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The West Must Face Reality in Turkey

Turkey's currency crisis and standoff with the United States over the imprisonment of an American pastor have exposed the crumbling edifice of the two countries' Cold War-era partnership. Rather than hold out hope that Turkey will return to the Western fold, US and European policymakers must consider a new policy toward the country.

NEW YORK – Now that Turkey is at loggerheads with its erstwhile ally, the United States, the country’s currency crisis has morphed into a political problem of the first order. The immediate issue is Turkey’s refusal to release the American pastor Andrew Brunson, who is being held on charges of terrorism, espionage, and subversion for his alleged role in the failed July 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The US government is right to object to Brunson’s detention. But its reaction has been counterproductive. In particular, the imposition of additional US tariffs on imports of Turkish steel and aluminum could further undermine confidence in Turkey’s economy, triggering a wider crisis that would do serious harm to the global economy. Moreover, tariffs allow Erdoğan to blame his country’s economic woes on America, rather than on his own government’s incompetence.

It is still possible that the Turkish government will find a way to release Brunson, and that US President Donald Trump, anxious to demonstrate fealty to the evangelicals who form a core part of his base, will rescind the tariffs. But even if the immediate crisis is resolved, the structural crisis in US-Turkish relations – and Western-Turkish relations generally – will remain. We are witnessing the gradual but steady demise of a relationship that is already an alliance in name only. Though the Trump administration is right to have confronted Turkey, it chose not only the wrong response, but also the wrong issue.

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