What will come of Biden's meeting with Erdogan?

What will come of Biden's meeting with Erdogan?
Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool

Most of the foreign policy attention surrounding President Joe Biden’s trip to the G7 has been focused on his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin. But there’s another guest at the party waiting to speak to Uncle Joe that may prove even more impactful. The Tyrant of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has scheduled a meeting with Biden and it could potentially pose an opportunity for the United States to accomplish something productive. While Erdogan had what many described as a friendly relationship with Donald Trump, things got off to a rocky start with Joe Biden when he decided to recognize the Armenian genocide earlier this year. Still, Biden has pointed to his long relationship with Erdogan as part of his supposed foreign policy mastery. But will Erdogan actually put anything meaningful on the table? (Associated Press)

President Joe Biden and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have known each other for years, but their meeting Monday will be their first as heads of state. And it comes at a particularly tense moment for relations between their two countries.

The list of disagreements is unusually long for the two NATO allies: There’s U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as Turkey’s purchase of a Russian weapons system. And in April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.”

Previous U.S. presidents had avoided using the term out of concern that it would complicate ties with Turkey, which is fiercely proud of its Ottoman history and insists that those killed in the early 20th century were victims of civil war and unrest.

The AP article glowingly tells the story of when Joe Biden paid a “house call” to Erdogan during a trip to Turkey in 2011. Erdogan was going to miss a meeting that both of them were to attend because he was ill. Biden reportedly stopped by his house and chatted for a couple of hours.

It’s a lovely story, but that was more than a decade ago and the circumstances were quite different. Erdogan was the Prime Minister at the time and Biden was Vice President. And that was long before Erdogan seized autocratic power as president-for-life. Back then, Turkey’s economy was strong after embracing a number of democratic reforms and the free market was thriving. Now the country has collapsed into serious decline under Erdogan’s increasingly tyrannical regime.

There are a number of concessions that Erdogan could offer that might bring his country back into the fold as a western ally, but it’s difficult to imagine him going there. He could withdraw his forces from northern Syria and stop persecuting America’s Kurdish allies in the region, but that would be a complete reversal that he would probably see as a loss of face. Turkey could also cancel their Russian missile program which is incompatible with NATO systems, as well as their proposed purchase of Russian fighter jets. But both of those already appear to be done deals.

For several years now, Erdogan has chosen to forge close ties to Russia, China, and Iran, while thumbing his nose at his supposed western allies. He’s held many citizens of western nations hostage, including Americans. He’s never apologized for any of those actions and effectively dared us to boot him out of NATO. If Joe Biden shows up and just poses for some pictures with his “old friend” and starts proposing deals without getting anything in exchange, this will turn out to be a diplomatic boondoggle rather than a triumph.

The meeting is scheduled for Monday, so we’ll know soon enough. But I’ve been covering Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s journey into tyranny for several years now. While I’d love to see some progress and the restoration of democratic principles in Turkey, I’m not going to be holding my breath.

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