Jeff Flake and what His Confirmation Means for US Turkish Relations

By THO Contributor, Ben Ramey

On July 13th, 2021, President Joe Biden officially offered Senator Jeff Flake the nomination to become the Ambassador of Turkey. Though this nomination Biden indicates he is his top pick. Jeff Flake has now essentially finished the heavy vetting and confirmation process that all nominees must go through before being given the ambassadorship. His confirmation with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee that he was once a part of, took place on September 28th, 2021. Jeff Flake, a longtime Republican, might seem like an interesting choice for President Biden, especially as he balances intense polarization within his party and the nation. This may be true for many domestic political situations but in foreign policy, policy views at times can be much more aligned. His experience is perfect for bringing both sides together and creating bipartisan foreign policy solutions in the realm of contentious U.S.-Turkey relations. This nomination is Biden understanding that Jeff Flake has the background and experience which will help bridge the divide between the two nations, but also a move in good faith, showing that he will continue to step across the aisle by offering key ambassadorships to those who do not fully align with him. This nomination will hopefully lead to a strong and unified voice from the US which will offer clear and concise statements and decisions from the US government. This nomination seems to be well thought out, using a candidate who has a background in foreign policy, and his nomination is the correct step towards finding pragmatic solutions to the current standoff between the US and Turkey.

Jeff Flake has substantial experience working in foreign policy; experience which will be key for such a high stakes position. He understands the weight of the position and what it takes to be a good ambassador in this key country due to his long-time involvement in foreign policy. As a senator he served on the Foreign Relations committee and was a member of the African Affairs subcommittee, East Asian and Pacific subcommittee, European Affairs subcommittee, and the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection, and Peace Corps. His comprehensive experience in foreign policy will be an asset to this position. He has a deep connection to both the president, and with Congress after serving in both the House and Senate. Even in his recent Medium article, he emphasizes his foreign policy experience and his ability to work closely and create a partnership with Congress to achieve policy goals, “having served in both the U.S. House and Senate, I understand and appreciate the role Congress plays in U.S. foreign policy, and I look forward to that partnership.” It is interesting that President Biden selected someone who does not seem to have specialized experience in Turkey. It is apparent that he has worked on some legislation and resolutions relating to Turkey when looking at his records. What is apparent is there is not much legislation relating to Turkey. He has a lot of experience working on bills relating directly to the Middle East and Europe, so he has a broad knowledge of the regions and how congress views, interacts and responds to those regions. It is clear why President Biden chose him when looking at Flake's experience as well as Biden’s adamant push to make bipartisan decisions. 

Jeff Flake has the chance to create a positive atmosphere between the US and Turkey at a time when diffusion is needed. The goal is continuing to keep Turkey as a strong defensive ally especially in the realm of NATO. We cannot lose a long standing and powerful ally like Turkey. Multiple notable figures, including Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Kyrsten Sinema, have expressed support for his nomination and feel confident in his ability to create a constructive environment to solve differences. Leahy writes in a press release on July 13th, “Jeff is a perfect choice to work toward a more constructive relationship that would be good for both of our countries, for the region, and for the world.” During Flake’s nomination hearing, Democratic Senator Chris Coons stated, “Senator Flake, to be clear, is a conservative Republican from Arizona, and I am a Democrat from Delaware. In the six years we served alongside each other, we voted on the opposite way of virtually every vote we ever took in the Senate. But during those six years, I came to know Jeff as an honorable man, as a principled public servant, as a patriotic American, and a loyal friend.” He seems to have garnered a substantial bipartisan respect in congress which will most certainly help him during his ambassadorship. By the rhetoric in Flake's Medium article it seems he is genuinely trying to create a respectful, cohesive, and bipartisan voice for the U.S. Likewise, Jeff writes;

“I also understand the value of having America speak with one voice. Having lived overseas, I have a deep appreciation for the indispensable role that the United States plays around the world. There is no substitute for U.S. leadership,”...“With this nomination, the Biden Administration reaffirms the best tradition of American foreign policy and diplomacy: the credo that partisan politics should stop at the water’s edge.”...“U.S. foreign policy can and should be bipartisan. That is my belief as well, and my commitment,”. 

I think bipartisan approach will be a great step forward for the US and Turkey at a time of great polarization. By creating a bipartisan voice in the U.S.-Turkish relations, Flake will hopefully succeed in keeping consistent a fruitful dialogue between the two nations. It is important for Biden and Flake to send a clear message that Turkey should reevaluate its growing relationship with Russia and reemphasize the need for Turkey to be a key ally in NATO. It will be a difficult process, but with incentives and popular support from the people of Turkey and the U.S. increased attention and policies can reestablish strong security ties between the two nations and their NATO ties.

This nomination and confirmation is a key focal point in the ever changing and complex relationship between the US and Turkey and a positive choice for both countries. The relationship between the U.S. and Turkey is shifting constantly and both countries have had a change in grand strategy, but with Jeff Flake at the helm of US-Turkey relations we can hopefully build consistent and constructive rhetoric between the two NATO countries.