The Biden Victory and Turkey

November 9, 2020

Mr. Joe Biden is now the President-elect of the United States. Critics are united in underlining the enormity of the challenges he faces.

Below are excerpts from Mr. Biden’s article titled “Why America Must Lead Again”, published in the March/April 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs[i]:

“First and foremost, we must repair and reinvigorate our own democracy, even as we strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us around the world.

“As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example.

“During my first year in office, the United States will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world. It will bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda.

An insidious pandemic, corruption is fueling oppression, corroding human dignity, and equipping authoritarian leaders with a powerful tool to divide and weaken democracies across the world. Yet when the world’s democracies look to the United States to stand for the values that unite the country—to truly lead the free world—Trump seems to be on the other team, taking the word of autocrats while showing disdain for democrats.”

And this is what he said in his victory speech:

“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify, who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States.” (emphasis added)

Mr. Biden’s immediate priority will be the pandemic. Healing polarization will be more than a short-term challenge. Because as the presidential election result shows, the country is deeply divided. His success on that score would depend also on the Republican Party leadership. Would they put a distance between the party and Mr. Trump or undermine Mr. Biden’s efforts to heal America’s polarization? Would they do their share of overcoming political gridlock or continue with partisan politics? Because Mr. Trump and the royal family would not let everything go easily.

Restoring America’s global status will also be a long-term challenge because the problem goes beyond the four years of the Trump presidency, to a series of failed military interventions.

Below are some other excerpts from President-elect Biden’s Foreign Affairs article:

Diplomacy also requires credibility, and Trump has shattered ours. In the conduct of foreign policy, and especially in times of crisis, a nation’s word is its most valuable asset.

“The United States has the strongest military in the world, and as president, I will ensure it stays that way, making the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of this century, not the last one. But the use of force should be the last resort, not the first.

It is past time to end the forever wars, which have cost the United States untold blood and treasure. As I have long argued, we should bring the vast majority of our troops home from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our mission as defeating al Qaeda and the Islamic State (or ISIS).

Diplomacy is not just a series of handshakes and photo ops. It is building and tending relationships and working to identify areas of common interest while managing points of conflict. It requires discipline, a coherent policymaking process, and a team of experienced and empowered professionals. As president, I will elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy. I will reinvest in the diplomatic corps, which this administration has hollowed out, and put U.S. diplomacy back in the hands of genuine professionals.

NATO is at the very heart of the United States’ national security, and it is the bulwark of the liberal democratic ideal—an alliance of values, which makes it far more durable, reliable, and powerful than partnerships built by coercion or cash.

I would rejoin the agreement (the JCPOA) and use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.” (emphasis added)

The foregoing is music to Washington’s traditional allies who are celebrating Mr. Biden’s victory just like his supporters.

In so far as the Middle East is concerned, Gulf states enjoying cozy relationships with President Trump must be uneasy because they will have to adopt to change, not fundamental change but some change, the war in Yemen being a case in point.

PM Netanyahu surely prefers a Trump White House to a Biden one, but he should be more than happy having obtained so much from the former. After all Mr. Biden too is a long-standing friend of Israel and will remain one, but his intention to rejoin the JCPOA was never in question since this would have been a betrayal of his two terms as Vice President. And, he would not support PM Netanyahu’s settlement policy like his predecessor.

During the last couple of days, the future of Turkish-American relations has been the top item in Turkey’s newspapers, tv channels. Many analysts have focused on Mr. Biden’s record as a senator, his support to Greece, Armenia, Greek Cypriots, and Washington’s support to the PYD/YPG, its refusal to expatriate Gulen. Everybody seems to agree that working with President Biden would be a challenge. And no one is suggesting that Turkey would be the first country President Biden would visit like Mr. Obama.

To guess what the future may portend for Turkey’s relationship with the Biden White House, I would suggest that the Turkish government put Mr. Biden aside for a moment, look in the mirror and try to answer the following questions:

What have we done in the last decade to improve our own democracy? Are we still an example for Middle East countries to follow? Do we believe in the power of our example? Are we confident that we would be among the countries to be invited to Mr. Biden’s Global Summit for Democracy? If so, would we be invited as a democratic country or a country to be confronted because of its declining democracy? Have we done enough to fight corruption? Have we done enough to heal our own polarization?  Is our diplomacy credible? If diplomacy is building and tending relationships and working to identify areas of common interest while managing points of conflict, how do we rate our diplomatic performance of the past decade? What are the relationships we have built? What are the relationships we have tended? Is our diplomacy in the hands of genuine professionals? Are we still committed to NATO? What are hoping to achieve with our daily bashing of the West? Have we already changed axis? If so, when shall we tell the people of Turkey about it?

These are questions we should be asking ourselves regardless of the changing of the guard at the White House. If our answers hold water, then Mr. Biden’s past as a senator becomes irrelevant to the future of our relationship with him. If not, which is regrettably the case, then we should start to put our house in order by restoring parliamentary democracy regardless of who is in the White House. Because that is only path to restoring our regional and global status.

President Trump lost the election because he failed to give satisfactory answers to the foregoing.

Ms. Kamala Harris, the Vice President-elect, is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father. She has risen higher in the country’s leadership than any woman ever before her. In the long-term, in view of her distinguished record and age, she may be the one to watch on the US political stage.

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[i] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-01-23/why-america-must-lead-again

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions he held in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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