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Why Does Turkey Fear the Next American Administration’s Term?

Al-Furat Center for Studies- Translation Department

Sometimes the interim period between the American presidents’ changing is a source of anxiety to the presidents of the other states; the latter try to have the president elect on his side. In conjunction with the loss of his ally getting closer because the personal relations between presidents have been playing the greatest role in changing the strategies of states, and that is what is happening in Turkey. Trump’s defeat will constitute the biggest problem for Turkey, rather than the other states, being one of the countries that followed the US elections closely, because of their greatly swaying relations with the superpowers. Contrary to what was reported by many channels, especially those aligned with Turkey; the fact that “by Biden’s victory is ahead, the fears of many countries increase”, without mentioning Turkey, supports the hypothesis that the latter’s swamp is much greater; due to these channels’ ignoring, at least, Biden’s previously offensive statements against Turkey, especially against its president, Erdogan. Meanwhile, Trump described him as a “great man”, Badin described him as a “tyrant”, and his goal was to overthrow him and make Turkey pay the price for what it has done until the present time; Turkey was the target of Biden’s attack; even more than the countries that those channels have mentioned and excluded Turkey. Turkey’s being ignored is probably meant that it is a much greater blow to it, rather than the rest in the upcoming American Administration’s term because of many reasons, we will mention most significant ones:

From waving sanctions to its implementations

Handing over the stick of the American presidency to Biden will bring to the fore the issue of sanctions against Turkey, which were imposed by the Trump administration after it purchased the Russian S-400 air defense system. Trump administration threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey for its purchasing of this system; however, it ensured that these sanctions would not be mandatory. On the contrary, the Biden administration, it appears that circumstances would change that does not serve Turkey’s interests, and will lead these sanctions to be effectively activated; Congress is still stubborn and enjoys bipartisan support for punitive measures against Turkey, with regard of his concerns about the Russian missile system, which threatens its defenses. Moreover, it is still adhered to removing Turkey from the development program of F-35 fighter jet, and taking such punitive measures, its consequences will be disastrous for Turkey, especially in economic terms, if it goes out from the scope of statements to the scope of actions. In particular, when moving to impose sanctions on the Turkish “Halk bank” bank, which is Turkish President-affiliated, Erdogan because of its involvement in a scheme aimed at circumventing the US sanctions imposed on Iran 2011-2016, in which these accusations fell under the Trump administration. The matter that the bank would face now with fines amounting to billions of dollars if found guilty.

Furthermore, the options that the European Union has against Turkey makes it to be a firm player in dealing with Turkey to make up for the disturbances that occurred during the harmony between them and the United States under the Trump administration. It is now ready and aggressively to impose tougher sanctions on Ankara, with the follow-up by the upcoming US leadership.

The end of Autocratic Romance

When looking at the personal relationship that existed between the outgoing US President Trump and Turkish President Erdogan, it is obvious that it constituted a barrier between Washington’s troubled state because of the uniqueness of its outgoing president with his decisions and the situation of Turkey’s defiance. Taking advantage of those decisions, under the personal relationship that was between both of the two presidents, a relationship that is not expected to be the same with the US President-elect, Biden, who seems to give priority to the institutional character in his relations, unlike Trump, who used to impart a personal character in his relations.

What raises Turkey’s concerns of Biden’s winning more is the end of the personal relationship, which was bringing its president with Trump together, and which developed into incapable gifts on the Turkish side. The Turkish president used to speak with Trump once a month, and by having a direct line with the latter, he was able to bypass those inferior to the president, who was constantly warning him about their concerns about Turkey’s behavior, its army, and Russian missile systems.

The presence of “Trump” as President of the United States and the upper hand served as a defensive wall for the Turkish President Erdogan to implement his plans against opponents of his policies in Congress, the Pentagon, and other decision-making centers.

In addition, Trump’s statements considered as breathing space for Turkish President Erdogan to justify his crises. Every tweet from the first allowed the latter, to blame the United States for any crisis that his country is going through. In addition to fabricating some things, to appear as problems between the two, such as removing the name “Trump” on the towers and tunnels in Istanbul, although, they were done with the approval of the American administration at the time.

