A Godzilla with less foreign policy knowledge?
Good news for its fans: The International Strongmen Club is growing in size!
It will be fun to watch how Turkey’s and America’s populist leaders will get along. In theory it may not be a smooth, working alliance – as it will bring together a man who once suggested banning Muslims from entering his country and the other who once claimed that the continent giving the other’s country its name had been discovered by Muslims more than 300 years before Columbus.
Donald Trump may be the American Tayyip Erdoğan; and Mr. Erdoğan may be the Turkish Mr. Trump. No doubt, there are similarities between the two leaders, including the like-mindedness of their voters. No doubt, they are both the weak man’s vision of a strong man. They are never wrong no matter what they say or do. They are smart men who understand what less smart people wish to hear. They both like to sue people. They are both passionately loved and passionately disliked by people from different parts of their nations, and the world.
But if they ever have a strong bond, that bond will be their shared pragmatism. All the same, how would Mr. Erdoğan, in one of the world’s most turbulent regions, align policy with a man who looks like an unstoppable Godzilla with not much knowledge on foreign policy and experience?
In January, a fuming Mr. Erdoğan called for Mr. Trump’s name to be removed from a shopping mall in a financial district in Istanbul. After Mr. Trump’s election victory, the pragmatic Mr. Erdoğan congratulated him and spoke of the start of “a new era” between Turkey and the United States. Mr. Erdoğan may now even encourage the construction of more shopping malls named after Trump.
In April, Mr. Erdoğan complained that “unfortunately we are living in a period of rising intolerance and prejudice toward Muslims in the United States and the world.” Mr. Erdoğan who thinks that Muslims are a faultless community across the world should normally not be the best ally to Mr. Trump, who during his election campaign suggested banning Muslims from entering America. Again, in theory, a devout Muslim leader who says that Islamophobia should be declared a crime against humanity should not be the best regional ally for a typical right-wing, proud, anti-Muslim American cowboy.
In December 2015, Mr. Erdoğan publicly said that Mr. Trump was not a successful politician. Let’s suppose he won, Mr. Erdoğan said, will he mend relations with Muslim countries?
No, Mr. Trump will not do that. America, under Mr. Trump’s presidency, will remain Turkey’s ally. Mr. Trump’s election is not about suspending or maintaining America’s alliance with Turkey, but it will be about recalibrating it in a way we do not yet know. But Ankara should be patient and able to understand that none of the most pressing issues for Turkey, including the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, once Mr. Erdoğan’s best political ally and the mastermind of the July 15 putsch attempt, will be nowhere in Mr. Trump’s top-50 list of priority issues. The wars in Syria and Iraq may be 54/d-e and Mr. Gülen’s extradition should be 77-c.
When Mr. Erdoğan speaks to his party fans, he speaks of Turkey as if the country remains at the epicenter of world politics. But Turkey, unlike Russia and China, was nowhere in Mr. Trump’s campaigns. It will not be in his immediate to-do list; after all the “administration can always take care of a multitude of dossiers concerning one of our allies.”
In 2008, locals in a southeastern Turkish village sacrificed 44 sheep to celebrate the election of Barack Obama as the 44th American president. As this column is going to print, there were no such Turkish niceties for Mr. Trump. It does not matter. With or without Mr. Trump, we will have enough blood spilt in this part of the world.