Why Trump doesn't want to punish Turkey over its Russia dealings, after threatening Germany for the same thing last week
- The US is mulling sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. US President Donald Trump also threatened to sanction Germany for doing a gas pipeline deal with Russia.
- But Trump is more concerned about what he frames as Germans taking advantage of the US than he is about the Russians.
- Trump views Germany's Angela Merkel as a hypocrite who lectures him about following international rules while flouting them herself.
- Given Trump's warm feelings towards Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he's probably not too worried about Germany and Turkey doing deals with Russia.
Bloomberg's report that the US is mulling sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia comes just days after Trump threatened to sanction Germany, also for partnering with Russia, this time on a gas pipeline.
The fracas may be a lot of things, but it is likely very little to do with the countries' relationships with Russia. Trump is more concerned about what he frames as Germans taking advantage of the US than he is about the Russians. And it's Congress, not Trump, that is angling to slap Turkey with sanctions. Trump, Bloomberg reported, is reluctant to make a move on Turkey before he meets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G-20 summit later this month.
The president is famously transactional in his thinking. Under his "America First" doctrine, he treats diplomacy like a business deal and frames international agreements in terms of "winning" and "losing."
Yet that attitude hasn't extended to Russia. He has worked to curry favor with Vladimir Putin despite a broad consensus that Russia intervened in the last US presidential election. Given Trump's warm feelings towards Putin, he's probably not too worried about Germany and Turkey doing deals with Russia.
Trump's relationships with Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be a bigger factor in his differing attitudes towards them. The president has an infamous affinity for "strongman" leaders like Erdogan. He fist-bumped the Turkish leader and said "he does things the right way" last year, and called him a "friend" and said he was "getting very high marks" in 2017. Although America's relationship with Turkey has become strained over the past two years, there is little evidence that Trump has changed his mind about Erdogan.
In contrast, Trump has repeatedly criticized Merkel over Germany's large trade surplus with the US, limited defense spending, its gas pipeline deal with Russia, and pro-immigration policies. He singled her out and broke protocol by addressing her as Angela at the NATO summit last summer, as he criticized members for failing to meet their defense-spending commitments and relying on America's protection. Trump views Merkel as a hypocrite who lectures him about following international rules while flouting them herself, according to Axios.
Trump might just be wary of alienating Erdogan days before meeting him, making it harder to hash out a deal. However, Trump's fondness for Putin, hesitation to sanction Turkey and eagerness to threaten Germany, and past treatment of Erdogan and Merkel, all strongly suggest he's putting his personal relationships - and "America First" - before any efforts to contain Russian power.