Anti-Americanism in Turkey has reached new heights. Two men opened fire on the U.S. embassy in Ankara this week, saying they were angry over the fall in the lira. The Turkish government says it is under an economic attack by the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Ankara over its jailing of American citizens.
According to a BBC poll, 64 percent of Turks viewed the United States negatively in July 2017, compared to 36 percent in 2014. These figures make Turkey one of the most anti-American countries in the world, but it is likely the level of anti-American sentiment has risen further this month as a result of the dispute with Washington.
The foreign policy of modern, institutionalised states does not usually change much from one government to the next, and their politicians avoid using foreign policy as a tool to push their domestic agenda. But states that lack proper institutions often use international politics for domestic consumption.
Anti-U.S. sentiment began rising in Turkey after 2013 and 2014. It originated from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and was disseminated by the media under his government’s control. The question that we must ask is what is the real reason for Erdoğan’s hostility towards the United States?
Anyone writing Erdoğan’s biography might divide it into two periods; before the widespread Gezi protests of 2013, the biggest demonstrations yet against his rule and the corruption charges against ministers and their relatives in December of the same, and the period after.
The sharp swerve against the United States started right after the short-lived December investigations in which prosecutors linked to the shadowy Gülen movement, later accused of carrying out the 2016 coup attempt, alleged senior government figures were involved in a complex scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. The government quashed the investigation and had the police and prosecutors involved arrested.
The December investigations nevertheless transformed Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy dramatically. Looking at Turkish politics since we can conclude that Erdoğan will be occupied with the allegations for the end of his life.
The president insists that audio and video recordings submitted as evidence of corruption and later leaked online were fake without maintains that neither he, nor his family members were involved in any corruption.
But even if Erdoğan has convinced his supporters that the recordings, including one where a person sounding like the president instructs a person sounding like his son to stash large amounts of cash, were ‘fake, outside Turkey, the situation is starkly different.
U.S. prosecutors took up the corruption case and in 2016 arrested Reza Zarrab, a well-connected Turkish-Iranian gold trader, and a year later Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager of Turkish state-owned Halkbank as they arrived in the United States.
Zarrab turned state’s witness at the trial later last year and testified to having given millions of dollars in bribes to Turkish ministers to cover up the plot in which he traded trade gold for sanctioned Iranian oil. Zarrab said wiretap recordings presented at the trial showed the president had given the green light to restarting the scheme after a hiatus following the December 2013 Turkish investigations.
Erdoğan used every means at his disposal to put a stop to the trial, to discredit its validity, or at least to prevent its findings being properly heard in Turkey.
U.S. authorities may seek to arrest or extradite from third countries further suspects whose identities are kept under sealed indictment and are as yet unknown. The U.S. Treasury is also investigating Halkbank for its part in laundering the proceeds of the lucrative sanctions-busting scheme and could impose billions of dollars of fines that the Turkish government would end up having to pay.
Behind Erdoğan’s anti-American rhetoric is uneasiness about his future. Erdoğan will not make peace with the United States unless U.S. courts drop the investigations. In the meantime, the president is likely to continue his flirtation with Russia, Iran and China as a way of bargaining with the West. But in doing so, Erdoğan will be bargaining for with Turkey’s future for the sake of his own.