Mar 23 2018

Make deals with Erdoğan, but not at democracy’s expense

The United States must strike a balance between realpolitik and protecting democracy in its dealings with a Turkey that has become a threat both to itself and to the region, wrote Asli Aydıntaşbaş, in the Washington Post on Thursday.

“To think that it is a good idea for America to settle on a transactional deal with Turkey’s strongman (President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) while ignoring his assault on institutions dedicated to pluralism and secularism is a terrible mistake,” wrote Aydıntaşbaş a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, “Turkey remains polarized, and a significant portion of its population – at least half, according to the results of last year’s constitutional referendum – is unhappy with this backsliding.”

For Turkey to be stable and pro-western society, the United States must take measures that help Turkey re-establish the rule of law. This requires engaging with Erdoğan. As such, incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo needs to combine collaboration with more forceful measures that encourage Ankara to ease up its crackdown on dissent.  

“Just as Berlin appears to be doing,” writes Aydıntaşbaş, “Washington should regard the release of imprisoned U.S. citizens and Turkish journalists, and the lifting of Turkey’s state of emergency as benchmarks for specific steps aimed at improvement of relations. The ultimate goal should be ushering in Turkey’s return to democracy – a key component of which would have to be the resumption of Turkish-Kurdish peace accord.”

But it will be no easy task to reach these goals.

Although Washington has long recognized the importance of repairing damaged relations with Ankara it was unable to make much progress during Rex Tillerson’s time as secretary of state. The U.S.’s clumsy handling of Kurdish partners in Syria, which caused the further deterioration of relations between the two countries, is a case in point.

Similarly, as Aydıntaşbaş points out, “The danger has always been that Washington will go from one extreme to the other — from tough talk of sanctions and a brief visa ban in December to a policy of total appeasement, as Erdogan threatens to dismantle whatever remains of Turkish democracy.”