Is Turkey Biden’s “ally from hell”?

The article followed the raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and was focused on the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, but was focused on how Washington’s key ally in the War on Terror contributed more to the problem than to the solution. Turkey and Ukraine signed a military agreement including Turkey’s armed drones’ sales and technology transfer to Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the Capitol in Washington, DC. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Is Turkey Biden’s “ally from hell”? Therein may lie the best prospects for reducing tensions without completely thawing the wider relationship. Both the US and Turkey have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. Whether that actually leads to any form of goodwill from Washington, weakening Turkey’s sense of encirclement will have to be central to any future decision. None of this is helped by tension with Washington, who is allied to all but one of these Erdogan’s foes and has the potential to severely damage Turkey’s struggling economy through more sanctions. Neither side is likely to change their stances without any initial concessions. EPA-EFE//ROMAN ISMAYILOV
Any sort of improvement in US-Turkey relations will be difficult, but not impossible. Biden will also remain saddled by expectations from other stakeholders at home and abroad. Now they oppose Biden’s current foreign policy priority – rejoining the Iran nuclear deal. EPA-EFE//ALEX EDELMAN
Today on Capitol Hill, there are few figures more loathed than Erdogan. For Erdogan, he has too much at stake geopolitically and at home to meet every American demand for improvement. By Nicholas Morgan
A New York-based freelance journalist focusing on Russia and Eurasia. As a result, for an administration with limited room for bipartisanship, confronting him is one of the easier areas for American lawmakers to find common ground. The EU has already made it clear that it seeks American support in confronting Erdogan, and Biden may be more sympathetic to their desires than Trump ever was. To date, the two leaders have yet to speak. This would mean de-emphasizing any personal relationships by moving the center of any interaction to the institution-level with input from the US Congress and American partners overseas. Similarly, Turkey has made it abundantly clear it will not do so or budge on its opposition to the Americans’ support of the Syrian Kurds. During the Trump years, American policy in regards to the US-Turkey relationship was seen as too accommodating and deferential to Ankara’s wishes, due to Trump’s personal friendship with Erdogan. Nor is it a surprise that President Biden is now keeping them at arm’s length. The State Department issued a conditional condemnation of the PKK, who Turkey says is responsible for the deaths, but Turkish officials went one step further and accused the US of backing the group. This does not bode particularly well for Erdogan, who had forged a close, if highly controversial, relationship with Trump. The NATO-sceptic Trump somehow saw fit to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the purchase as a way to excuse his refusal to impose sanctions. It remains an open question, however, about how much the relationship can actually improve given the existing gap that is only growing wider. Even if Biden succeeds in shifting relations with Turkey in another direction, it is unknown whether or not it will improve ties between Washington and Ankara. Ankara may not be harboring American enemies the way Pakistan knowingly or unknowingly did with bin Laden, but it has actively challenged US campaigns against other adversaries from ISIS to Russia. After the incoherernt Trump years of swinging from policy decision to policy reversal, Biden aims to chart a consistent American foreign policy that will make clear its priorities to friends and rivals alike. Turkey has always expressed its anger for the US’ continued support of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is ideologically affiliated with the PKK, the armed Kurdish group that has been at war with Turkey since the 1970s. In a recent interview with Turkey’s Sabah newspaper, Turkish defence minister Hulsi Akar said American support for their Kurdish allies was Ankara’s main concern. In both cases, Biden was opposed to Erdogan’s poisition. During the Trump administration, congressional fury at Turkey burned white-hot after Trump allowed the Turks to attack the Syrian Kurds and shielded Ankara from accountability over the purchase of the S-400. In Biden’s case, avoiding Trump’s mistakes in his relations with Turkey is a must, while at the same time he will have to thread the needle with Erdogan in order not to push Turkey further from the US orbit and closer to that of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s. In a survey by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and Bilgi University in Istanbul, 48% of Turks consider the US to be the biggest threat to Turkey compared to only 3.9% of Turks who see it as an ally. To be sure, Erdogan’s not unique among the authoritarian leaders of the world who were emboldened by Trump. EPA-EFE//TOLGA BOZOGLU

