As across much of the globe Donald Trump’s stunning victory is eliciting mixed responses in Turkey. Pro-government commentators believe Trump will be better for Turkish US relations. They argue he will be less concerned about what the government’s critics view as the unraveling of Turkey’s fragile democracy. Many see parallels between Trump’s base and the pious Anatolian voters who like Trump’s rust belters, felt disenfranchised by the prevailing elite-driven system and propelled Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) to a surprise win 14 years ago. The general impression is that Erdogan and Trump, both strong and populist leaders, will strip down the relationship to its basics and strike a pragmatic tone. Turkey’s struggling pro-democracy bloc is reeling from the shock. Diken spoke to a number of prominent Turkey analysts about the effects of a Trump presidency on Turkish US ties and here is what they had to say:
James F. Jeffrey Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Former US ambassador to Ankara
“On the plus side there will be personal chemistry despite Trump’s comments about Islam, and Trump will not concern himself much about internal Turkish politics. On the more negative side will be Trump’s emphasis on fighting ISIS, which is not Erdogan’s first priority. But the most important Middle East questions are Russia and Iran. If Trump can channel his concerns about Iran in a positive direction rather than cancel the JCPOA there could be a natural alliance for containment. Likewise with Russia, despite the seeming sympathy both Erdogan and Trump have for Putin. Putin will overreach with Turkey as victim and Trump will be less likely to ignore Putin than Obama has.”
Foreign Policy Expert at The Brookings Institution
“What happens in US-Turkey relations under Trump depends on whether the new American administration will really go forward with rapprochement with Russia and confrontation with Iran. Trump is likely to cooperate with Putin and Assad in the fight against ISIL [ISIS]. This means Washington will depend less on the Kurds in Syria. Since Turkey’s approach to Syria is Kurdish-centric, Ankara will not complain about the new situation and calibrate its position about Assad accordingly. This should not be difficult for Ankara as long as it gets what it wants on the Syrian Kurds [a withdrawal of all US support for them].
A confrontation between Iran and US, however, will be much less desirable for Turkey, given the economic and geostrategic issues at stake. As far the new American administration’s approach to Turkey’s domestic dynamics is concerned, I predict a positive dialogue between Trump and Erdogan. Democracy and human rights will not be high on the agenda of the Trump administration. Trump is a fan of strong leaders like Putin and Erdogan. Trump will approach Erdogan as a businessman looking for good deals. Erdogan’s demand for Fethullah Gulen’s extradition will find a more receptive ear in Washington. However, Trump’s ability to deliver will depend whether he can trump the rule of law in the United States.”
Beyer Family Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
“It’s very significant that the first message from [Turkish president] Recep Tayyip Erdogan is about Fethullah Gulen’s extradition. He clearly sees Trump’s victory as an opportunity to reset US Turkish relations. If the US courts rule against Gulen the decision to extradite will then go to the FBI and the Secretary of State. At that point it becomes less institutional and more political.
Trump will be seeking complete and unobstructed cooperation from all of the US’ allies against the Islamic State (ISIS). Trump has made it clear that his primary objective in the Middle East is to defeat ISIS.
He will be looking to work with Russia to achieve this. So Turkey may well find itself victim to the vicissitudes of that relationship. And the way its plays out in Syria will likely be an abandonment of all support to the Syrian opposition rebels. Pressure on Turkey to relinquish its support for them may well come from both sides.”
Asli Aydintasbas Senior Fellow European Center for Foreign Relations
“If you are a Turkish democrat, this is bad news. Trump has already made it clear that he will not make Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record an issue. He is not even saying it will not be a priority — but that US should not give advice on these matters. That could be devastating for human rights agenda here and a night-and-day issue for dissidents, critics of the regime, and independent journalists. That type of hands-off approach is likely to reduce the bilateral relationship to a defense agreement and further help consolidation of power in Turkey. Another direct result could be about Syria and Trump’s willingness to disengage from this [Syrian] conflict. Already some pro-government hacks are celebrating Trump’s victory on the assumption that US disengagement means handing over “the Syria file” to Ankara. This is shortsighted. Turkey will be facing regional competition from Iran and Russia and not necessarily have the US strategic backing.”
Marc Pierini Visiting Scholar Carnegie Europe and former European Union Commission ambassador to Ankara
“The US-Turkey relationship rests in a very large part on security arrangements which are there to stay. This is especially true for the pre-positioning of US air force assets at Incirlik air force base and the US-operated radar in Kurecik, which is part of NATO’s Missile Defense Shield. Assets at Incirlik mean the 50 nuclear warheads (hardly moveable in the short term), not the A10 squadron (easily moveable if need be).