However, the next American administration, it seems, will hold opposite views, and Turkey’s previous actions with it will not help. With the coming of Biden to the American presidency, it is unlikely that Erdogan will receive the treatment he used to with Biden’s predecessor. He became inclined to win the president-elect, to ensure that he would receive the same treatment that he had with Trump, on 6 November 2020 and before the end of the American elections. “Individuals have a positive and negative influence, as sincere friendship continued between our president and Mr. President Trump in the hardest times. In addition to continuing its sincere approach to improving its relationship with the United States, regardless of who occupies the position in the United States”, Turkish Foreign Minister “Mevlut Cavusoglu”, stated. Nevertheless, things will likely get worse before they improve. Without its shield Trump, Ankara is concerned about the angry US Congress, which will give its hand more freely in imposing sanctions on it. In particular, since it was previously threatening his dissatisfaction with the “Autocratic Romance” between “Trump and Erdogan”, but it was in vain; due to Trump’s negativity towards any move of theirs against Turkey.

The unsavable crises

Under the Trump administration, these crises had consolidated. “There are many things that show the end of US-Turkish relations, Steve Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East, and an expert of Turkish affairs, noted in an interview with CNN on 19 August 2018, as the interests and priorities of both have become different. In particular, with the Turks undermining the United States’ campaign against ISIS, developing their relationship with the Russians, and helping Iran in avoiding sanctions.

The Turkish partnership with Russia and Iran in Syria contradicts the US policy, which turned a blind eye under the Trump administration. Given Biden’s priorities focus on “Russia and Iran” and the consolidation of commitment to multilateral alliances, especially NATO, Ankara’s chances of fixing its relations with Washington are going to depend on its policies that would be complied with the above-mentioned.

Therefore, the next US administration’s strategy will give priority to develop its relations with the allies. There is no way for Turkey but to join this alliance and form a united bloc against Russia, efforts that would undermine the interests and deals between Turkey and Russia. This would probably change the equation on which Turkey relies on many fronts, especially in Syria, Libya, and the Caucasus, so the worst scenario for Turkey is to be prevented by the US in maintaining its policy with Russia.

Sympathy with the Kurds

With Biden’s victory in the US elections, expectations of a renewed US policy increased, and some people believe that the Kurds have a positive share of this policy, especially in the north and eastern Syria. Biden showed a special interest in the Kurds as the most democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a matter that raised Ankara’s concerns even more, because of the sympathy shown by the US president-elect with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, and some of Biden’s positions on the Kurdish issue:

His previously proposed ideas to help create the establishment of a Kurdish state alongside Turkey. In May 2006 when he was a member of the Senate, in an article was published in the New York Times calling for the partition of Iraq into three states based on sectarian and ethnic, on the condition that one part should be under the rule of the Kurds. This was seen by Ankara as dangerous and a violation of its sanctity, especially in light of its hostility for the Kurds.

His denouncing of the betrayal of the Kurds that they were exposed to under the Trump administration, which paved the way for Turkey to conduct its offensive in October 2019.

His repeated media attacks on Turkey regarding the Kurds, in the New York Times in December 2019, he confirmed that he would be tougher with the Turkish president on this issue, “The last thing I would have done was conceding to him concerning the Kurds, the last thing ever.”, Biden said. As well as his statements when he was Vice President in Obama’s administration in 2014, in which he accused Turkey of collaborating with the terrorist organization ISIS, and Turkey and other allies of the US, who have pumped hundreds of millions of money and tons of weapons for jihadists in Syria. In addition to his refusal to designate the People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a terrorist group.

All the above-mentioned probably is a sufficient reason to convince Erdogan about Biden’s sympathy and his hostility toward him. Unlike Trump, in which the limits of Washington’s support for the Kurds in Syria or Iraq were clear during his rule. The attack was carried out by Baghdad on Kirkuk, after conducting the Kurdish independence referendum. He did not take any position about it, in addition to his stance and his negative response towards the Kurds of Syria, its biggest ally against ISIS, with the decision to withdraw from the north and eastern Syria and paved the way for Turkey’s invasion in it. While Biden condemned Trump position that he sold the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the brave people who fought with us to defeat ISIS, and the main local ally against terrorism, “in addition to his regret for the absence of the American presence in Syria and the abandonment of the Kurds.

In conclusion, you can say that the relationship between the two countries is very likely to take a negative turn under the next US administration. Given to the priorities are different between the two countries, as well as the approach of the American president-elect differs from his predecessor, who was paving the way for Turkey in the region, as the previous “deals” that they were agreed upon have been changed, despite the intersection of their interests. The personal diplomacy of the new American president is different from his predecessor. Moreover, it is not compatible with Erdogan’s mood, this relationship would be in a downward spiral, unless the latter makes a move towards a close policy with the next American administration, concerning deals with its rivals such as the Russians, and changes the course of its hostility to Washington’s allies in Syria. This might give a hint for a flexible approach by Turkey in dealing with the next US administration.