U.S., Europe should buckle up for the Turkey ride

The United States and the European Union need to take a long-term view on Turkey and buckle up for a bumpy ride and rescue the relationship, the Brookings–Robert Bosch Foundation Transatlantic Initiative (BBTI) concluded in a report.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is eyeing elections, and hence upping his rhetoric against the West, so the reality is that diplomatic ties are unlikely to improve in the next year, said Amanda Sloat, the report’s author and a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Harvard Kennedy School.

“The country’s president is growing more authoritarian, using virulent anti-Western rhetoric, and making foreign policy choices contrary to the interests of the trans-Atlantic alliance,” she said. “The policy goal is navigating this grey zone today to preserve the possibility of better relations in the future.”

Erdogan has stepped up his nationalist rhetoric against the United States and the West since Turkey’s military entered Syria to fight with Kurdish militants allied with the United States in the fight against ISIS, straining an already fractious relationship. Some analysts and politicians have called for a much tougher line toward Ankara and possible economic sanctions to rein Erdogan in. Sloat disagrees with that approach.

While policymakers in Washington and Brussels are struggling with how to manage the situation, what makes Turkey such a conundrum is that its problematic leadership faces real threats, both in the aftermath of a failed military coup in 2016 and Kurdish militants within and on its borders, she said.

“The degree of political, security, socio-economic, and cultural integration between Turkey and the West requires a nuanced and supple style of relationship management.

“Specifically… constructive and principled engagement,” Sloat said. “This entails widening the aperture of government outreach to more officials on a broader range of shared interests; using the prospect of deeper trade and investment links to encourage better governance; expanding people-to-people ties and supporting civil society; and staying true to Western values by speaking out about rule of law and human rights abuses.”