When the House of Representatives voted to sanction Turkey for its recent military operation in Syria, the bill targeting the country’s leaders, financial institutions and its military’s access to financing and arms passed by a veto-proof and bipartisan majority of 403-16.
But that didn’t seem to have any effect on President Donald Trump’s enthusiastic welcome last week for the visiting Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Indeed, rather than focusing on the areas of concern Americans have with the policies, politics and the strongman tendencies of Erdogan, Trump focused on Turkey’s vital role in NATO and its help in the destruction of ISIS.
In both areas, Trump was effusive:“Turkey has the second-largest armed forces in NATO after the United States,” Trump observed.
“And I’m pleased that Turkey has been steadily increasing its defense spending and is very close to the 2% of GDP range, unlike many of the other countries.” He then went on to praise Turkey for making “a vital contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and its partnership was important to our destruction of the ISIS caliphate. In fact, just recently, when we took out al-Baghdadi — and take him out, we did — Turkey knew that we were going over certain areas. They were very, very helpful, and we appreciate that very much. Good for both countries.”
Trump’s warm embrace of Erdogan worried his critics and confounded some of his friends. But there may be some logic to the move.
In contrast to Russia and North Korea — countries of two other strongmen embraced by Trump — Turkey is a traditional U.S. ally. And it is likely that Trump sees a kindred political spirit in Erdogan’s leadership style — in his vilification and suppression of the “enemy” press, and a military policy that prioritizes national objectives over international objections.
During Erdogan’s visit, Trump secured the release of Serkan Golge, a Turkish American scientist accused of working as a CIA operative and detained since 2016. And, perhaps in return, Trump sought to downplay Turkish aggression in his press conference by characterizing Turkey’s incursion into Syria to attack Kurds as a parallel to the U.S.’ own efforts against extremist groups in the region — that, despite the fact that the Kurdish “terrorists” had been our country’s dutiful allies in that very fight a hot minute ago.
Facing opposition at home and continued suspicion, concern and some disdain from European leaders, it should come as no surprise that Trump is doing everything he can to solidify his relationship with international leaders who appear to share
elements of his worldview. And in that regard, Trump left little doubt about where he wants to go with Turkey.
“I look forward to continuing to find common ground, harness common purpose, and to advance the vital interests of our people and the abiding friendship between our nations,” he said. “We have a great relationship, both personally and with the great country of Turkey, and we look forward to moving that forward and making it an even bigger and better relationship.”
What that will mean when the subject of Israel comes up remains to be seen.