President Trump met with President Erdogan in Washington last Wednesday. Despite rather tense relations between Turkey and the United States, both leaders concurred on one topic in particular: Europe needs to pay more money.
“I’m a big fan,” Trump said about the Turkish President during their press conference, while emphasizing the “great relationship” both men, as well as both countries, had, according to Trump. The praise did not stop there. Turkey was also commended by Trump as being an important strategic partner for the US, a great NATO ally.
Trump’s warm words do not correlate with the situation both countries were in the previous month. After Trump withdrew US troops from northern Syria, even members of his party were appalled by the actions taken that had put a US ally, the Kurds, at risk to be annihilated – thanks to Turkey’s immediate invasion of the area.
Naturally, the President’s modus operandi was to blame someone else for the situation, which made him send a now-infamous letter to Erdogan, which, besides serving as comical relief to the public, threatened to “destroy the Turkish Economy”. One month and one northern Syria ceasefire later, Trump paid tribute to Turkey in the White House, while Erdogan described his country as the most reliable partner of the Americans in the region.
A travesty, considering that until the withdrawal the Kurdish militia YPG occupied this position. The YPG had fought alongside the US forces for years against the IS. Turkey, however, considers the Kurdish militia YPG as a terrorist organization.
More common ground was made when Erdogan mentioned the former IS fighters Turkey was currently keeping in jails as well as three million Syrian refugees his country had provided with shelter. “We spent $ 40 billion on them,” Erdogan said, before following his statement up with an attack on Europe, which, according to Erdogan, has been shortchanging Ankara by paying only three billion.
Welcome words for Trump, who has been chastising Europe from his first day in office for not paying its fair share in trade, security, and defense. “I talked to Europe,” Trump said, referring to Germany, France, and the UK. “All these countries do not help us” and it was “not fair”. Europe would have to pay much more here, Trump demanded.
However, tensions between the two states remain for two reasons. First, Ankara frustrated Washington by buying the Russian S-400 missile defense system – a provocation to NATO as a whole, and a disappointment to Trump, who enjoys providing the US defense industry with foreign contracts. Moreover, the US is concerned that Russia could use the sensitive S-400 radar to obtain data on the capabilities of the US F-35 fighter jets.
Second, Erdogan did not appreciate the recent Armenia resolution that the House of Representatives adopted. The resolution was casting a “shadow” on relations between the two countries, as it recognizes the slaughter of the Armenians as genocide and condemns the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is reacting to every such point of view – previously expressed by the European Parliament and the German Bundestag – upset.
It is unlikely that any of Trump’s predecessors would have offered Turkey a forum under the current circumstances. The current occupier of the Oval Office will not pass on any chance to publicly criticize Europe – though some of the criticism remains warranted-, even if it means putting tensions with Turkey aside.