Foreign Policy

Trump Strengthens Relations With Turkey

The president says that Turkey and the U.S. will be developing a big trade deal.

Thomas Gallatin · Nov. 14, 2019

In a gesture that lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle argued against, President Donald Trump followed through on his invitation and met with Turkish President Recep Erdogan at the White House on Wednesday. Last Friday, lawmakers sent a letter to Trump stating, “President Erdogan’s decision to invade northern Syria on October 9 has had disastrous consequences for U.S. national security, has led to deep divisions in the NATO alliance, and caused a humanitarian crisis on the ground. Given this situation, we believe that now is a particularly inappropriate time for President Erdogan to visit the United States, and we urge you to rescind this invitation.”

Trump’s controversial decision to pull a small number of U.S. troops out of northern Syria, allowing for Turkish forces to move in against Kurdish forces (U.S. allies) in the region, brought condemnation from both Democrats and Republicans. A temporary ceasefire ending the bloodshed was agreed to following Vice President Mike Pence’s meeting with Turkish leadership — a meeting that also resulted in lifting the economic sanctions Trump had imposed. All in all, Trump’s poor explanation for his complicated decision opened him up for plenty of legitimate criticism.

That said, Trump clearly has a more developed strategy behind what publicly appeared to many as little more than a sudden decision aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise of getting our troops out of the Middle East. That fact is demonstrated by the successful U.S. Special Forces mission to take out ISIS founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — a mission that required the use of Turkish airspace.

Furthermore, Trump correctly realizes that the greatest threat to our national security is a nuclear-capable Iran, and U.S. bases in Turkey are essential to preventing this from occurring. This reality has been made all the more clear with Iran’s recent announcement that it is ramping up efforts to enrich uranium in defiance of the nuclear deal it never followed in the first place. So, now is not the time to heighten tensions with our NATO ally.

Trump is clearly a big believer in “Bucks over Bombs.” He sees dollar diplomacy as the best way to convince Erdogan that it’s in his best interests to work with the U.S. This explains Trump’s comments following the White House meeting: “Frankly, we’re going to be expanding our trade relationship very significantly.” Using the promise of mutual economic opportunity, Trump hopes to develop a better relationship with Erdogan in order to counter Russian efforts to draw Turkey away from NATO and the U.S.

On a final note, Trump was also able to secure a promise from Erdogan to stop persecuting minority religious groups, especially Christians. “We’ll see that their sanctuaries are getting revived and their churches will be reconstructed so that they can go back and start praying again,” Erdogan declared. But as the saying goes, talk is cheap, especially with a dictator like Erdogan. We’ll have to wait and see if he actually follows through.

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