On November the 8thAmerica had to choose a new president. The polls had placed Hillary CLINTON a few steps ahead Donald TRUMP, as a result the tension was growing. The whole world waited anxiously to see whether a Democrat or a Republican will be running the White House for the next four years.
As the votes count was coming to an end, Hillary CLINTON’s supporters were in tears while the Republicans were overwhelmed with joy. By the next morning, the newly-elect US president, Donald TRUMP, was giving his acceptance speech. Understandably, people were having mixed feelings about the results since the future president could shift the balance of power in the world.
In the aftermath of the US elections, a number of world leaders have congratulated Donald TRUMP on his election, some being a bit more enthusiastic than others. The Russian President, Vladimir PUTIN, seems to have favored Donald TRUMP throughout his campaign. Moreover, pro-Putin activists in Russia were understandably supporting D. TRUMP, arguing that Secretary of State Hillary CLINTON would want a new Cold War.
The President-elect Donald TRUMP seems to consider Russia as a “positive force and an ally” in the fight against ISIS / Daesh. Furthermore, it seems that both the Russian and American presidents share a “conceptual approach” to foreign policy.
Since the long-term opponent of the two great powers is China they will both focus intensively on this matter. Thus, it is likely that America will make significant concessions to Russia, including in Eastern Europe.
Bearing in mind president-elect D. TRUMP’s future alliance with Russia, some of the former USSR’s strategic partners may become of crucial importance to the US as well. This is where the case of Turkey comes to our attention.
However, Turkish President R.T. ERDOGAN has not shown support to President-elect D. TRUMP in the initial phases of the presidential campaign because of his agenda on Muslims and his statements about the Kurdish people. On the other hand, now that D. TRUMP has become the president-elect, the Turkish president might have a change of heart. Since both Turkey and the US would be in good terms with Russia, the latter might act as a mediator.
There are two foreseeable scenarios for the future relations of the USA and Turkey. The first and the more optimistic one finds the two countries as allies, both being NATO members and in good terms with Russia. The second scenario depicts more tensioned relations between President R.T. ERDOGAN and President-elect D. TRUMP based on their ideologies and agendas, regardless of the allegiance to NATO.
The main focus points when it comes to Turkey are its involvement in the geopolitics of the region mainly with regards to the conflict in Syria and the domestic situation of the country in terms of politics. Turkey’s geographical position is of vital importance to NATO and to the regional security while its political regime raises an unprecedented amount of criticism on topics like human rights and freedom of expression.
Hence one question arises: What will count more for President-elect D. TRUMP – the role of Turkey as a strategic partner in the fight against Daesh or the protection of human rights that American praises itself for?
First scenario: President-elect D. TRUMP and President R.T. ERDOGAN cooperate
It is a well-known fact of world politics that countries want to cooperate with the allies of their allies. The case of the US and Turkey is peculiar due to the fact that they are already allies, both being members of NATO. Furthermore, they are both now trying to set the terms with Russia, that being yet another reason for the two leaders, D. TRUMP and R.T. ERDOGAN to reach an agreement.
While discussing the attempted coup in Turkey (summer 2016), President-elect D. TRUMP expressed his admiration for President R.T. ERDOGAN “for being able to turn that around.” He went on by saying that in his view, the US has no right to lecture Turkey because “when the world sees how badly the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.” President R.T. ERDOGAN is portrayed by the Western media as more powerful than ever despite the attempted coup that some expected to weaken and remove him from power.
Moreover, in an interview during the US presidential campaign President R.T. Erdogan referred to Donald TRUMP’s statement on banning Muslims that “many things can be said throughout the rallies before elections and things will turn out to be very different post-elections”. It is clear that even though the Turkish president manifested a sort of reluctance towards D. TRUMP, he acknowledges that politicians are bound to make fake promises in order to win votes. This leaves an open door for future cooperation between the two leaders. Therefore, President-elect D. TRUMP and President R.T. ERDOGAN made statements that would lead us to believe they are ready to set aside their differences and might end up being strategic partners in the fight against Daesh.
One great way for the US to secure Turkey as an ally would be using Fethullah GÜLEN as leverage. Even though some say the Islamic cleric has been used by R.T. ERDOGAN as a scapegoat to justify the coup, several requests to the US government have been made for his return to Turkey, calling him a terrorist. In exchange for R.T. ERDOGAN’s allegiance, President-elect D. TRUMP might take legal action against the so-called ’’orchestrator’’ of the coup or even go as far as to extradite him to Turkey.
