US policy: Equal distances, false equivalences

US policy: Equal distances, false equivalences

In Greece we have learned the consequences of the United States’ decades-long policy of keeping equal distances in Greek-Turkish disputes. When one side is the aggressor and the other defending itself, the “balance” benefits the aggressor. When one side is responsible for grave transgressions and the other for lesser ones, seeking a “balance” benefits the former at the latter’s expense (think Russia-collusion vs “her emails”). Just two days ago we witnessed the latest episode of US policy regarding Greece and Turkey when, in the face of rising Turkish aggression in the Aegean, the State Department declared, “We encourage all parties to take steps that will de-escalate the current situation.”

Washington, though, has probably begun to understand that its tolerance has created a monster, which does not shrink from employing the policy of “equal distances” when seeing itself with regard to the United States. Speaking to members of Turkey’s ruling party this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared: “It must be known that if we are together in NATO, the US must obey the current provisions of NATO as much as Turkey must. As the president of Turkey, I also want this to be known, that NATO does not equal the US. Each country in NATO equals the US.” Ignoring the irony of his country’s long-term attitude toward fellow NATO-ally Greece, Erdogan was referring to Washington’s concerns over Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. The Americans say that Turkey’s war against Kurdish “terrorists,” as Ankara calls them, is distracting from the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Replying to American officials who warned Turkey not to strike the area where US troops are operating, Erdogan thundered, “Those, who say, ‘If they hit us we will respond harshly,’ obviously have never experienced the Ottoman slap in their lives.”

When the United States treats Turkish aggression as equal to Greece’s defending its national sovereignty, when Cyprus’s rights are not more important than Turkey’s claims, then why should Turkey not declare the Kurds terrorists, why should Ankara not see itself as the equal of Washington, its demands the equivalent of what is right? Tolerance of Turkish bullying has made Turkey think that what it wants is what it should have. Perhaps now the United States will understand that the expediency of “equal distances” leads not to balance but to injustice.

The European Union and some of its members have begun to treat Ankara with greater seriousness but they have little leverage. As long as Turkey is under the sway of Erdogan, promises of liberal democracy, of social justice and the prosperity that the EU once represented to Turks hold little sway. Unless the Europeans conceive of their own “Ottoman slap.”

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