Hot potatoes of Ankara
U.S. President Donald Trump took his oath of office on Jan. 20 and began his four-year mandate as the most powerful leader in the world. The international community is yet to hear the basics of Trump’s foreign policy, as his unsophisticated inaugural address was far from delivering any kind of vision on how his administration will deal with immediate global problems.
The only reference Trump made was on his commitment to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term that the Turkish government has long been fighting to stop the use of by Western leaders.
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth,” Trump said. It thus seems that his approach will not address the root causes of terrorism – related to social, economic and democratic deficiencies - especially in the less developed parts of the world, as his sole reference was to the fight against “radical Islamic terror.”
In contrast with his predecessors, even Republican ones, Trump avoided highlighting core universal values like democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms in his first major statement as U.S. president, suggesting that these principles will no longer be components of U.S. foreign policy.
This is why it is not surprising, for example, that Egyptian President Abdel Fettah al-Sisi feels so relieved by Trump’s election, and was among the first leaders to hold a phone conversation with Trump. Sisi, who became the Egyptian ruler after toppling Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013, can now feel more secure as human rights violations in his country will not be a matter of concern for Washington. (In fact, it’s fair to say that the entire Western world’s double standards and hypocrisy on Sisi’s military coup allowed him to exercise absolute rule in Egypt, but Trump’s election will certainly make him feel more comfortable.)
Another regional leader who is pleased with Trump’s election is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who feels more secure in his rule as the new leadership in Washington only cares about the eradication of “radical Islamic terror.” Trump’s stance will surely strengthen the hands of al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has helped protect one the world’s most tyrannical leaders in power with its use of military force since October 2015.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing serious corruption allegations in his country, should also feel comfortable with Trump, who has promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at the expense of sparking a new crisis in the already fragile Middle East. It can be seen that the Israeli government will feel more secure in pushing for more settlement projects on occupied Palestinian territories under Trump’s administration.
Regarding Turkey, the picture is more complicated. The deterioration in the state of democracy and human rights, as well as serious restrictions on freedom of the press and the right to free assembly, will certainly not be on Trump’s radar. After all, Trump himself also launched his own war against the media in the U.S. Turkey’s attempt to change the system into a presidential one with weaker checks and balances, causing serious concerns over the health of democratic institutions, will also be not monitored by the Washington administration. That could potentially prevent wars of words between Ankara and Washington, which have been frequent under the Obama administration.
The new Trump administration’s reluctance to prioritize democracy in its foreign policy may allow Trump to pursue a more direct and straight relationship with scores of undemocratic countries, but it is sure to cause more damage to U.S. interests in the long run. Short-term term gains in foreign policy that neglect democracy and other fundamental principles will only bring about more uncertainty and chaos in the world.