President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) meets U.S. President Joe Biden during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 29, 2022. (Reuters Photo)

Turkish-US relations today: Turbulent or stable?

Though Türkiye wants the U.S. to reconsider relations within the framework of new global power balances, the Biden administration aims to maintain the longtime hierarchical ties

Türkiye and the United States have been experiencing tense and conflictual relations for the last decade. Especially since the eruption of the Arab Spring and the emergence of a new regional conjuncture, the friction between Washington and Ankara has widened. Though Türkiye has asked the U.S. to revise the relations in line with domestic political developments, the new regional political environment and the new global balance of power, the U.S. administration wants to maintain the longtime hierarchical bilateral relations. In other words, while Ankara has been trying to increase its autonomy in its own foreign policy, the U.S. wants to keep Türkiye subordinated to its global projections.

Although the U.S. Department of State, on its webpage, still describes Türkiye as “a key NATO ally and critical regional partner” and “an important U.S. security partner” and points out that the U.S. wants “to keep Türkiye anchored to the Euro-Atlantic community,” the recent U.S. governments continue to follow policies that otherize and alienate Türkiye. The bipartisan anti-Türkiye perception is still dominant in U.S. policy circles.

For instance, the U.S. has abandoned its relatively balanced policy toward the Cyprus question and the Turkish-Greek bilateral relations. The U.S. has recently clearly favored the Greek side against Türkiye. Washington has built up a huge military arsenal and established nine different military bases within the Greek territories. Although the American side claims that it is against the increasing Russian threat in Eastern Europe, the Turkish side questions the establishment of these military bases close to the Turkish territories. In addition, the U.S. has sold strategic weapons to Greece to fortify its military presence in the east Aegean islands. Accordingly, the U.S. government abolished the sanctions against the Greek Cypriot administration and helped it militarize the island against the Turkish side.

The political structure of the U.S., the check and balances system, allows different kinds of actors, including lobbies and interest groups, to influence decision-makers. For example, the president of the United States may have to negotiate even with the members of Congress of his own party on many foreign policy issues.

Influence of Congress

The influence of the congresspeople can be inferred in two different ways. First, the president can use congressional intervention as an excuse against foreign actors. That is, whenever a president wants to adopt a negative stance but wants to maintain a positive image, he uses the refusal of the proposal as an excuse for his negative stance. If Biden is persuaded not to sell the F-16 with no limitations or conditions but does not want to alienate Türkiye, he will use the opposition of a senator such as Bob Menendez as an excuse for his negative decision. Second, congressional intervention can be real. That is, sometimes, members of Congress may oppose certain foreign policy proposals for different reasons, mostly for individual or constituency issues.

On the one hand, it is obvious that Türkiye has been suffering from congressional politics throughout Turkish-American relations. It is always difficult to persuade Congress to take a pro-Türkiye step mainly due to the logrolling anti-Turkish political coalitions within the U.S. system. Sometimes these domestic coalitions push their partisan positions to a risky point. Eventually, it becomes unclear whether some members of Congress serve the American national interests or the interests of a certain political group, i.e., a lobby. Therefore, the Turkish side calls on the American politicians and decision-makers not to sacrifice the U.S. foreign policy and American national interests for the shallow expectations of several lobbies, including the Greek and the Armenian lobbies.

Continuation of U.S. otherization policy

On the other hand, Turkish officials claim that the strategic uncertainty of the U.S. government confuses the decision-makers of American foreign policy. American institutions develop different perceptions of Türkiye since each of them has varying experiences with their Turkish counterparts. American institutions emphasize different potential threats directed at American hegemony. While some insistently underline the rising Russian threat, others point out the potential Chinese power. Some others consider Türkiye as a challenger in the Middle East. Therefore, since Türkiye has been cooperating with the U.N.-recognized government, the U.S. did not hesitate to support the political actor that was under Russian patronage, Khalifa Haftar, in Libya.

Since Türkiye will continue to follow foreign policies that maximize its national interests, it seems that the U.S. government, together with many Western European states, will proceed with its otherization efforts against Türkiye. However, considering the rising of the Russian and Chinese military, political and economic power in regions such as Eastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, it is clear that the cost of losing Türkiye will be great not only for the U.S. but also for the trans-Atlantic alliance. The continuation of the U.S. otherization policy will further deteriorate the trust in bilateral ties.

[Daily Sabah, December 21 2022]

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