The political dynamics within the American Congress and the activities of lobbying groups have long been significant factors negatively impacting Turkish-American relations. Since the 1970s, Congress has constrained the broad authority of the White House in foreign policy, leading to decisions against Türkiye on issues such as Cyprus and Armenia. In recent years, Congress has extended its influence into areas like Syria and defense cooperation.
To penalize Trump’s insistence on establishing good relations with Putin, Congress passed the CAATSA law against Russia, applying it uniquely to Türkiye. Pressure from Congress, which resulted in Türkiye’s removal from the F-35 program, made Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership conditional upon the sale of F-16s. Despite the importance of maintaining Türkiye’s military capacity as a NATO member, Congress has made the sale a prerequisite for NATO expansion.
While the White House expressed support for the F-16 sale, the Biden administration’s reluctance to confront Congress did not inspire confidence in Türkiye. Even if Türkiye approved both Finland and Sweden’s memberships, it was almost certain that Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would attempt to block the F-16 sale.
The recent criminal case containing shocking bribery allegations against Menendez has the potential to influence the course of Turkish-American relations. If Menendez temporarily steps down from his position as Committee Chairman and the Turkish Grand National Assembly gives the green light to Sweden, progress on the F-16 matter may be achieved. In such a scenario, the longstanding tensions and mutual distrust in Turkish-American defense relations could be significantly alleviated. Menendez’s resignation and re-election prospects remain uncertain, but his diminished influence within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is certain.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY’S REACTION
Following the news of the lawsuit filed against Menendez by the Southern District Court of New York, New Jersey’s Democratic Governor, Philip Murphy, immediately called for his resignation. Similar calls came from other Democratic politicians in the state, although senators from other states made cautious statements. Menendez’s status as one of the most senior Democratic senators and his chairmanship of the influential Foreign Relations Committee appear to have tempered the Democratic Party’s response.
However, it is worth noting that Pennsylvania Senator John Feterman was the first senator to call for Menendez’s resignation and even engaged in what seemed like trolling on social media. Meanwhile, the silence from New Jersey’s other Democratic Senator, Cory Booker, highlights the difficulty of taking a position against one of the party’s influential figures. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s avoidance of calls for resignation, and his emphasis on Menendez’s presumed innocence until proven guilty, reflects the sensitivity of the situation.
New Jersey Democratic Representative Andy Kim, who announced his candidacy against Menendez from within the Democratic Party for the November 2024 elections, has indicated that he will capitalize on the political opportunity created by the scandal. Despite the resignation calls, Menendez has characterized the allegations as a political operation and stated that he will continue in his role. Menendez, who was acquitted in a corruption case opened against him in 2015 when the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision, managed to win the 2018 elections with strong support from Democratic politicians. However, it can be said that this time, Menendez faces a much more challenging political landscape.
WILL THE WAY BE CLEARED FOR F-16S?
The biggest political obstacle in Türkiye’s F-16 procurement process was the opposition of Senator Menendez, who, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had the power to block arms sales. Menendez was known for his close ties to Armenian and Greek lobbies and his strong statements against Türkiye. Attempting to attach certain conditions to Türkiye’s F-16 supply request, Menendez stated that he would not approve it unless Türkiye changed its ‘aggressive’ stance towards Greece.
Even after Finland’s NATO membership was approved, Menendez continued his tough rhetoric, retaining his power to block the sale. Biden had to engage in serious negotiations to convince Menendez, even if it meant paying a political cost on behalf of Türkiye. If Biden couldn’t persuade Menendez, there was also the nuclear option of bypassing Congress, but that would come with a high political cost. Biden signaled that he wouldn’t prefer that route and believed that he could somehow convince Menendez if Sweden’s NATO membership was approved.
Menendez’s anti-Türkiye stance manifested as an opposition that other committee members found insufficient to block the sale of F-16s. In other words, even if Türkiye approved Sweden’s membership, Menendez could still pose an obstacle, and it wasn’t clear how much political capital Biden was willing to spend at that point. Following the bribery case, Menendez temporarily stepped down from his position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but since he remains a committee member, there is still a possibility of him obstructing the F-16 sale. However, with the change in Committee Chairmanship, Biden’s task has become somewhat easier. An opportunity has arisen for Turkish-American defense cooperation to get back on track, but in any case, the White House will need to make an effort to persuade the Senate.
In this article
- Andy Kim
- Anti-Turkish Sentiment | Anti-Turkism | Turkophobia | Turkish Fear
- Biden Administration
- Bob Menendez
- Chuck Schumer
- Cory Booker
- Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)
- F-16 Fighter Jet
- F-35 Fighter Jet Program
- Finland and Sweden Applications to Join NATO
- John Feterman
- Turkish-American Relations
- Türkiye-US Relations