Obama likes Erdoğan, because...

Obama likes Erdoğan, because...

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan flew to St. Petersburg yesterday in order to join the G-20 Summit to be held today and tomorrow, during which sustainable growth issues are expected to be discussed in the context of employment, transparency and new regulations. 

Erdoğan’s priority and expectations from the G-20 Summit are not those. At first Erdoğan asked the Foreign Ministry and his close aides to set up a series of face-to-face meetings with leaders of countries, especially those with seats on the U.N. Security Council, in the hopes of motivating them to take a stand against the July 3 coup in Egypt which toppled President Mohamed Morsi. But in the meantime, there was the terrible chemical attack in Syria on Aug. 21 which changed (or rather added to) the priorities of Erdoğan; he underlined before he left that Syria was at the top of Ankara’s list amid Erdoğan’s talks. He will not be able to spend much time for the summit itself anyway as he will have a long flight to Argentina in order to join a meeting on Sept. 7 for the Olympic Games bid of Istanbul for 2020.

Erdoğan wants to have an exclusive meeting in St. Petersburg, particularly with U.S. President Barack Obama, along with the host, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama is going to make a short visit himself to St. Petersburg because of his row with Putin over Edward Snowden and the NSA intelligence leaks. Obama has planned only two face-to-face meetings there; one with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and French leader François Hollande. Nevertheless, Erdoğan said yesterday that he hoped even a short meeting could be arranged. Disappointed by Obama’s choice to ask for Congress approval for a possible military move in Syria, Erdoğan wants to urge Obama personally to be more active there, plus stop supporting Adly Mansour and his interim government in Egypt in an effort to see Morsi returned to power.

Egypt is an important country for the U.S., like Turkey. Leaving aside its huge presence in the Arab political geography and its important peace agreement with Israel, Egypt also holds a very strategic position; the Suez Channel alone is enough to symbolize that. U.S. has the Naples-based 6th Fleet and the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet in the region and uses the canal round the clock for military purposes. Egypt is one of few countries in the world that has such a location and importance in terms of providing the U.S. military assets, like the landing of strategic planes and the use of air space at short notice.

Actually that is partly an answer to why Obama likes Erdoğan and supports him sometimes personally within the U.S. administration when Erdoğan is under attack because of his increasingly problematic relations with neighboring countries and the violation of civil rights in the country. It is true that Turkey has differences with Egypt; it is a multi-party democracy with a market economy, NATO membership and candidacy for EU membership. But Turkey’s location is critical for regional and global U.S. military positioning. Turkey’s İncirlik, which is open to U.S. and NATO use, is one of four main operating bases for the U.S. Air Force. The Bosphorus and the Dardanelles connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have been and are major strategic points regarding Turkish and Western relations with Russians. And recently Erdoğan gave approval to the early-warning missile defense systems to be based in Turkey despite discomfort raised by Russia and Iran. Obama likes Erdoğan mainly because U.S. military needs are meet by Turkey under his rule, as they are met by Egypt under Mansour, or formerly Morsi.

It is not that complicated actually. Will that help in backing Erdoğan’s positions in Egypt and Syria? Not likely, and that is what Erdoğan finds difficult to understand, as he said yesterday once again.