Consequently, Turkey would have several important reasons to fully cooperate and support President-elect D. TRUMP’s policy. Firstly, both countries are members of NATO, therefore are bound to be allies. Secondly, the US would not get involved in the domestic policies of Turkey as President-elect D. TRUMP has already said, so the policy of President R.T. ERDOGAN regarding the Turks and the Kurds will be overlooked. Last but not least, the US would return the Islamic cleric, Fethullah GÜLEN, to his motherland legitimizing ERDOGAN’s regime in this way.
The extradition can be seen as both a diplomatic faux-pas for President-elect D. TRUMP and a shift on foreign policy. However, the US president-elect might appreciate more having one of the most influential Muslim countries, namely Turkey, as a committed ally. Additionally, the US could motivate its decision based on the fact that Turkey has always been a great asset for NATO an important partner for regional security while also being a democracy as proven by the failure of the coup in July 2016. Besides, Turkey has been struggling with instability caused by the conflict in Syria and the flow of immigrants being the country that has perhaps endured the most hardship given the situation. Therefore, in theory, Turkey deserves not only the full support of the US for being a democratic NATO ally but also some sort of proof of commitment and encouragement and the extradition of Fethullah GÜLEN might just be a statement to that.
Second scenario: President-elect Donald TRUMP is a “a fan of the Kurds”
President-elect Donald TRUMP has stated his support for the Kurds on several occasions during his campaign. Along with his desire to ban Muslims from the US, his admiration for the Kurds is a highly unsettling position for Turkish President R.T. ERDOGAN. Even if both Turkey and the US are having good diplomatic relations with Russia now, this may not be enough for the two NATO member states to continue to cooperate.
When referring to the Kurds, the President-elect has described them as being “the best fighters and the most loyal” to the US. President-elect D. TRUMP also believes that America should be using and arming the Kurds and making them partners in the fight against Daesh. It might seem to some that “using the Kurds” is a poor choice of words but President-elect has proven to be an unusual candidate, throughout his campaign. Regardless of the choice of words, the fact that America might become a strong ally for the Kurds will most certainly upset Turkey.
To go even further with this theory, Donald TRUMP’s desire to defeat Daesh may be so great that he might be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that. Hence, in his view, if the Kurds do prove to be a great asset in the fight against terrorists, he might strike an “off the record” deal with them and promise to give them what they long for the most: a Kurdish State. However, one has to bear in mind that the Kurds count over 40 million people spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, thus creating a state is upsetting not only Turkey, but also other regional countries who take part in the conflict. Moreover, it is a bit ironic if President-elect D. TRUMP appears to be supporting the Kurds since he manifested a lack of sympathy and virulent opposition to the Muslims.
While President R.T. Erdogan is terrified of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) becoming a real political force, with the help of other countries such as Syria and Iraq, he might be facing a huge surprise if President-elect Donald TRUMP becomes the main supporter of the Kurds.
Furthermore, some argue that Turkey has been so aggressively pushing for a safe zone not for reducing the influx of Syrian refugees, but also to prevent the establishment of a Syrian Kurdistan along its border. Furthermore, the idea of revoking Turkish NATO membership is not new since President R.T. ERDOGAN has been accused several times of arresting journalists, jailing thousands of students for their comments, replacing secular schools with Islamic-focused madrassas, not to mention the accusations for the legitimacy of arrests and abuses he committed in the aftermath of the coup.
Hence, it seems that if President-elect D. TRUMP does decide to take a strong stance on the idea of backing the Kurds and enabling the creation of a Kurdish state, the US does have grounds on requesting revoking Turkish membership from NATO. However, such a decision might backfire since Turkey is not the only country in question when it comes to the Kurdish cause. The Middle East is already unstable and does not need an additional conflict.
While there are many speculations regarding the foreign policy the decisions on foreign of President-elect D. TRUMP will be, one can only hope that most of his promises during the campaign were just talk. America has the capacity of changing the geopolitical landscape we live in; we should hope it does it for the better. Let us also think of the best-case scenario in which President-elect D. TRUMP shapes his diplomatic approach and drops his personal ambitions so that during his presidential mandate will turn out as an influential/strong leader of the free world. Even though we preserve optimism we should prepare for the worst-case scenario as well.