At first glance, the recent meeting of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his American counterpart did not go well.
That is apparent from President Trump’s attempt to placate a “grave” looking Erdogan.
However, a clearly pre-arranged effort was made by both sides to maintain friendly personal relations, regardless of whether or not it was feigned.
In such context, Erdogan congratulated Trump on his “legendary triumph” in the elections, which certainly must have flattered him because he was playing on Trump’s known sensitivities on the matter.
The same happened on Trump’s part; he said it was a “great honor” to welcome Erdogan to the White House.
But behind all this lies reality. Namely, the serious issues that are poisoning relations between the two countries.
First, there’s Trump’s decision to arm the YPG, the Syrian Kurds who are successfully fighting, as is being argued, the Islamic State forces and whom the Turks consider terrorists and are concerned about their influence on their own Kurds.
The second issue has to do with Erdogan’s unmet demands from the United States for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish religious leader who lives in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains and whom Erdogan accuses of masterminding the failed coup last July.
That demand cannot be met because it stumbles on the American legal system and it could take years, at best, for Gulen to be extradited.
Yet, despite these serious setbacks, on the critical level of legitimizing his power both within and outside of Turkey, which he so badly needs after all that has happened, Erdogan triumphed.
With his visit, Erdogan earned the opportunity to show that he has the support of the American president, an “accolade” of great importance to him.
So, he did not obtain everything he wanted, and he certainly knew in advance that he wouldn’t, but he gained the greatly significant for the Turkish people impression that he has the president’s respect and that the slate of his prior actions has been wiped clean: From the amendment of the constitution – in a not so transparent manner – to the imprisonment and torture of tens of thousands of real or imaginary opponents.
And so, Erdogan returns to Turkey upgraded and virtually redeemed, with his opponents’ mouths shut and a clear message for the armed forces.
That is what Erdogan gained: respect.
On the other hand, our own Mr. Tsipras is still waiting to book an appointment, with the American president even for a phone call.