Turkey in economic freefall as Trump doubles tariffs to force release of Pastor Andrew Brunson

By Dan Calabrese

Economic sanctions don’t always make that much difference, especially on a regime that’s bent on perpetrating evil regardless of the consequences. If the regime is solidly entrenched and immune from the impact of economic hardship, they might just ignore the sanctions and pass on the pain to the people.

Turkey’s regime is by no means that solid, and it finds itself today facing an economic freefall, brought on in part (but not entirely) by the economic sanctions the Trump Administration has imposed over the continued imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson.

And today, Donald Trump announced the pain is going to get worse:

President Trump said he would double steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey over the country’s refusal to free an American pastor held for nearly two years, amplifying an economic crisis that sent the lira down sharply Friday over concerns about the country’s foreign debts.

Mr. Trump said on Friday in a tweet that the U.S. would impose aluminum tariffs of 20% and steel tariffs of 50% on Turkey. The threat came more than a week after the U.S. imposed sanctions against two top Turkish officials over the detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old North Carolina native who was arrested three months after a failed July 2016 military coup.

“Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” he wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

Earlier on Friday, Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone Friday, saying the country would prevail in what he called an “economic war.”

“Hopefully we will overcome this disaster and we will also successfully overcome this economic war,” he said, according to Turkish television.

If Erdogan wants to overcome the present economic disaster, he might start by releasing Andrew Brunson, who is guilty of nothing more than preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Erdogan and his regime consider that an act of subversion, but they can’t admit they jail people for that alone so they invent phony charges like, in Brunson’s case, complicity in a coup.

Brunson has been in state custody for two years and remains so, despite the recent change in his status to “house arrest.” That’s better than a jail cell, but Brunson still isn’t free, so as far as the U.S. government is concerned nothing has changed. He needs to be allowed to come home.

There is more vexing Turkey’s economy than these current U.S. sanctions, though. The currency tumbled 16 percent this morning versus the U.S. dollar, and this morning there was a massive sell-off the country’s foreign bonds.

There is no real freedom or open democracy in Turkey, but when a nation collapses economically, no regime is completely safe. Erdogan has thus far stayed in power by consolidating his political control and silencing dissenters, as dictators normally do. That can work until the public decides it’s suffering too much economically, politically or socially.

The question is whether Erdogan is interested in serving the needs of his people or maintaining complete political control over all the country’s institutions. So far, the latter has clearly been his priority. We’ll see if a deepening crisis makes him reconsider.