Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a plan.
Hours after Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that John Bolton on Monday told Turkey’s U.S. ambassador Serdar Kilic that the Trump administration will not negotiate further until Andrew Brunson is freed, Erdogan announced a boycott of American electronics.
“If they have iPhones, others have Samsungs [and] in Turkey we have Vestel Venus”, he said in Ankara on Tuesday, during his four hundred and fortieth speech in four days. Here’s the actual moment when he called for the boycott:
Shares of Vestel jumped sharply on the session.
“Cutting off imports isn’t such a bad idea to shore up deficits and control the flow of capital, but with Turkey’s trade deficit with the U.S. ranking 11th with about $2.5 billion in 2017 (versus China at $19.6 billion and Russia at $16 billion at the top of the list), it’s hard to argue that buying the ‘Made in Turkey’ label will have much read across to other assets”, Bloomberg’s Stephen Kirkland wrote on Tuesday morning.
Erdogan also framed U.S. sanctions on Turkey as part of a larger strategy by the Trump administration to lean on unilateral sanctions and tariffs to conduct foreign policy, and to be clear, he’s not wrong about that. The lira got some respite today, but it will likely prove fleeting.
The conversation between Bolton and Serdar Kilic on Monday was the first direct contact between senior officials since Trump’s Friday tweet announcing the doubling of metals tariffs on Turkey in retaliation for Erdogan’s refusal to release Brunson. Trump, Jacobs said on Monday evening, is “fed up with Turkey”.
That strikes at the heart of something we talked at length about over the weekend. The President’s almost childlike affinity for strongmen is disconcerting for all manner of reasons, not to least of which is that implicitly slapping the White House stamp of approval on autocratic regimes undermines democracy as a political ideology on a global scale.
The problem for Trump, though, is that people like Erdogan see the U.S. President for what he is: an empty suit and a hapless demagogue masquerading as an authoritarian. The U.S. President seems to have collided with a largely immovable object in Erdogan. Trump has attempted to cozy up to the autocrat on several occasions over the course of the last year (he actually fist-bumped the Turkish dictator last month at the NATO summit while explaining to America’s European allies that Erdogan “does things the right way”) and there’s a bizarre backstory involving Michael Flynn that’s worth your time to investigate. But the administration seems to have underestimated Erdogan’s penchant for belligerence when it comes to Brunson, who stands accused in Turkey of conspiring with Erdogan’s arch nemesis Fethullah Gulen and, for good measure, is also being investigated for having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (the PKK).
You’d think Trump would have some vague conception of how important the endless quest to secure the extradition of Gulen really is to Erdogan and considering the Flynn connection and the fact that Rudy Giuliani most assuredly understands at least some of the dynamics (there’s more on Giuliani and Flynn in this context here), one imagines that the administration is in a position to appreciate why Erdogan is taking this so seriously.
Then again, you also have to consider that paradoxically, Trump’s explicit attacks on Turkey are lending credence to Erdogan’s otherwise absurd narrative about nefarious foreign actors being behind the collapse of the lira. This is similar in many ways to how Trump’s “fire and fury” rhetoric helped the Kim regime reinforce the ridiculous, decades-old Pyongyang propaganda narrative about North Korea being perpetually engaged in an epic struggle with Washington.
Erdogan seized on this opportunity on Tuesday, telling supporters that the U.S. is “targeting many nations economically” before contending that Turkey has been singled out for even harsher treatment by Trump. “Turkey is facing a bigger, deeper operation”, he said, before making the silly claim that Turks are “already starting to covert” their dollars and euros to lira.
That’s clearly a lie.
Don’t expect Erdogan’s “you know you want a Vestel Venus” push to get much play, especially considering they’re going to end up costing about 10,000 lira by the time this currency collapse finally abates.
Of course he could always make owning a Venus a citizenship requirement in Turkey and just arrest anyone caught using an iPhone and charge them with being Gulenists.