Biden and Erdogan Are Trapped in a Double Fantasy

Biden and Erdogan Are Trapped in a Double Fantasy

Why Washington and Ankara don’t get each other at all—and need each other anyway.

A year ago, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden sat with the New York Times editorial board and said “I am very concerned about [Turkey],” according to a video that caused controversy in Turkey over the summer a few months ago. Biden said the United States should take a different approach from the Trump administration and engage with a broad cross-section of Turkish society, promote the opposition and “speak out about what we think is wrong.” Biden seemed to think it was possible to bring Turkey back into the transatlantic community and even improve its worrisome human rights record.

Biden’s tough words reflect the fact that Turkey has been a major headache for U.S. policymakers over the last few years. Not surprisingly, senior Biden foreign policy officials have already started scratching their heads to formulate a policy towards this difficult ally.

The United States and Turkey do have an odd sort of relationship. As officials from both sides frequently aver, they deeply value their decade-long alliance, recognize that they need each other for key priorities, and cooperate on a wide variety of foreign-policy issues stretching from Iraq to the Islamic State to the Balkans. But at the same time, they deeply distrust each other, sanction and condemn each other publicly, and fight bitterly over a range of issues from the Kurds to NATO to Israel.