Of particular interest at the Trump-Erdogan meeting were the references of the two presidents to France, focusing on the French president’s statements on NATO. Macron had described – in Economist magazine – the Atlantic Alliance as “clinically dead” and in a state of being “brain dead.” He had also flogged Turkey, accusing it of launching an attack on another country, Syria, in an area where French interests are at stake. Macron has reasonably wondered whether, under Article 5, NATO should hurry to assist Turkey if the Assad regime decides to defend militarily against the Turkish troops that have invaded Syria.
Written by ZACHARIAS V. MICHAS *
Macron’s statement, as is reasonable, caused turmoil within NATO. Germany reacted through Chancellor Merkel, prompting the French president to retaliate. The point, however, is the way in which both Erdogan and his American host used the Macron statement.
TURKISH COMMUNICATIONAL PRO-NATO PRESS CONFERENCE
That statement was a first-rate opportunity for Turkish diplomacy to stage a show designed to communicate the message that Turkey remains a loyal ally. In this way, Erdogan attempted to entertain the impression that he is moving away from the western camp and has approached Russia.
Erdogan’s has two goals: The first is obvious and extremely difficult. Maintain the Russian S-400 system in the Turkish arsenal, as well as possession of the F-35 Lightning II fighters, on which the Turkish Air Force has based its power and plans for decades to come. According to preliminary information, this objective, as expected, was not achieved.
However, while the aforementioned communication targeting is evident, the clouds that have emerged in the Ankara-Moscow relationship since the Turkish invasion of northern Syria leave open the possibility that Erdogan’s references to the meeting with Trump may also be targetting the Russians. In short, it once again recommends a classic implementation of Erdogan’s strategy of using the US to press Russia and vice versa (play one against the other). His goal is to maximize the diplomatic benefits for his country.
The American president’s attitude towards his Turkish counterpart moved dangerously close to the boundary of slavishness. Not only does this justify Erdogan’s strategy, but it also makes it very effective, and so he further nurtures it. At the White House, the Turkish president presented a misleading image, but in one sense President Trump also accepted this.
Presenting Turkey as a loyal member of NATO, Erdogan, on the one hand, tried to reassure Washington and the West in general, on the other hand he is trying to pressure the Russians on the issue of northern Syria to achieve as many of his goals as possible. In fact, this is just diplomatic tightrope walking, which is currently working.
TURKEY COVETS THE FRENCH ROLE IN THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
But because Russia’s and Turkey’s interests in Syria remain divergent, Erdogan’s exploitation of Macron’s statements probably has another dimension: It exploits US resentment for French autonomy driving a wedge in Washington-Paris relations.
This is important for Turkey because its interests conflict with those of France not only in Syria but also in the Eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Cypriot EEZ. Erdogan promotes the image that he is the credible and effective American ally in the region, despite his embrace with Putin.
As long as the Americans and the French act in unison, they present an insurmountable front for Turkey in an area vital to its interests. Hence Turkish diplomacy seeks to capitalize on the problems that have arisen in US-French relations in order to implement its version “divide and rule”.
In a more imaginative long-term development, the Turks could say that if they receive the exchange they want in the eastern Mediterranean and northern Syria, they will gradually return to NATO normality.
Breaking Turkey’s relations with Russia, however, should be ruled out as a scenario. However, the White House’s soothing attitude towards the Erdogan regime results in the complete failure of American diplomacy to set limits to Turkish behaviour.
ONE MORE DIPLOMATIC FAILURE FOR TRUMP
As for Trump’s exploitation of Macron’s statements on NATO, it was about serving his personal policy towards Erdogan’s Turkey. A policy that has raised strong suspicions that it is not about serving the US geostrategic interests, but about his personal business prospects.
How else to interpret Trump’s statement that Erdogan is… distressed by Macron’s statement on NATO! If the report proves to be accurate, it is yet another manipulation of the American president that can only cause… mirth.
Although it is too early to assess the situation on the Greek side, Athens has no choice but to pursue full co-operation with both the US and France on security issues in the Eastern Mediterranean and move in the direction of bridging any differences that arise.
In any case, we have been accustomed in recent years to the State Department and the Pentagon acting as the “fire brigade” to mitigate President Trump’s “diplomatic faux pas”.
* ZACHARIAS V. MICHAS is Research Director at the Institute for Security and Defense Analysis (ISDA)