Why Biden continues to give Erdoğan the cold shoulder - Merve Tahiroğlu

U.S. President Joe Biden’s distancing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is becoming more tangible and a crisis within NATO, created by Turkey’s objections to the membership of Sweden and Finland, begs the question of whether years of appeasement of Erdoğan by the West has reached a dead end, said Merve Tahiroğlu, Turkey Program Director at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

Turkey’s behaviour within multilateral institutions in the past few years clearly shows that Erdoğan’s government has become a serious problem for NATO and the United States, Tahiroğlu said in an interview with Yavuz Baydar, Ahval’s editor-in-chief, for the Hot Pursuit podcast series on Tuesday.

“Add to that the fact that Erdoğan is an increasingly autocratic man and every day he does something that is more and more oppressive against his own people” is enough cause for Biden to keep Erdoğan and Erdoğan’s government at a distance until at least the 2023 elections in Turkey, Tahiroğlu said.

Turkey and the United States have been seeking to repair bilateral relations damaged by differences on regional issues such as Syria and Ankara’s purchase of S-400 air defence missiles from Russia. Erdoğan, who has cosied up to President Vladimir Putin over the past five years, is now threatening to block Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, citing their alleged failure to combat Kurdish terrorism, and has announced plans for a new military offensive in northern Syria. That is adding to political tensions between Ankara and Washington.

The U.S. State Department said last month it expected strong backing within NATO for the membership applications of Sweden and Finland. The United States also warned that any military action inside Syria by Turkey would threaten regional stability.

The Biden administration’s intentions to keep Erdoğan’s government at arms-length have become all the more pronounced since Erdoğan threatened the NATO veto, which has created a bit of a crisis within the alliance, Tahiroğlu said.

Turkey is emerging as the problem country in NATO at a time when it is so important to have coherence and for the organisation to show itself as a stronger force to deter Russia, she said. 

The behaviour of Turkey in NATO is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how it has behaved in the organisation and other multilateral institutions such as the Council of Europe in the past few years, Tahiroğlu said.

Turkey has watered down joint statements coming out of international institutions against Russia and followed unilateral policies at the expense of NATO, the United States or other alliance members such as Greece, she said.

Erdoğan is facing presidential and parliamentary elections by June next year. Polls show a decline in public support for Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), mainly due to economic instability including soaring inflation, which reached 73.5 percent in May.

“We’re now facing an election in Turkey in about a year and over the course of that year we expect many more transgressions against Turkish democracy and human rights to happen,” Tahiroğlu said.

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