U.S. Congress should step up to Turkey’s Erdoğan - opinion

If U.S. President Donald Trump does not take Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to task for his authoritarian moves, then U.S. congressional leaders should step up and deliver Erdoğan the message that a strong Turkish democracy is vital to U.S. interests, said analysts Merve Tahiroğlu and Stephen McInerney in a Newsweek op-ed on Wednesday.

Erdoğan and Trump met on Wednesday at the White House to discuss a long list of issues that have soured relations between the two allies, including Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish militia and Ankara’s decision to acquire Russian S-400 systems.

“While President Donald Trump seems poised to welcome the Turkish strongman with open arms, Erdogan has few other friends left in the capital,” Tahiroğlu and McInerney said in their article, which was published hours before the Trump-Erdoğan meeting. 

There is bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for sanctioning Turkey over its military offensive in Syria, and the U.S. House of Representatives last month approved a resolution to recognise the Armenian genocide. 

"Anger has swelled beyond traditional critics to include key allies of Trump, like Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as longtime supporters of Turkey, like Representative Steve Cohen,” the analysts said. 

Graham met Erdoğan on Wednesday at the White House along with other Republican senators. “The purpose of this meeting is to have an American civics lesson for our friends in Turkey,” he said at the start of the meeting.

Graham later in the day blocked a Senate resolution that would follow the U.S. House resolution formally recognising the mass killing of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 as genocide. 

“Lawmakers are right to oppose Erdogan's offensive in Syria and his turn toward Russia. But they should also speak out about Turkey's democratic backsliding,” the analysts said.

But the initial remarks of the senators in the meeting shared by the White House show they focused on Syria and Turkey’s purchase of S-400s, rather than the backslide in Turkish democracy and Ankara’s poor human rights record.

“Like all authoritarian leaders who visit the White House, Erdogan seeks to exclude his repressive domestic policies from bilateral discussions, and Trump seems happy to comply,” the analysts said.  “But if Trump won't take Erdogan to task for his authoritarian moves, then congressional leaders must step up and make clear that a strong Turkish democracy is vital to U.S. interests.”