NATO member Turkey is not the staunchly secular, Westernising Cold War ally it once was – it is now run by a populist Islamist who buys weapons from Russia, intervenes militarily in the region, and is straying from European democratic norms and values.
That is why U.S. President Joe Biden, in his meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a NATO summit in Brussels next week, should redraw the U.S. alliance with Turkey, said Walter Russell Mead, a distinguished fellow in strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
Biden “needs to develop a new way of thinking about this important relationship,” Mead said in an article in the Journal on Monday.
“Despite their current estrangement, America and Turkey have common interests,” he said. “Both countries would like to see peace and order in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Both would like Iran’s influence curbed. Both would like to limit Russia’s power in the Middle East, the Black Sea and the Caucasus. And across the vast expanse of Central Asia, both Ankara and Washington would like to see countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan resist Russian and Chinese attempts to fold them into revived imperial systems.”
Whatever happens to Erdoğan, Turkey might become more modern, but it won’t necessarily become more Western or more democratic, Mead said.
“Ankara’s foreign policy will continue to become more independent and less predictable. If Washington expects Turkey to behave like the Netherlands, Norway or Spain, the relationship will frustrate both parties,” he said.
“But if the White House can start to think about Turkey the way it thinks about partners like Vietnam and India, policymakers will be able both to appreciate Ankara’s real geopolitical value and to manage more deftly the tensions that will inevitably appear.
“Mr. Biden’s job in his meeting with Mr. Erdoğan isn’t to rescue the old U.S.-Turkish alliance, but to lay the foundation for a new one.”