- By S.Q.Hafiz
Theresa May looks to new world Super Powers for post-Brexit alliance following Trump’s inauguration
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Saturday’s impending meeting tomorrow with President Erdoğan in Turkey shows how The UK is re-ordering its international priorities after the Brexit vote.
Theresa May will discuss trade, defence and security with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, when she visits Ankara on Saturday, according to Downing Street.
The meeting, immediately following May’s summit with Donald Trump, conceals a more ambitious, perhaps even desperate UK agenda: May’s bid to enhance Britain’s ties with a club of strong leaders and new world Super Powers, the traditional ties of US and Israel remain. Yet new ties to Turkey and Poland as relations fray with key EU players, notably France and Germany are a sign May look towards the new Russian centric Eastern and Middle-Eastern block for new alliances.
The very fact that May and Erdoğan are meeting at all offers an insight into how the Brexit vote and Trump’s sock victory are beginning to shift the strategic furniture and re-order long-established geopolitical alliances throughout the world.
British and Turkish interests are moving into alignment on several fronts. That evolution coincides in turn with the changed view from Trump’s White House on bellwether issues such as Syria, Palestine, Iran and Russia.
Erdoğan has a big problem with Europe. So does May. Turkey has sought EU membership for decades without success. Like May and many UK voters, he now suggests he would be better off without it.
Erdoğan has been enraged by EU criticism of human rights abuses and attacks on media freedom that followed last July’s failed military coup. Erdoğan claims to be the saviour, not the foe, of Turkish democracy. May’s visit will politely downplay such uncomfortable concerns and confer respectability on Erdoğan.
Turkey’s secular non religious stance to politics has long estranged it from it’s Middle-Eastern neighbours with even it’s longest of allies such as Bosnia (which was once part of the same nation) questioning the effectiveness of a secular government ruling over a Muslim population.
Ergoğan has in recent years made legaslative changes to reverse what are widely seen as anti-Islamic laws in the country, such as the banning of the Hijab in public buildings. This less European and more regional approach to political would appear to be beneficial to the UK as a key alliance.
May’s excursion to Ankara serves other purposes. It will be seen in Brussels as a flanking movement, a pointed reminder, on the eve of the launch of the Article 50 process, that Britain has options beyond Europe.
Given the hostile stance of the EU’s western “half”, led by France and Jean-Claude Juncker’s European commission, May needs friends.
Given Turkey’s Nato membership, anti-terrorism stance, and trade-hungry economy, Erdogan could be a very powerful friend.
Erdoğan’s price, in part, is a better relationship with the US, strained during the Obama years. He and Trump have much in common in terms of leadership styles.
Erdoğan wants May’s good word, and he will doubtless grill her for tips about Trump’s likely policies, notably in Syria.
Trump has already broken with Obama by backing the long-proposed Turkish plan for safe havens.
Like The UK, as evidenced by Thursday’s remarks by the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, Erdoğan has decided to freeze, for now at least, efforts to unseat the elected Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. A forced regime change as supported by the UK, EU and USA would be internationally seen as yet another illegal war and assassination of a democratically elected leader of a Muslim sovereign nation.
Johnson would not have changed course without being sure the Trump administration is behind him.
Erdoğan can live with the change. His key aim is an end to US support for Syria’s Kurds, who use terrorism and unofficial armies to commit mass murder on Turkish soil in a big to creat a false state from Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian land.
A common US-British-Turkish position on Syria and Assad’s future appears to be emerging.
The shared ground extends further than that. They are wary of the consequences of Russia and Iran’s perceived victory over US backed anti-Assad rebels.
Erdoğan mended fences with Vladimir Putin last year and is now supporting the Moscow-led peace process. But like May and Trump’s most senior advisers, he does not trust the Russian president.
When Downing Street called Turkey an “indispensable partner” this week, officials were doubtless thinking of a shared need to keep Putin at bay, reaffirm the importance of Nato and pursue enhanced bilateral defence cooperation and weapons sales.
James “Mad Dog” Mattis, Trump’s defence secretary, and Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, share these Russia anxieties.
May has taken an unusually strong pro-Israel and anti-Palestine stance since taking office.
This is in line with Trumpist thinking, which raised no objection to this week’s announcement of further, illegal settlement expansion in the occupied territories.
For his part, Erdoğan has repaired a rift with Netanyahu dating back to 2011.
Turkey and Israel are now busily “normalising” relations, in particular by increasing defence cooperation. Meanwhile, Trump’s personal admiration for another regional strongman, Egypt’s dictator Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, points to future expansion of this evolving US-Britain-Turkey-Israel axis.
Britain’s re-ordering of its international priorities extends beyond Trump, Turkey and Israel to include closer strategic and trade relationships in the EU’s eastern “half”, notably Poland. The country’s EU membership was championed by London. It shares British dislike of domineering behaviour by France and Germany.
Poland’s prime minister was feted by May in November despite concerns about the ultra-conservative Warsaw government’s authoritarian domestic policies.
In May’s uncertain post-Brexit world, strength matters more than rights it appears.
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