On May 31, THO organized a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. on “Turkey’s Snap Elections and the Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations.” The discussion was moderated by THO Advisory Board member Dr. Herbert Reginbogin and featured insights from the following speakers:
- Richard Leiby – Editor and Writer, The Washington Post
- Ragip Soylu – Washington Correspondent, Daily Sabah
- Shawn Turner – CNN National Security Analyst; Director of Communication, Center for a New American Security
- Yusuf Erim – Turkey Analyst, TRT World (via Skype)
- Guy Taylor – National Security Team Leader, The Washington Times
U.S. policy toward Turkey unclear as Trump admin’s foreign policy focuses elsewhere
Guy Taylor began the discussion by commenting on the current focus of U.S. foreign policy, stating that it is primarily concentrated on issues surrounding Iran and North Korea. Mr. Taylor identified combatting ISIS as the main goal for the U.S. in Turkey’s region but also explained that it is still unclear what the U.S. is expecting of Turkey. He added that Ankara is nervous about the role of the Trump administration due to its backing of YPG fighters in Syria.
Echoing these comments, Shawn Turner said that the Trump administration’s foreign policy is focused on jumping from challenge to challenge – such as Iran and North Korea – rather than on nurturing relationships abroad. Mr. Turner noted that the administration’s current foreign policy is focused inward on national security, and that most of the President’s close advisors are inside the White House rather than the State Department.
Comparing American foreign policy to Turkish foreign policy, Richard Leiby argued that the U.S. is becoming more and more isolationist, refusing refugees and migrants, while Turkey has done far more to help Syrian refugees by hosting several million within its borders. However, on Turkey’s domestic politics, Mr. Leiby added that Turkey is struggling with issues of press freedom and underlined that in a democracy the press should be able to hold power to account without fear
Key issues between the U.S. and Turkey persist as Turkey heads to polls
Regarding Turkey’s upcoming elections, Ragip Soylu explained that there is likely to be a run-off election and that the ruling party (the AKP) may lose its majority regardless of the presidential result. Furthermore, Mr. Soylu stated his belief that President Erdogan would become bolder with Turkey’s Syria policy if he wins the upcoming election.
Also in agreement that the upcoming elections may hold some surprises, Yusuf Erim pointed out that the current ruling party is not polling as high as it has in the past, and that President Erdogan’s opposition is largely united against him. Mr. Erim further explained that President Erdogan’s biggest success, the economy, is now weakening. Regardless of the election outcome, Mr. Erim said that the coming transition to a presidential system is needed to respond to the shifting economic and political developments in Turkey’s region.
In addressing where U.S.-Turkey relations stand amid these elections, Mr. Soylu noted that the U.S. wants Turkey as a partner in the region but is not yet doing enough to address the concerns of its critical NATO ally. Mr. Soylu highlighted three major issues that are continuing to deepen the rift between the U.S. and Turkey: 1) the U.S.’ continued backing of the YPG in Syria; 2) the refusal of the U.S. to extradite the alleged mastermind of the July 2016 coup attempt, Fethullah Gulen; and 3) the U.S.’ proposed blocking of F-35 sales to Turkey.
On the subject of resolving these issues, Mr. Soylu underlined the importance of both the upcoming elections in Turkey and of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s June 4 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Soylu expressed his hope that the meeting will address some of Ankara’s concerns.
Mr. Erim stated his belief that U.S.-Turkey relations are not deteriorating but rather going through growing pains. He noted that just as Turkey is adjusting to the Trump administration’s “America First” foreign policy, the U.S. is adjusting to Turkey’s emergence as a more independent regional power. Mr. Erim concluded that the U.S. must realize that Turkey is now a major player on the global stage.