Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Trump and Turkey

Author: Demyan Plakhov

 How will the new United States’ administration affect textile industries in Turkey?

President Donald J. Trump’s new administration could change the dynamics of the United States-Turkey relationship, consequently shaping the textile industry in Turkey. However, many experts, officials, academics and economists struggle to find an answer in predicting the trend of these relationships due to several factors, including Trump’s unpredictability, Russia’s involvement, conflicts of interests, keeping a strong NATO alliance, and combatting ISIS. Trump largely failed to mention his political stance in terms of the most eastern NATO ally during his campaign, but only encouraged Turkey to take a more involved role in the fight against ISIS. Even so, Turkey’s leadership congratulated Trump on his successful campaign in hopes of renewing the relationship. Nonetheless, it seems that this relationship could be quickly deteriorating.

The controversial Executive Order 13769, also commonly referred to as the ‘travel’ or ‘muslim’ ban, reinstated Trump’s campaign comments that have distressed the Turkish government, “Trump’s pre-election comments on Muslims disappointed us, but these will be relegated to the context of campaigning… I think there will be much better dialogue between our president and Trump.” In addition, US’ history of supporting the Kurdish militia in Syria lies in contradiction to Turkey’s government. Furthermore, Trump’s threats to withdraw NATO support, believing that the United States is not “properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of [its] military protecting other countries,” could harm the security of the region, undermine diplomatic ties with Turkey, and deteriorate Turkey’s textile industry.

Turkey relies on its textile industry since it makes up 10% of the GDP, employs roughly 750 000 people, and is the backbone of Turkey’s exports. A damaged relationship with the United States could downgrade Turkey’s $800 million economic partnership into a fierce competition. As a result, either nation could use its economic influence in the textile industry to overpower the other. However, this seems unlikely since there are more vital economic trades that could be used as leverage including: mineral fuel ($2.0 billion), iron and steel ($1.9 billion), aircraft ($1.3 billion), and machinery ($1.0 billion).

The incoming United States’ administration has deeper connections in Turkey that could led to conflicts of interest. Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, now former National Security Adviser to Trump, recently resigned due to his conflict of interest related to Turkey. Trump’s National Security Advisor admitted to managing a lobbying firm that represented interests of the Turkish government. During the process, one Turkish client paid Flynn’s consulting firm $530,000. It was reasonable to assume this conflict of interest due to Michael Flynn’s foreign and security policy based on the United States’ presence in Turkey, and maintaining that, “we need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective… recognize Turkey as a priority.” Notwithstanding his absence, existing conflicts of interests within the Trump administration could still influence United States’ policy towards Turkey, directly or indirectly.

A 2016 interview with New York Times’ David Sanger and Maggie Haberman questioned the relationship between the United States and the Kurdish forces to which Trump replied, “I’m a fan of the Kurds, you understand.” This poses a detrimental challenge to the new United States’ foreign policy because it seems that Trump’s administration is inclined to install close relationships with both sides of the conflictual relationship. To face these tensions between Turkey and the Kurds, Trump suggests to conduct meetings “early” on in his presidential term. The new United States’ foreign policy would need to back away from supporting the Kurds, if the United States is to strengthen its relationship with Turkey, which could also develop their textile trade.

Trump is also open to renewing the United States’ relationship with Russia, which could affect the United States’ relationship with Turkey due to two reasons: (a) Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria could neutralize the United States’ backing of Turkey and rebel groups, and (b) Russia’s opposition to NATO’s alliance could also incline Trump to retreat from the alliance that Turkey relies on. Moreover, Turkey’s second largest importer of textiles from the past year was Russia. It is worth noting that Russia was the top importer of textiles for several years, and has dramatically decreased imports by 39% from 2015 to 2016. This could be a response to Turkey’s strong involvement in Syria and its opposition to Russia’s goals in the region, including Turkey’s controversial downing of a Russian SU-24. As a result, the political dynamic between Russia, United States and Turkey may also decide the fate not only of the textile industry of Turkey, but its economy in general.

Therefore, for Turkey’s textile industry to prosper, Turkey will need to maintain its relationship with the United States to ensure its security against ISIS threats and to strengthen its textile trade partnership. At the same time, Turkey will need to recede its opposition against Russia to restore colossal exports. Nonetheless, Turkey will need to be careful not to overwhelmingly support Russia because it could endanger its relationship with the EU, which is closely interlinked with the interests of NATO. In this scenario, if Turkey prioritizes its textile industry, it runs a great risk of creating grave security challenges in the future. With the new United States’ administration, this scenario is possible, but difficult to foresee with certainty due to the unpredictability of Trump’s administration.