Commentary, Politics

Notes for the Next Administration about Turkey

3 min read

Turkey wants a serious step forward and action that will play an important role in the re-establishment of trust between the two countries.

The meeting that took place between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Barack Obama at the G20 summit in China on Sunday was the last one. The two leaders met for the first time immediately after Obama’s election as president. Turkey was one of the first countries that Obama visited after the inauguration of his presidency. Then President Obama suggested the concept of “model partnership” to explain the future prospect of the bilateral relations. Since then, relations between the two countries have suffered significant setbacks due to the major divergence of opinions in regard to regional developments.

When Turkey tried to resolve the Iranian nuclear crises through the Tehran declaration, the U.S. immediately objected to this effort and did not consider this attempt as a contribution to the peaceful resolution of disputes in the region. However, the U.S. resolved this crisis almost five years after the Turkish attempt, which was welcomed by Turkey. Another major crisis was in regard to the military coup in Egypt. Although both countries supported the democratic revolution of 2011, two years after this revolution when a counter revolutionary move took place as a result of the military intervention in politics, their policies significantly diverged. Turkey stood behind the democratically elected government of Egypt and denounced the massacres of the protesters on the streets of Egypt, whereas the U.S. kept silent and called the situation a “restoration of democracy” by the military. Another major crisis took place as a result of disagreements over Syria. The disconnect in regards to the Syria policy deteriorated when the U.S. administration followed an ambiguous path.As a result of all of these disagreements, relations between the two countries faced significant challenges. In what was possibly the last meeting between the two leaders before the end of Obama’s tenure was an attempt to handle these challenges. However, this meeting can also be an indicator for the next administration about the sensitivities and expectations of Turkey concerning Turkish-American relations.

First of all, it was important that both leaders emphasize the “special relationship” between the two countries. Being strong members of NATO and allies in the coalition to fight against DAESH are strong bonds for that “special relationship.” Thus, the security and strategic dimension will continue to be the most significant aspect of that relationship and both sides seem to agree on this.

Secondly, Turkish sensitivity in regard to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) needs to be understood by the U.S. After the meeting, President Erdoğan emphasized this issue in detail. He said there should be no double standards in regard to terrorism. Thus, artificial distinctions and preferential treatment for some terror groups for different reasons are unacceptable for Turkey. In addition, President Erdoğan also emphasized that Turkey will not tolerate a terror corridor along its border. Geopolitically, no country should tolerate such an unacceptable situation and Turkey will not agree to it either. Thus, the ambitions of the YPG need to be contained, controlled and eliminated. Finally, the investigation of Gülen and Turkey’s request must be handled seriously by the U.S. administration. Erdoğan said the relevant ministers would visit the U.S. to work on this issue and demonstrate his commitment about this issue. In all of these issues, one important fact is that Turkey wants a serious step forward and action that will play an important role in the re-establishment of trust between the two countries.


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Kılıç Buğra Kanat is the Research Director at the SETA Foundation at Washington DC. He is also an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Penn State University, Erie. Dr. Kanat received his PhD in Political Science from Syracuse University; a Master’s degree in Political Science from Syracuse University; and a Master’s in International Affairs from Marquette University. He was awarded the Outstanding Research Award and Council of Fellows Faculty Research Award at Penn State, Erie in 2015. He previously participated in the Future Leaders program of Foreign Policy Initiative. Dr. Kanat’s writings have appeared in Foreign Policy, Insight Turkey, The Diplomat, Middle East Policy, Arab Studies Quarterly, Mediterranean Quarterly, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, and Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. He is a columnist at Daily Sabah. He is the author of A Tale of Four Augusts: Obama’s Syria Policy. He is also co-editor of edited volumes History, Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey, Change and Adaptation in Turkish Foreign Policy, and Politics and Foreign Policy in Turkey: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.