Turkey wants Trump but isn’t ruling out a Biden win

Turkey wants Trump but isn’t ruling out a Biden win

By this column goes to press early on Nov. 4, we will probably get the first results of the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, in which Donald Trump is trying to save his office from Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Turkey is among the countries that are following the elections very closely due to its increasingly volatile relationship with the world’s superpower. In an interview with the monthly Kriter magazine, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu admitted how difficult it is to make a forecast about the results of the U.S. elections because of the Electoral College system while also conveying important messages on Turkey-U.S. ties in the coming period.

He stressed that the election has come at a time when the American people are highly polarized over the coronavirus pandemic, its impact on the economy and discussions over racism.

“In this respect, it would be unrealistic to predict the election results. Furthermore, it’s out of the question for us to voice our expectations or preference one way or another. This decision solely belongs to the people of the U.S., and everybody should respect it. In other words, we, as Turkey, are ready to work with the U.S. administration in close cooperation whoever the U.S. people elect [as president].”

The top Turkish diplomat noted that Ankara has worked very well with both Republican and Democratic administrations in the past. “In this respect, we believe that our rooted relationship with the U.S. will continue to improve independently of the political identity of the U.S. president. The current regional and global conjuncture makes our bilateral relations much more important. Our priority will be to resolve our problems and make the best of the opportunities.”

Having said that, the top diplomat also noted Ankara’s anger against Biden’s critical approach toward the Turkish government, vowing that Turkey would stand against any effort to drag it into the domestic U.S. political arena.

Although not voiced loudly, Ankara would prefer to see Trump win and stay in the White House for another four years. Trump’s good dialogue with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and success in blocking pressure to impose sanctions on Turkey over the S-400s are immediate reasons why Ankara wants to see him stay in the Oval Office until 2024.

But it’s not only that. Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023, if not before, and an unfriendly White House can make life much more difficult for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose People’s Alliance is already losing ground due to growing economic problems. While even the lightest sanctions over the S-400 could further hurt the Turkish currency, a continued escalation in ties with the United States over geopolitical differences could inflict a heavy blow on the economy.

That’s why Çavuşoğlu’s message also leaves the door open to a potential Biden victory by stressing the deep-rooted alliance between the two countries, regardless of who runs the White House.

Indeed, the nature of ties will not change overnight, and Turkey will continue to be an important partner for the United States in its region. Having said that, it is also obvious that Çavuşoğlu’s messages alone will not win over Washington should Biden become the next president.

Analysts suggest that Biden will embrace trans-Atlantic relations, place great emphasis on NATO and cooperate with the European Union while taking a harder stance on Russia. Thus, Biden’s election will mean an end to Turkey benefiting from the friction between Washington and Brussels.

This could jeopardize Turkey’s inclinations to further expand its influence in the wider region, particularly in the Mediterranean, Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

That’s why the “either Trump or Biden makes no difference to Turkey” approach favored by many in Ankara is just an unrealistic slogan.

Serkan Demirtaş,