BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden was interviewed by The New York Times editorial board on December 16, 2019. In his interview, Biden called Turkish President Erdogan “an autocrat,” urged his “isolation” and sought his “defeat” in the next elections.
Even though the interview took place eight months ago and was published by The New York Times on January 17, 2020, the Turkish government and media showed no reaction at the time. A week ago, several months after the interview became public, a series of orchestrated hysterical attacks were launched in Turkey on Biden’s comments to The New York Times.
Let’s start with what Biden told The New York Times last December:
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him [Pres. Erdogan of Turkey]. He is an autocrat. He’s the president of Turkey and a lot more. What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership. Making it clear that we are in a position where we have a way which was working for a while to integrate the Kurdish population who wanted to participate in the process in their parliament, etc. Because we have to speak out about what we in fact think is wrong. He has to pay a price. He has to pay a price for whether or not we’re going to continue to sell certain weapons to him. In fact, if he has the [Russian] air defense system that they’re flying F-15s through to see how they can try to figure out how to do it.”
Biden went on: “So I’m very concerned about it. I’m very concerned about it. But I’m still of the view that if we were to engage more directly like I was doing with them, that we can support those elements of the Turkish leadership that still exist and get more from them and embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process. He got blown out. He got blown out in Istanbul [during the mayoral elections]. He got blown out in his party. So what do we do now? We just sit there, and yielded. And the last thing I would’ve done is yielded to him with regard to the Kurds. The absolute last thing!”
Biden concluded: “I had a couple of those meetings with him about the Kurds, and they did not clamp down at the time. We have to make it clear that if they’re looking to, because, at the end of the day, Turkey doesn’t want to have to rely on Russia. They’ve had a bite out of that apple a long time ago. But they got to understand that we’re not going to continue to play with them the way we have. So I am very concerned. I am very concerned. I’m very concerned about our airfields [in Turkey] and access to them as well. And I think it takes an awful lot of work for us to be able to get together with our allies in the region and deal with how we isolate his actions in the region, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean in relating to oil and a whole range of other things which take too long to go into. But the answer is yes, I’m worried.”
On August 16, 2020, in response to Biden’s above comments, the Jerusalem Post reported that Turkish presidential adviser Ibrahim Kalin slammed Biden, accusing him of ignorance, arrogance and hypocrisy. “The days of ordering Turkey around are over,” he tweeted. “But if you still think you can, be our guest. You will pay the price.”
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also attacked Biden after meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling the Democratic Presidential nominee ignorant. Speaking about Biden’s comments, Cavusoglu said: “It’s weird that someone this disinformed [sic] wants to run the country.”
It is understandable that Turkish leaders would be upset at Biden for talking about removing the Turkish President from office. Furthermore, given Erdogan’s chummy relationship with Pres. Trump, it is also understandable that Turkish leaders would not want to see Trump replaced by Biden. A few days ago, Trump told Fox News that Erdogan listens to him. In fact, it is the other way around. Trump is the one who listens to Erdogan and does his bidding.
Nevertheless, there are deeper reasons for Turkish leaders to whip their public into frenzy against Biden. Erdogan is engaging in his favorite political trick of distracting his people’s attention away from their economic and social deprivations by blaming the foreigner, Biden! Erdogan is also relying on the long-standing Turkish hostility to Western Europe, the United States and Christianity. Erdogan is used to whipping the emotions of his uneducated followers to stand by him, regardless of his poor performance. Instead, Erdogan has conveniently pivoted towards Russia and China, despite his country’s NATO membership!
Should Biden win in the Presidential elections, it remains to be seen if he would maintain his hard line approach to Erdogan and Turkey.