Turkish Twitter has exploded with anger and condemnation of Joe Biden. In a video of Joe Biden speaking about Turkey with the New York Times staff Biden suggested that the United States should be interfering in the elections of a democratic state, Turkey. Biden called for supporting the opposition against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the past the United States has treaded lightly when it came to putting its thumb on the scale for or against any candidates in other democratic nations or even weighing in on purely domestic matters of foreign allies. In the anything goes era this may not surprise some, but it was only 4 years ago that Turkey almost lost it’s democracy to a military coup. To say that Biden threw salt in a wound is an understatement.
To be clear Biden has not called for the toppling of President Erdogan through military coup as has been done in the case of autocratic dictators like Assad of Syria, but the effect is nonetheless startling. The message was contradicted by his very own statements in that very same meeting with the New York Times where he stated that U.S. security was dependent on “the strongest possible network of partners and allies working with one another.”
Turkey is an important ally. Turkey sits geographically between Europe and the Middle East. Turkey stepped in militarily where the U.S. did not in Idlib, Syria to prevent one of the worlds most dreaded attempted genocides. Turkey stepped in for Libyans to prevent the toppling of the U.N. recognized legitimate government. Haftar, Iran, Russia and France have been trying through military aggression to overthrow the popularly supported Libyan government. Turkey has demonstrated itself capable of supporting democratic movements and ideals. Absent from the hyperbole about Turkey has been any real evidence or suggestions that Turkey is anything but a democracy. Turkey has been an important tool in pursuing American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Turkey purchased the Russian S-400 Air Defense Missile system. It was not Turkey’s first choice. The United States Patriot Air Defense Missile System was Turkey’s first choice. Turkey has a right to defend its air space and national sovereignty and needed a system for many years. Despite our allies’ clear need for the Patriot system the Congress denied them authorization to purchase the system year after year until Turkey proceeded with the S-400 purchase. Now, after years of denying Turkey the Patriot system we gripe about the purchase of the S-400. Now after Turkey gave up on the U.S. the congress approved the purchase of the Patriot system.
Biden talks about supporting the opposition to Erdogan knowing full well that in 2016 “the opposition” attempted a full-on military coup against Erdogan. Tanks were patrolling the streets and the citizens of Turkey spoke clearly that they did not want their democracy upended by “the opposition.” It was the citizens of Turkey that placed their lives at risk and stood in front of the tanks to stop the coup. An election took place after that attempted military coup and the citizens of Turkey re-elected President Erdogan.
Turkey has for many years claimed that the leader of the coup, Gulen, is sitting right here in the U.S. protected from prosecution. Gulen once an ally of Erdogan tried to terminate Turkey’s democracy. Imagine tanks rolling through the streets of Washington to remove the president of the U.S. How might U.S. citizens might react to a military coup right here in Washington, DC. Biden and others responded to “the opposition” attack on Turkey’s democracy by saying Erdogan is a tyrant because he prosecuted those that sought to destroy Turkey’s democracy. Biden joined into the choir of cackles rather than aligning with an important U.S. ally.
The Democrats have found it all too appealing and opportunistic to kick Turkey while it is down in part because Trump has been friendly to Turkey. The friend of our enemy must be our enemy. Smearing Turkey has become fair game because it is a way of smearing Trump. Certainly, there is a lot that can be said about Trump and his questionable foreign policy decisions. Where would I start? If I started where would I end? Truth be told Trump has been a disaster in many if not most ways. But for all of Trump’s failures we all expected deeper analysis and discernable decisions from Biden. The bar is higher for Biden and it looks like his White House might be just as bad as Trump’s if not worse in the area of foreign policy.
Biden’s shallow and broad-brush generalizations about the Kurds all but completely ignores the facts. Biden talks about betraying “the Kurds”, our “allies.” The Kurds are not the same as the SDF. The SDF is not the same as the YPG. The YPG however is the same as the PKK or whatever other acronym Kurdish Terrorists are using today. For years now the U.S. official position has been that the Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF, are a mixed ethnicity organization made up of Arabs, Kurds and others. The moment Turkey would no longer tolerate the YPG/PKK terrorists on its border and went into Northeast Syria we saw Lara Selligman, Richard Engel and others ramp up “the Kurds” narrative. A narrative that conflated the SDF with the PKK with “the Kurds.” The PKK is a U.S. designated Terror group. The YPG is the Syria affiliate. The YPG controls the military command of the SDF. The SDF is not “the Kurds.” America never betrayed the Kurds. Trump’s decision to withdraw was neither strategy nor consistent with U.S. stated policy goals. Joe must take the time to understand the situation in Syria and the composition of the SDF. Our future foreign policy can not come from the cable news as it has with Trump. The State Department has a firm grasp on the developments in Syria and the larger Middle East and its expertise must be utilized by Biden to create a coherent foreign policy.
America’s military is the largest and most heavily funded in the world. We have been fighting wars for as long as anyone can remember. The mood of the nation has been to stop engaging in endless war. We can’t control those events around the world that requires a military response, but we can stop making enemies that drives more war. The concept is simple: endless enemies leads to endless wars. The U.S./Turkey relationship is an important one. To include Turkey in a list of governments that should be undermined or changed is inconsistent with our support of democratic ideals and the countries mood of stopping endless wars.
American exceptionalism means we should promote democracy where we can and undermine dictators and war criminals where we can. Turkey is a democracy. If Joe believes in American exceptionalism then he must change course and support our ally, Turkey. Promoting our friends and punishing our enemies is a foreign policy that makes sense. Poking Turkey does not make sense.