Trump’s Turkey Tariffs Are Retaliation For A Major Military Escalation

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The Trump administration recently levied additional tariffs against Turkey, with Trump himself tweeting about how “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”:

The Wall Street Journal was just one among many mainstream media voices that suggested the tariffs are retaliation for Turkey’s refusal to release US Pastor Andrew Brunson…

During high-level talks in Washington, U.S. and Turkish officials were unable to produce a breakthrough in an impasse that has pushed Turkey’s economy into turmoil, the officials said. Turkey’s currency has plunged amid the crisis amid fears that the U.S. could take tougher steps before the standoff is resolved.

The Trump administration is now positioned to impose new penalties on Turkey for refusing to free Andrew Brunson, an evangelical North Carolina pastor who was detained in Turkey as part of a sweeping crackdown after a failed July 2016 coup.

…but a much more plausible reason for the tariffs is due to Turkish threats to raid Incirlik Air Base, the major US air base in Turkey:

The 60-page criminal complaint also calls for Turkish officials to shut down U.S. military flights from Incirlik, a portion of which the U.S. Air Force has sole control over, and execute a search warrant at the facility to look for additional evidence. So far, the Turkish government does not appear to have acted on any of the charges.

The complaint specifically calls for the arrest of 11 individuals, but it’s not clear if any of them are still assigned to Incirlik. The first two are U.S. Air Force Colonels John Walker and Michael Manion, who were, respectively, the commander and vice commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik in 2016.

Incirlik is of pivotal importance to US military interests, and not just for its role in basing/launching aircraft involved in Syria and all across the middle east – the base also houses “as many as” 50 B-61 nuclear bombs:

According to open-source estimates, the United States may store as many as 50 B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik. Those make up one-third of the approximately 150 nuclear weapons thought to be housed in five nations in Europe as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

A USAF F-16 testing the latest B61-12 variable-yield thermonuclear bomb

Business Insider has detailed many of the reasons for the deterioration in US-Turkish relations, and while they are more numerous than just the threats towards Incirlik Air Base…

Though the bombs are securely confined to the US-controlled side of the base, regularly maintained and looked after, and at little risk of falling into enemy hands, experts have long questioned the wisdom of holding US nuclear weapons in Turkey.

Issues surrounding Turkey’s stability as a US ally arose during the attempted coup of July 2016, and have only grown during the Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on tens of thousands of citizens for suspected anti-government activities.

In April 2017, Erdogan gained a sweeping new set of powers under a constitutional referendum, which he used to consolidate power and continue his attacks on political enemies. Throughout the entire coup and aftermath, Turkey has maintained that a cleric harbored by the US organized the coup.

…they include other military issues between the nations, most notably the Turkish decision to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems, which ultimately led to a halt on delivery of US F-35s.  These jets have not only been bought and paid for by Turkey, they have Turkish pilots in the US training to operate them, even in spite of this action:

The U.S. Senate has added a clause to its version of the annual defense budget bill for the 2019 fiscal year that seeks to block the transfer of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey. The vote was a response to that country’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems and arrest and prosecution of an American citizen, but it won’t come into effect before Turkish authorities take delivery of their first batch of the stealthy jets and both sides appear to be preparing for a broader political crisis.

On June 18, 2018, Senators voted 85 to 10 to include the provision targeting Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Turkish government has been one of six major partner nations in the Joint Strike Fighter project since 2002, is responsible for production of certain components of the jet, is slated to provide maintenance services to other operators in Europe, and has more than 100 of the aircraft on order, making it one of the biggest overall customers.

Tariffs might not appear to be that big of a deal on the surface, but they have caused the Turkish Lira to drop 20% in one day alone, which was already down close to 33% the day before:

The lira stood at 5.5575 against the dollar at 1724 GMT, down 5 from the previous day’s close and after sliding to an all-time low of 5.5690. It was headed for its biggest one-day drop since 2008.

The lira has lost nearly a third of its value this year, mainly fuelled by worries about Erdogan’s influence over monetary policy.

As President Trump has made nuclear deterrence a cornerstone of his foreign policy, even stating that he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in an to attempt to avert nuclear war…

…the most logical explanation for the tariffs is that the Trump administration is sending a crystal clear message to Turkey – even the threat of raiding Incirlik Air Base will be met with swift and harsh retaliation.