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The Logic of Turkey’s Reaching Out to the West

“There is talk of a White House visit later this year,” by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Really? Is it possible? Yes.

Who would have imagined this just a few months ago… The complete and definitive victory of Erdogan in the May elections put an end to the hopes of the Biden administration to rid itself of him and return to traditional relations with Turkey. Thus, Washington is testing a new conciliatory policy, or, more accurately, a policy of appeasement, taking into account the political situation and Turkish sensitivities and ambitions. For these reasons, and many others, a recent article in the magazine Foreign Affairs – in which the above information about Erdogan’s visit to the White House originates – by Asli Aydintasbas, Visiting Fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, and a columnist at The Washington Post, and Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution – argues: “Washington should seek to stabilize its relationship with Ankara, despite the fact that Turkey has embraced a post-Western identity at home and a post-Western posture in its foreign policy. This means moving toward a more transactional mindset.”

What does this mean as a practical matter? It means that Turkey is severing the ties of its dependency on the West without losing the advantages, primarily the supply of military equipment and economic support that it is interested in receiving from it.

They also write: “Turkey’s decades-long search for an identity has ended. It is a post-Western power, no longer seeking approval from the West, no longer aspiring to Western liberal ideals, and no longer reliant on the West.”

And the article continues: “The days when a President of the United States could stand next to Turkish leaders and declare about human rights are gone.”
However, these statements do not at all mean that the West – America and Europe – has entirely lost its ability to influence Erdogan. Rather, it suggests that it can do so within the framework of a more balanced relationship.

It’s also evident from the article that the United States has exerted serious pressure and achieved significant results in Greek-Turkish relations. They write:

“Also of concern are Ankara’s escalation of its war of words with Greece over maritime borders… As part of its détente with the Biden administration, Ankara, too, has curbed its ‘gunboat diplomacy’ in the eastern Mediterranean by pausing energy exploration off the coast of Cyprus and dialing down tensions over Cypriot drilling in contested waters.”

To secure these outcomes, the article notes that, “behind the scenes, the Biden administration pushed the U.S. Congress to sell F-16s to Turkey, jets that Ankara has been wanting to buy for years. To smooth the way, the White House worked out a three-way deal that involved the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Greece.”

The writers say that, “in return, Turkey could drop its posturing in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean and offer Greece and Cyprus more stable relationships.”

There are many issues with the logic of Turkey’s outreach efforts as highlighted in the article featured in the noted journal. However, the biggest problem is that it assumes Turkey will comply with such an agreement. On the contrary, history teaches us that it will play the game until it accomplishes its goal – to obtain the F-16s. What it will do afterward is its own affair…


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