Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit the White House Tuesday for the first time in four years. When he stood next to President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden back in 2013, relations were already in a downward spiral — today, they are even worse. Erdogan will likely find little solace in President Trump.
Any Turkish optimism about Trump's election was probably misplaced. The belief that he could pay by proxy the incoming national security adviser to switch sides and no one would notice was amateurish and naïve.
After all, the businessman-turned-president prides himself on "putting America first." Many dictators may see advantage in Trump's transactional, rather than values-based, approach to diplomacy. But Turkey will not benefit. After all, a dispassionate look at the balance sheet of bilateral ties makes clear that the United States no longer receives much benefit from its Turkish ties.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an apologist for, if not sponsor of, myriad terrorist groups. For all the talk about defeating the Islamic State and al Qaeda, any intelligence briefing Trump receives today will likely conclude that the Islamic State would never have grown so far, so fast without Turkish support. Meanwhile, Erdogan continues to fan the flames of anti-Americanism at home for his own cynical purposes.
Erdogan comes to Washington with two demands: Extradite ally-turned-rival Fethullah Gulen and cease support for Syrian Kurds.
Even if Trump were inclined to fulfill the first demand, Turkish evidence to support Turkish accusations of Gulen's complicity in last summer's coup falls short of American judicial standards. American officials also worry that conceding anything to Erdogan will simply encourage new demands.
As for Syrian Kurds, they are by far the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State. Erdogan's terror charge against them rings hollow given his support for Hamas and perhaps even Al Qaeda.
If Erdogan had any desire to repair relations, then he has no one to blame but himself for their dire state. In reality, he may not care. He may come to Washington not to resolve problems, but rather as a backdrop to bash America in order to further accelerate his turn away from the West.
The Trump-Erdogan meeting may be subdued but, for Erdogan, a Davos-style temper tantrum at some point during his Washington trip could be on the agenda. Either way, expect Tuesday's meeting to confirm a turn years in the works.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
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