Such arrangements do not normally fluctuate between one US administration to the next. Looming on the horizon is also Ankara’s choice of a missile defense system and whether it will be NATO-compatible. Here the ball is in Turkey’s court.
The uncertain factor between the US and Turkey is essentially linked to the Mosul and Raqqa offensives, which contain uncertainties on both sides. Ankara’s narrative is strong but its translation into military operations is not certain. On the side of the president-elect Trump, there were some strong words against ISIL [ISIS], but only time will tell if they translate into a much bigger US military footprint on the ground.”
Ankara Office Director
German Marshall Fund of the United States
“So far President elect Trump has not revealed specific foreign policy choices. He tends to avoid foreign policy activism, is reluctant to use military power unless it is about immediate U.S. interests, expects Europeans to carry the main burden on European security and seeks accommodation with Russia on key issues. If these approaches are translated to foreign policy, Turkey, as well as other U.S. allies may need to adjust their expectations from the U.S. on issues such as Syria and adapt to a world with less of a U.S. presence. However, we should not overstate the foreign policy implications of Trump’s victory before we even know who his foreign policy team is.”
Aykan Erdemir, PhD
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
“Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump started off on the wrong foot following the latter’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, Turkish government perceptions and attitudes toward Trump have improved dramatically over the course of the presidential campaign. And while voters of Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) expressed strong support for Clinton in the polls, Turkey’s pro-AKP pundits have written strong endorsements of Trump, and cheered the election results.
Ankara’s immediate reaction to the US elections is shaped by narrow and short-term considerations and not by long-term and informed assessment.
The Turkish government expects Trump to be more amenable to Ankara’s two key demands: the extradition of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the alleged mastermind of the July 15 abortive coup, and support for Turkey’s hardline tactics against terror. On both issues, the AKP saw Hillary Clinton as not sharing the Turkish government’s sensitivities.
It is, nevertheless, also likely that once Ankara comes to a better understanding of Trump’s road map for Turkey and the Middle East, there is fallout between the respective leaders, and a subsequent Turkish U-turn, a trademark of Erdogan’s weathervane foreign policy.”
Resident Senior Fellow, The Atlantic Council
“Its completely unclear what effect a Trump presidency will have. Throughout his campaign, Trump never articulated a clear policy position on anything other than the [Mexico] wall. His foreign policy statements in general made no sense, and therefore it’s impossible to derive any sort of clear agenda that he will pursue. Turks from the pro-government side may be celebrating, but it could prove to be premature if he does indeed, intend to “knock the shit out of ISIS.” The YPG [The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units] will still be the best option to achieve that. He could acquiesce to Russia in Syria, but what does that mean vis a vis Turkish support for the rebel insurgency on the one hand and the [Syrian] Kurdish federalism issue on the other?
The near term uncertainty will damage emerging market currencies with Turkey primed to feel the brunt of those effects. As for NATO, again some may celebrate this Eurasian [versus Atlanticist] nonsense but the undermining of Turkey’s most important alliance does little good for longer term Turkish interests.
Still, strongmen with authoritarian impulses are more likely to overlook issues like human rights and the democratic process, so there could be some wiggle room for cooperation.”
Director National Security
Bipartisan Policy Center
“For anyone concerned about the increasing fraught U.S.-Turkish relationship, the election of Donald Trump might turn out to be good news. The proud, bipartisan tradition of incoming U.S. presidents seeing Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the solution to their Middle Eastern problems will likely continue in a Trump administration. But the specific focus of U.S. Middle East policy, and therefore the thrust of U.S.-Turkish cooperation, is likely to change substantively. And it is far too early to tell whether Trump, like his predecessors, will ultimately be disappointed by Erdogan.
Erdogan has already been calibrating his approach to Syrian and Russia. Not only has he patched up relations with Putin but he has had members of his government float the possibility of accepting that Assad remains in power. If Erdogan is on the brink of discarding his foreign policy of the last five years, just as he discarded “zero problems” before that, then what might push him over edge would be the possibility of getting international support for reining in Kurdish aspirations in Syria and cementing Turkish influence in northern Iraq.
Thus, the building blocks of a U.S.-Russian-Syrian-Turkish bloc emerges: Assad stays in power; Turkey gives up support of the Syrian opposition; the United States gives up its support for the YPG; Syrian and Turkish forces move on Raqqa with Russian and U.S. support; Turkish forces receive a greenlight for operations around Mosul; and, afterwards, Ankara and Damascus are expected to manage the region’s economic and political reconstruction. Such a policy would represent a major realignment of U.S. Middle Eastern policy, yet a direct continuation of belief that Turkey can help solve Washington’s problems in the region.”