What Did Turkey Gain From the Brunson Affair?
With Pastor Andrew Craig Brunson out of the hair of Turkish-US ties, one can’t help but wonder what this affair gained for Ankara.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government say the release of the Pastor proves that the judiciary is independent in Turkey. This is not the place to go into the merits of this assertion, which some may find a little Kafkaesque in today’s Turkey.
Despite the spin out of Ankara the general belief in Turkey and the U.S. appears to be that the “stick” used by Washington, namely sanctions against the Turkish justice and interior ministers, as well as a 50 percent tariff hike on Turkish steel and aluminum, worked.
Pro-government commentators are trying to sell this matter off as a success story for Erdogan.
Nationalist circles, however, are not pleased. This is clearly discernible in remarks by Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the National Movement Party (MHP), who is also Erdogan’s “shadow coalition partner.”
Max Hoffman of the Center for American Progress, believes that this is how Washington sees the matter. “The U.S. sees that the stick approach worked, that a pressure campaign worked” Hoffman told the VOA in an interview after Brunson’s release and return to the U.S. https://www.voanews.com/a/newly-freed-pastor-meets-trump/4612356.html
“They say pressure got their guy out of prison, and they’ll be tempted to go back to that approach” Hoffman said.
Erdogan started by wanting a trade-off between Brunson and Fethullah Gulen, the Islamic preacher who lives in Pennsylvania under legal protection. Ankara accuses Gulen of masterminding the abortive coup attempt in 2016, and has been trying fruitlessly to have him extradited.
After the rejection of Erdogan’s “preacher-for-a-preacher” offer it was reported that Ankara was seeking to cut a new deal with Washington by using Brunson to secure the return of Hakan Atilla, an executive from the government owned Halk Bank who is in prison in New York.
Atilla was sentenced by a U.S. court to 32 months in prison for circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran. Turkey wants Atilla returned, saying he was unjustly tried and sentenced. It also wants a rescinding or a reduction of the fine the U.S. treasury is said to be preparing for Halk Bank.
There is nothing to indicate, after Brunson’s release, that Ankara’s efforts regarding Atilla and Halk Bank have borne fruit.
Ankara appears more interested at the moment in having the U.S. sanctions slapped against its Minister for Justice and Minister for Interior, as punishment over the Brunson affair, lifted.
These sanctions may be hollow since neither minister has any property or dealings in the U.S, but have had a massive symbolic significance because of the economic effects they had.
The Turkish lira spiraled downwards dramatically after Washington announced its sanctions and said it would not have any dealings with Ankara until the Brunson affair was cleared.
The hope now is that if the sanctions are lifted, the current positive trend, with the TL gaining against the dollar, will continue, spurred on by the pubic expectation that Turkish-U.S. ties are returning to normal.
The bottom line is that Turkey gained little from the Brunson affair and lost prestige.
Meanwhile, there are still important issues to be resolved between Turkey and the U.S. If it is true what Hoffman says, namely that U.S. officials could incline now to using the “stick” in efforts to resolve these issues with Ankara, then we can expect more run-ins in the future.
On the domestic front, the Brunson affair does not confirm that the judiciary in Turkey is free, but that it acts according to political rather than legal considerations.
There are thousands of people who have been incarcerated on charges of terrorism like those levelled against Brunson. If Brunson’s release was a judicial matter, and not a political one as is being claimed, then those people should also enjoy the benefits that Brunson enjoyed.
Some Turkish legal experts argued after Brunson’s release that the judiciary in today’s Turkey has its own version of the “auto censorship” that is widespread in the mainstream Turkish media.
Put another way, it doesn’t have to be instructed to rule one way or another. It simply rules according to political expediency. Ankara needed the Brunson affair out of the way because it had become a hindrance that came at a high price. The court simply did what was necessary.