The latest sanctions against Turkey introduced by Washington on December 13 were invoked under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a US federal law that imposes economic sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The act came into effect in August 2017. This is the first time it has been used against an ally and, what makes it even more remarkable, an ally who is also a NATO member.
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As reported by AFP, “The sanctions target Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, the country’s military procurement agency, its chief Ismail Demir and three other senior officials. The penalties block any assets the four officials may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar their entry into the U.S. They also include a ban on most export licenses, loans and credits to the agency.”
The decision, long anticipated — and long resisted by President Donald Trump — came about because of Ankara’s refusal to back down from the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Turkey announced back in 2017 it was going ahead with the deal, after feeling it had been rebuffed in its efforts to acquire the US Patriot system at what it considered a fair price and by the refusal of the US to allow for a transfer of the system’s technology.
Tied into the politics swirling around the S-400 is the F-35, the stealth fighter jet the sale of which to the United Arab Emirates has caused ripples of anxiety in Israel. And given the ambitions of and mutual animosities between Mohammed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi crown prince and de facto UAE ruler, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there are, without doubt, similar feelings of anxiety in Ankara, though for different reasons.
The Americans took the sale of 100 F-35s to Turkey off the table because of concerns that the presence of the S-400 would potentially enable the Russians to acquire in-depth knowledge of the stealth fighter. In July last year, the White House released a statement that said, in part, that “Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”
It was a decision that President Trump, eyeing the half a billion dollars the deal was worth, only grudgingly agreed to. “It’s not fair,” he said. And he groused: “Turkey is very good with us, very good, and we are now telling Turkey that because you have really been forced to buy another missile system, we’re not going to sell you the F-35 fighter jets. It’s a very tough situation that they’re in, and it’s a very tough situation that we’ve been placed in, the United States.”
Trump, it hardly needs to be said, blamed the Obama administration, claiming his predecessor had blocked the sale. As ever with this president, that’s not true. (For readers who are interested in the actual story, the defense and security site War on the Rocks provides a blow by blow account which can be found here.)
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Though Erdoğan and Trump have had a good relationship, the US president has no time now for anything other than his increasingly pathetic and forlorn crusade to stay in the White House. He couldn’t be bothered to veto the bipartisan decision to invoke sanctions on Turkey. It was left to the outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to try to paper over the cracks. In a statement couched in a tone of “more in sorrow, than in anger,” Pompeo said: “Turkey is a valued ally and an important regional security partner for the United States,” adding that “we seek to continue our decades-long history of productive defense-sector co-operation by removing the obstacle of Turkey’s S-400 possession as soon as possible.”
The Turks were having none of it. And from them, there was plenty of anger and no sorrow. Calling the decision “inexplicable,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry delivered a blunt rejoinder: “We call on the United States to revise the unjust sanctions (and) to turn back from this grave mistake as soon as possible. Turkey is ready to tackle the issue through dialogue and diplomacy in a manner worthy of the spirit of alliance. (The sanctions) will inevitably negatively impact our relations, and (Turkey) will retaliate in a manner and time it sees appropriate.”
Purring like the proverbial Cheshire cat was Vladimir Putin. The sanctions, though less harsh than might have been anticipated, play well to his strategy of pulling a NATO member, one with the second-largest standing army in the pact, closer to Moscow. Building on initiatives in Syria where Russian and Turkish forces are jointly policing a shaky ceasefire and on the deal the two countries brokered in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Russian president has further strengthened his hand.
Faced with an already challenging Middle East portfolio, it is yet another Trumpian mess that the incoming president, Joe Biden, and his pick as secretary of state Antony Blinken, will have to contend with.
*[This article was originally published by Arab Digest.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.