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The risks of the approaching elections

The upcoming three elections in Turkey, the U.S. and Greece are important and interrelated in terms of the interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy

One could assume that the title of today’s column is exclusively about Turkey since the 2023 election is 12 months away. I believe, however, that three upcoming elections are important and interrelated in terms of the interaction between domestic politics and foreign policy: The United States midterm election in November 2022, the early elections in Greece (which could take place in October 2022 or March/April 2023) and the June 2023 elections in Turkey.

As American voters suffer from inflation, U.S. President Joe Biden’s approval rating keeps plummeting. Experts say that it is highly likely that the Democrats will lose their majority in the House and the Senate to the Republicans in November. Even though the Biden administration supports the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, where the U.S. Congress stands remains unclear. Meanwhile, the warm welcome that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis received on the Hill and his vocal opposition to the F-16 deal irked Ankara. Nonetheless, the Greek public monitors closely the transformation of the American-Greek relationship into the total dependence of the latter on the former. As the Greek left is being suppressed in the name of “Turkophobia,” Mitsotakis took steps that contradicted his normalization efforts with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While Greece keeps arming some Aegean islands, its prime minister had no problem antagonizing Ankara from Washington.

Commitment to national interests

Here’s how Erdoğan expressed his frustration with the U.S. and Greece on the flight back from Azerbaijan: “The U.S. has nine military bases in Greece. Why do they build those bases? Why do those bases exist? What they say is that the bases are against Russia. That is a lie. They are being dishonest. Their anti-Turkish attitude is obvious. Look what they did to Mitsotakis the other day. He was welcomed at the House of Representatives and the Senate and asked to speak there. They applauded his speech, too. Meanwhile, the F-16s were brought up as well. Here’s what we believe: A Muslim must not make the same mistake twice.”

In the same interview, Erdoğan reiterated his commitment to military operations in northern Syria and blocking Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership unless Turkey’s security-related demands were met. Indeed, the Turkish president had made the necessary warning to Washington by saying that “the U.S. would certainly not make its decision based on Mitsotakis’ statements.”

In light of those developments, it appears that we will spend a lot more time talking about the relationship between the U.S., Greece and Turkey going forward. The Biden administration’s shift away from the balance between Turkey and Greece represents a serious problem for NATO’s southeastern flank. In addition to the opening of nine military bases, the possibility of approving the sale of F-35s to Athens and the stalling of Ankara’s F-16 deal would send the wrong message to the region. Withdrawing American support from the EastMed pipeline project, which was never going to happen anyway, is nothing more than a minor gesture for Ankara. Meanwhile, mounting pressure on Turkey to secure Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership or frowning on Turkish operations in Syria achieves nothing more than fueling anti-American sentiment in Turkey. To understand the Turkish public, it would be useful to keep in mind that even the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu came out in favor of closing U.S. military bases.

Security demands priority

Washington’s decision to “spoil” Athens with Greek and Turkish elections around the corner entails certain risks among the NATO allies. Ankara will insist on having its security demands met. It will take those steps, which are required by its national interest, regarding Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership and military operations in Syria. It is no secret that the militarization of the Aegean islands is a step that will lead Turkey to open to discussion the sovereignty over those islands.

During the campaigns, the domestic discussions in Greece and Turkey will cause escalation. Some say that Athens, with its boosted self-confidence, could dare to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles during that period. I would like to believe that the Greek politicians will avoid such a mistake. It would be good for Washington to realize that spoiling Greece at the expense of Turkish interests – on top of its disastrous positions regarding the PKK/YPG terrorists and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) – will become a new problem area.

[Daily Sabah, June 1, 2022]

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