To say that the United States’ foreign policy situation has shifted dramatically in the past couple of years would be an understatement. While the world is largely united in its opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, America’s individual relationships with some countries have grown increasingly rocky even as former rivals in other parts of the world seem to be on the mend. For one example, look no further than the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Just this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in five years, taking meetings with both Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the King. The two countries had been engaged in a sort of cold war ever since Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated by Saudi infiltrators in Turkey’s capital, but now it appears that both of them are ready to move on.
The killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul sent an already tense and shaky relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia into complete free fall.
Fast-forward 3 1/2 years later and it appears Turkey and Saudi Arabia are attempting to build a bridge and move on.
In his first trip to Saudi Arabia in five years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embraced Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and sipped traditional Arabic coffee with King Salman before a state dinner and direct talks that ran into the early hours of Friday.
Part of Turkey’s motivation for realigning with Saudi Arabia is no doubt driven by financial concerns. Turkey’s economy is in the tank right now. Inflation there is currently running at more than 60% and the value of the lira is less than half of what it was two years ago. Unemployment is through the roof and government revenue has cratered. Conversely, Saudi Arabia is in the middle of a cash boom caused by vastly increased oil prices. They have money to invest and Turkey would like some of that action. Saudi Arabia is getting something out of the deal as well. Before Erdogan left for his visit, Turkey dropped its ongoing case against 26 Saudi suspects in Khashoggi’s killing and turned it over to the Saudi courts.
Meanwhile, our relationship with Saudi Arabia had gotten to one its most promising states when Donald Trump was president, but now it’s pretty much on the rocks. It’s worth noting that while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was welcoming the Turkish tyrant over for meetings, he’s yet to even place a call to Joe Biden since he was sworn into office. Saudi Arabia also basically thumbed its nose at Biden when he asked them to bump up their oil output last year.
The reason that this alignment is worrisome is that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been mostly staying on the fence when it comes to Russia and the invasion of Ukraine. The Saudis are refusing to cut off energy deals with Russia and Erdogan has been very careful not to do anything to directly offend Putin. If we are witnessing the formation of a new, 21st-century axis of evil as many have speculated, Turkey has been leaning further and further toward Russia’s side in recent years. And Saudi Arabia has never seemed particularly interested in any sort of alliance with the United States unless it involves selling us oil.
On top of all of this, there are still simmering resentments over Turkey’s decision to purchase advanced Russian missile systems and fighter jets. This makes them incompatible with NATO defensive and offensive systems and leaves our own military hardware open to potential scrutiny by Russian intelligence agencies. Once the situation in Ukraine stabilizes (assuming it ever does), the world is going to look noticeably different in terms of the various alliances that are being reshaped around the globe. Both Russia and China are likely to wind up with more significant support than we would probably like to see.
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