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Ten years ago, The Atlantic ran as its cover story a piece titled “The Ally From Hell”. To do that, it would require some agreement on where to begin addressing issues. In this sense, American relations with Turkey have come to resemble those with Pakistan, to a degree – allies on paper, based on a narrow set of shared interests, but in practice too deeply distrustful of one another to meaningfully cooperate. Trump’s former Syria envoy James Jeffrey also said in a recent interview that he believed the S-400 was the biggest wedge in relations. The two signed an arms deal last autumn for Turkish military technology to be transferred to Ukraine. This carried over as Trump provided near-impenetrable cover for Turkey after it purchased the S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia. This disagreement came into focus this week following a Turkish raid into northern Iraq that resulted in the discovery of 13 hostages that had been killed. To this end, Biden will be open to resolving the S-400 issue, but it would be contingent on Turkey abandoning it. It is tempting to explain this away as a product of years of Erdogan’s rule, but that would not account for the fact that a noticeable part of the Turkish opposition holds this negative view of the United States. Both were Trump allies who used their relationship with him to push their own national interests ahead of the US’. Biden has already put the new framework into practice. There does remain room for the Biden administration to prevent relations with Turkey from plunging to deeper lows. This led to both internal confusion for the rest of Trump’s own government and deeply enraged Congress. As such, this proves that while a new government without Erdogan may be less openly hostile to the US, it would not spell the end of geopolitical disagreements. It took until this week for Biden to speak to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his press secretary made clear the president is putting off a conversation with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman. On top of this, Biden has made renewing US partnerships in Europe a priority. Turkey has taken steps to tamper down the tensions with other neighbors like Israel and Saudi Arabia, before Biden was sworn in. Secretary of State Antony Blinken openly spoke about this when he referred to Turkey as a “so-called strategic ally” in his confirmation hearing in January. Biden allies have made clear during the transition that they viewed Turkey as a challenge, but not as an irredeemable partner that they want to drive further away.  
The two remain NATO allies, but the reservoir of antipathy is unlikely to decrease now that Joe Biden has entered the White House and his administration has signaled that it will engage Turkey on terms that are different than his predecessor, Donald Trump. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev (R) attend a military parade in Baku, Azerbaijan dedicated to the Azeri victory over Armenia in the most recent Karabakh War, December 10, 2020. In the final line of its conclusion, it reads “There is no escaping this vexed relationship—and little evidence to suggest that it will soon improve.”
Such a description has in several ways grown to apply to the United States’ relationship with Turkey in the last decade. EPA-EFE/TOLGA BOZOGLU

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a signing ceremony with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Istanbul on October 16, 2020. During the transition, when the president-elect traditionally speaks with his soon-to-be counterparts around the world, Biden reportedly rebuffed Erdogan’s request for a phone call, a serious snub to the Turkish leader. The most immediate decision that could be addressed by the White House could involve the sanctions that were levied in December 2020 for the S-400. Twice he moved to withdraw from Syria at Erdogan’s request and he openly embraced his rhetoric against the Syrian Kurds, who played a significant role in helping to defeat the Islamic State. In fact, the Biden administration was openly supportive of Turkey’s talks with Greece to resolve their disputes and reduce intra-NATO tensions. After-all, Turkey’s opposition has staunchly backed some of Erdogan’s most controversial foreign policy positions, including his territorial claims against Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterrenean and his military support for Azerbaijan in its war against Armenia late last year. That said, it will mean starting small and keeping expectations in check, lest it wants to see Turkey go from a flawed partner to a second “ally from hell.”  Though they may disagree with the US president for wanting to re-engage Iran, Turkey remains a key American partners in the Middle East. Unlike those in his administration, and in Congress, Trump had something of a soft spot for Erdogan. After years of interventions, sabre-rattling and aggressive rhetoric, Ankara has woken up to the fact that it is now surrounded by a ring of rivals, who increasingly see it as a common cause to rally against. For that reason, tamping down the furor over the Americans’ response became part of the first call Blinken had with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu. While Turkey can claim that it too has suffered from American policies in recent decades, the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has effectively cast Washington as another foe looking to destroy the country. epa08750946 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a signing ceremony with Ukraine’s President after their meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, 16 October 2020. With a list as long as the one that has weighed down US-Turkey relations for several years, this will be no easy task for the new Biden adminstration. The new Biden administration has indicated that it will take a harder line against Erdogan. None of this will mean a renewal of the deep “strategic partnership” that it existed in the pre-Erdogan years of the Cold War and the immediate aftermath of the 1990s. For years, the European Union has found itself at odds with Erdogan on migration, territorial disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean, and debates over Islam in Europe. The Turkish opposition has also spoken out against the sanctions over the S-400, despite their own disagreement with Erdogan and his ties Russia. If the S-400 is Washington’s main problem, American support for the Syrian Kurds is Ankara’s. The shared problem for both is the reality that their interests are more at odds than ever, regardless of any outward proclamations of a partnership.