Column: Turkey-US relations in Trump era: Facts and expectations


One of the first things that U.S. President Donald Trump approved after he took office on Friday was the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that covers 12 countries in Asia Pacific. He said the annulment of the agreement is important for employment in the U.S.

The agreement had been negotiated by former President Barack Obama for two years, but it was not endorsed by the U.S. Congress.

Experts suggest that the U.S.’s withdrawal from the TPP will not have a direct impact on the national economy, emphasizing that Trump will follow quite different economy and trade policies from Obama. In addition to the TTP, Trump also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which proposes a new foreign trade regime between the U.S. and the EU. One of Trump’s most striking assertions is to make history as a U.S. president that will bring the greatest boost in employment in the country’s history.

Can this assertion and these protectionist statements by Trump be interpreted as the first steps toward a new trade regime for both the U.S. and the world? Even if the global trade volume shrinks due to the crisis at this stage of globalization, it would be hard to say that protectionism will come to the fore as a dominant form of trade. This is because, while Trump says he will pursue protectionism, he also says the dollar has become valuable – which would bring down the U.S.’s exports. This means the U.S.’s exports to other countries are important for the recovery of the U.S. economy. This is Trump’s first contradiction. Trump vows that he will reduce corporate taxes and bring down regulations on the private sector by at least 75 percent. On the other hand, however, he mentions a new statist economy that creates jobs by boosting infrastructure investments. This is Trump’s second contradiction. Trump is neither an ultraliberal nor a pure Keynesian statist who claims that the crisis can end only through state investments and expenditures.

So, we cannot now make sharp statements about the U.S. in the Trump era. However, we can say that, as a businessman, Trump sees the basic problems of the U.S. economy. More precisely, he can identify these problems from the perspective of a businessman and produce pragmatic and palliative solutions for them. However, it would be hard to say that this method is a holistic foreign policy strategy.

For instance, if Trump has a cyclical economic expectation from Russia, Russia-U.S. relations should not be better than they should be in one period, and they should not be worse than they should be in another period, depending on this cyclical expectation. If this is the case, it will be a major problem not only for the U.S., but also for the whole world. One of the most important problems for the Obama administration was its failure to maintain a stable line in its relations with its allies in the global hot spots.

Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union’s basic strategy of sharing hegemony during the Cold War period was based on the idea that they would not allow countries remaining in their sovereignty areas to gain power. Especially, the U.S. maintained its hegemony through economic blockade and concomitant superiority. The Bretton-Woods system and the dollar as the basic reserve currency were the most important mainstays of this strategy. At the same time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a Bretton-Woods institution, maintained this strategy through bilateral stand-by agreements with developing countries.

Turkey ended this process for itself and by not signing a new standby agreement with the IMF under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s prime ministry in 2008. When we look at Turkey’s growth pace after 2008, we can see what kind of a change the country went through. Infrastructure investments, such as the construction of schools, airports, roads and subway lines in big cities, gained speed and Turkey’s export potential rose after 2008. As such, Turkey came to be a major economic center for both Europe and the Caucasus, which was dominated by Russia during the Cold War period. Also, it became a major democratic and market-friendly alternative for Middle Eastern regimes, which are moribund and outdated dictatorships. This, beyond any doubt, broke the routine of the U.S. and the EU dating back to the Cold War. This situation is an irreversible fact. Therefore, we expect Trump, who has the intelligence of a businessman, to acknowledge this fact, not to dally over Cold War clichés and not to let the U.S. lose time.

Turkey becoming a stable economic power in its region will also serve the U.S.’s interests. The regional peace and the end of the EU’s crisis is a significant dynamic that will help the U.S. economy rapidly recover.

The aforementioned contradictions of Trump can only be overcome in this way. Trump knows that the U.S. will not be able to go on with the overvalued dollar for a long time. This means he will pursue a new and different economic policy from Bush.

Wars in the Middle East, constant tension, and crisis in Europe and the Pacific region are no longer a sustainable economic policy for the U.S. The Astana talks indicate that the light at the end of the tunnel in the Syrian civil war is seen now. The stability of Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, the security of Israel, and Iran’s contribution to the regional peace in a trouble-free way is only possible with Turkey’s stability. Also, Russia and Iran’s creation of troubles for the U.S. can be prevented only in this way. Russian, Caspian, Iraq and even Iranian energy lines can reach Europe and become commercialized only through regional peace and Turkey-based stability. We strongly expect Trump to evaluate these dynamics in detail and usher in a new era in Turkey-U.S. relations.


*Cemil Ertem is a Turkish columnist at Daily Sabah Turkish newspaper

(Published in Daily Sabah on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2016)