TURKEY has traditionally been America’s second biggest ally in controlling the tactically crucial Middle East, behind only Israel. This continued even after it abandoned secular militarism for an Islamist government. President Obama ranked Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Turkish equivalent, among his five most trusted world leaders. David Cameron promised to be a forceful advocate of Turkish entry into the EU. Erdogan’s “Islamic liberalism”, with its sweeping privatisations, cronyism, crackdowns on protesters and pro-American foreign policy, was lauded by Nato planners as a model for regional renewal.

Given its strategic importance, Turkey’s record of genocides, war crimes and human rights abuses have been largely underreported in the West. Their treatment of Cyprus and the Kurds, horrors with ongoing repercussions, are often unknown to European and American audiences. Meanwhile, the status of Turkey’s great, founding crime, the Armenian Holocaust, with its estimated death total of 1.5 million, has been suppressed by the joint efforts of Turkish, American and Israeli intellectuals loyal to their respective states.

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All of which demonstrates Turkey’s central role in American grand strategy. And then Donald Trump came along. Now, who knows?

What’s clear is that America has imposed sanctions on Turkey, and it has driven the country further towards financial meltdown.

“You act on one side as a strategic partner, but on the other, you fire bullets into the foot of your strategic partner,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara. “We are together in Nato and then you seek to stab your strategic partner in the back.” Given the above, Erdogan’s sense of wounded pride is understandable. Where did it all go wrong?

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Superficially, America’s moves against Turkey are designed to engineer the release of pastor Andrew Brunson. He was arrested for alleged links to the 2016 coup against Erdogan. Turkey’s moves against an American preacher, clearly provocative as they are, were intended to force Washington to take sides against the plotters who tried to bring down the Turkish strongman. Predictably, Erdogan waved the banner of “anti-terrorism”, usually a sure method for producing uncritical intellectual surrender in the West. However, Erdogan didn’t reckon on Trump’s willingness to break with generations of complex imperial strategy in the display of grand American shows of national power. He picked the wrong fight.

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Washington is also worried about Erdogan’s growing links to Russia. Nato, it needs remembering, has always been an anti-Russian formation, and it remained intact for this purpose after the end of the Cold War. Turkey’s importance to America is all about Nato. Trump’s move is therefore a warning sign against further Russian influence over Eurasia, and a warning aimed at states wishing to play games in an emerging multipolar world.

This may surprise those liberals who paint Donald Trump as a pawn of Vladimir Putin, a conspiracy theory every bit as bonkers as anything coming from the alt-right.

In truth, Trump, like Putin, is a nationalist with a fondness for elaborate manoeuvres, re-engineering the chess board with displays of force that leave alliances scattered, striking out with chaos in the belief that confusion benefits their cause.

The extremity of Turkey’s financial crisis may achieve just that. In economic terms, Turkey is four times the size of Greece.

The potential for a contagion to spread to Europe is real. The continent was very sluggish in recovering from 2008, and, a decade on, could be due another crisis.

As Larry Elliott argues, seemingly localised emergencies outside of the Western mainstream often act as warning signals for the more developed economies.

“The ‘big one’ of 2008 followed a series of mini-crises elsewhere in the world,” he notes. “Over a 15-year period, problems in the emerging markets worked their way to the heart of the international system. Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and Argentina were all warning signs that unchaining global finance would eventually prove costly to the rich developed countries as well. Unfortunately, the warning signs were ignored.”

There are clearly very local circumstances to the Turkish crisis. Erdogan’s trumped-up terrorism (no pun intended) charges against an American citizen embroiled his country in an economic battle it cannot win. His refusal to raise interest rates when faced with soaring inflation led to further self-inflicted problems.

But this isn’t just a story of thuggish operators and national strongmen who bucked the market and caused an unnecessary emergency. The preening nationalists at the centre of this drama didn’t get elected out of nowhere.

Nor did they simply “cheat” their way to the top. Erdogan, Putin and Trump are products of crises of capitalism. They are not the causes of economic failure, but reactions to it, formed by decades of soaring inequality and “growth” that doesn’t work for the majority.

That’s another reason we cannot ignore Turkey. Capitalist liberal democracy had a free run at controlling the world after 1989. The “end of history” was declared. But that system failed, and there’s nothing to replace it.

Embattled liberals who cling to a rule-ordered world of free trade will only end up producing more Erdogans, more Putins, and more Trumps. If the left won’t deliver radical change, someone else will, and it won’t be a picnic.