for now there won’t be an attempt to do over the do-over. Still, it’s a blow to Erdogan, and a victory for Democracy, at least for today.
What seems like the increasingly imminent possibility of a strike against Iran, and the Republican-controlled Senate voting to block Trump’s “emergency” arms sales to Saudi Arabia are very much on the front burner these days, so it’s easy to look past another military-related conflict long-simmering in the back…
President Trump apparently — after initially approving it — called off a strike against Iran to retaliate for shooting down a U.S. drone late last night, at the last moment. (We’re not trying to egg the President on, but we do remember when he ridiculed President Obama for not taking action against Iran after they harrassed U.S. military in the Persian Gulf, pledging under his command, they’d be “shot out of the water”). And the Republican-controlled Senate vote to nix Trump’s declaration of an “emergency” in order to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, doesn’t look like it has the margins to override a Presidential veto.
But we’re in Turkey as we write this, where the government is standing firm on its decision to buy a missile defense system from Russia instead of the U.S. And Turkey’s stubbornness does appear to be a surprise. The Trump Administration initially pushed back by saying if Turkey went ahead with the purchase, they’d cancel the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the Turkish military, figuring that’d be enough.
That counter-move also makes sense, because Turkey is part of NATO, which was formed in part to avoid another World War, and has spent a lot of its efforts potentially protecting the West from an attack by the Soviet Union, now Russia. So it is odd that Europe’s Eastern-most country (most of Turkey is actually part of Asia), is planning to defend itself from a potential missile attack with a missile defense system purchased from the country NATO has historically believed is most likely to carry out such an attack.
If nothing else, Turkey buying the Russian equipment is absolutely a snub of NATO (even though it’ll ostensibly be used to defend NATO countries). Which is normally the kind of thing Trump also likes to do. If only U.S. defense manufacturers weren’t involved this time. Because selling more and better and more expensive military equipment to more buyers is a big part of Trump’s plan to keep the U.S. economy booming, since for security reasons, most all of those products are still made in the U.S.A., so there’s no wait for companies to come back and fire up factories; each new military contract means more American jobs right away.
But Turkey says it’s moving ahead with the Russia deal no matter what the consequences, no turning back.
So the Trump Administration is now turning to sanctions to turn up the heat, since withholding the jets alone didn’t work. According to Bloomberg, what they’re mainly looking at is restricting Turkey from interacting with the U.S. banking system, meaning it effectively wouldn’t be able to buy product from the U.S., or sell product there.
That would of course, create much more of an economic threat to Turkey than to the U.S., although Turkey isn’t a gigantic U.S. trading partner; actually only comes in at 32nd on the list. And trade with Turkey is about even: no surplus, no deficit. Most of what Turkey ships to the U.S. is machinery and textiles.
Still, the talk of much more economic pressure was enough to send the Turkish Lira plunging (despite being part of NATO, Turkey is not part of the EU).
Relations between Trump and Turkey’s President Erdogan have always been wavering and strange. It was Erdogan who — during a phone call — prompted Trump’s promise — since rescinded — to pull remaining U.S. troops out of Syria, which borders Turkey to the East. The U.S. supported Kurdish militias in the fight against ISIS, but Turkey’s leader considers those forces to be terrorists too. Erdogan’s also teamed up with Iran to try to shut them down.
Turkey’s also been the target of U.S. economic pressure before, which was used to secure the successful release of a U.S. preacher detained there on charges he supported both the Kurdish forces, and the forces behind an attempted coup a couple of years ago.
Separately, though not entirely separately, there’s a lot of activity around the campaign for Mayor of Istanbul right now that also has big international implications. The election is coming up this weekend. (Like most of the world, unlike the U.S., Turkey schedules voting on days when people are not generally scheduled to work).
Except there already was a Mayoral election. Back in May. Problem is, the result was a surprise, with the candidate associated with Turkey’s President Erdogan unexpectedly losing. So, suddenly there was election fraud alleged, and the “Supreme Election Council” called a redo. Turkey is supposed to be a Democracy, but after that failed coup in 2016, carried out by people who felt Erdogan was concentrating too much power, Erdogan’s concentrated his power even more, to the point where he’s now arguably one of those Democratically-elected “Presidents for life.” (We say arguably, because never can predict what happens if an economy fails big time). That’s also part of why Erdogan’s angry with the U.S., and it pre-dates Trump: he believes the coup attempt was masterminded by a political foe welcomed by and exiled in the U.S.
It seems to us Erdogan’s preferred candidate for Mayor of Istanbul, Binali Yildirim isn’t taking any chances this time around: he’s got the city plastered with posters all the way from the airport to the iconic touristy sections. Including the iconic Galata Bridge as we show in our photo below (it was another bridge, the Bosphorus Bridge where the 2016 coup attempt began, and ended). His opponent, Ekrem Imamoglu, has far less of a visible presence in the city right now. But of course, he’s already won once.
We think this story in the English-language Daily Sabah taking a snapshot of the current state of the campaign is interesting, not because it contains very much pertinent information (if any at all), but because of how carefully it’s worded, and how much reading between the lines is expected. And remember again, Turkey is a Democracy. Although many
Democracies don’t have freedom of the press, and even if — like the U.S. — they do, it’s something never, ever to be taken for granted, because all it takes is a coordinated centralization of power for a free press to break down.