Trump benefitting from looking weak next to Turkey's Erdoğan – analyst

There could be a number of reasons why U.S. President Donald Trump is showing respect to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including Trump’s personal business interests in Turkey, wrote Senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Steven A. Cook, in Foreign Policy Magazine.

Ankara’s potential role in helping against Iran and the U.S. president’s re-election calculations, are the other factors that could be driving Trump to seem happy appearing weak next to his Turkish counterpart, he said.

Despite the seemingly positive meeting between the two leaders in Washington on Wednesday, there are major issues that continue to divide Turkey and the United States. 

The Russian S-400 missile systems, the F-35 fighter jets, and Fethullah Gülen are three unresolved issues that are driving a wedge between Washington and Ankara, Cook wrote.

However, the warm way Trump characterised bilateral relations and the White House’s reluctance to punish Turkey is raising questions about the apparent hold Erdoğan has on Trump, he added.

The United States has warned that Ankara will face sanctions over its purchase of the S-400s, suspending Turkey in July from the F-35 fighter jet programme, in which it was a customer and manufacturer. 

Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, heads a religious movement that Erdoğan’s government blames for the coup attempt in 2016. Ankara has repeatedly demanded Gülen’s extradition, requests which the United States has denied.

Both Erdoğan and the U.S. president are benefitting from their current relationship, according to Cook, who maintains that it suits Erdoğan’s interests to have Trump’s deference.

Trump who is facing impeachment, on the other hand, through Turkey has declared the end of the “forever wars” in the Middle East, Cook wrote.

This move, which is sure to boost Trump’s support, on its own gives him a good enough reason to host Erdoğan at the White House, he said. 

The New York Times, in an opinion piece it published on Friday, echoed the same motivating factors for Trump’s warm relations with Erdoğan, asserting however an additional theory.

Trump’s affinity for Erdoğan may be due to the penchant the U.S. president has for authoritarian leaders, including the Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it said.

Trump is cultivating his extensive business ties in Turkey while using Erdoğan can help him do it by filling a vacuum created by his withdrawal from Syria, the NY Times said.