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ANALYSIS – Post-Madrid Turkish-American relations


*The writer teaches Turkish history at Sabanci University in Istanbul. He holds a master’s degree and a doctorate. in history from the same university.


“For most of those who were once great are now little; and those who were once little were great in my time. Knowing then that human prosperity never remains long in one place…”

Over the past decades, deep-rooted European attitudes towards Turkey, rooted in centuries of fear, chauvinism and condescension, have gradually brought NATO to the crisis experienced over the past two months regarding the membership of the Finland and Sweden. The inability of European politicians to self-criticize, identify double standards, and then implement the correct policies towards terrorist groups such as the PKK (and its alphabet soup offshoots), FETO , the DHKP-C and others, predictably and inevitably led to a time when their hypocrisy would be put right in front of their noses.

In the end, an agreement was reached. Finland and Sweden have a lot of work to do if they want the Turkish parliament to ratify their membership, and Sweden alone has, according to official Turkish statements, 73 fugitives from justice that Turkey expects to extradite . The days when these corporations could pamper such groups with impunity are over.

But without serious and fundamental reconsideration, without concerted self-examination of prejudices and core interests, NATO governments – particularly those of northern Europe and the western Atlantic coast – will continue to experience serious cognitive dissonances regarding the role, influence and power that Türkiye now commands not just within NATO, but across a wide swath of regions including the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central and South Asia. South West, the Caucasus, North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

What about Memet Gezer?

Whether US officials have truly grasped this reality remains an open question. Conversations between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Joe Biden, by all accounts, have been fruitful and positive. And the day after the summit, the United States extradited Memet Gezer, implicated in the May 2013 truck bomb attack in Reyhanlı, to Turkey. The timing of Gezer’s extradition made him seem like some sort of quid pro quo, but only time will tell if that’s the case. The United States knows what everyone in Turkey wants to see when it comes to extraditions, so no one in Washington should fool themselves into thinking Gezer’s extradition will have some sort of big or long-term impact.

F-16 and Senator Menendez

Plans to sell F-16s to Türkiye dominated discussions after the Madrid summit. Over the past two months, as the crisis over Finnish and Swedish membership escalated, President Biden made several statements indicating that he supported the sale and that he could get the sale approved by the Congress. Immediately after the summit, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was dispatched to Ankara and publicly declared his support for the sale.

Those who follow Turkish-American relations under the Trump administration will recall that Graham tends to sway with the political breeze of the moment. Even though Graham is prominent as a ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and has previously engaged in direct diplomacy with Ankara, he is no longer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ominously, the Biden administration’s positive comments on the sale of F-16s were met mostly by silence from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The only congressman from whom a comment would be expected is New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Menendez entrenched himself in such a vehement anti-Turkish stance that during Senate hearings on Antony Blinken’s candidacy for secretary of state, he forced Blinken to essentially swear he would take no action. positive towards the Turkish government. Just two weeks ago, Menendez accused Turkey of aiding and abetting Russia through its actions regarding Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership. Even casual observers now understand such an attitude as extremist militancy.

The current fervent political atmosphere in the United States – the result of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings and continued gun violence – could provide an opportunity to quickly and quietly secure congressional approval for the sale of F-16s. Menendez’s Twitter feed, for example, has been dominated by US national controversies for the past two weeks, and his only tweet regarding Finland and Sweden’s membership bid was carefully neutral. This may bode well for the sale of the F-16, but Menendez has still not publicly voiced his support, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is the route through which the proposed sale must go to the Senate for approval. As recently as May, Menendez was still expressing aggressive opposition to the sale.

The story arc

Regardless of the outcome of the F-16, the multiple roles and powerful influence Türkiye has accrued since the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine appears to have finally presented the Biden administration with a reality it cannot avoid, deny, or ignore: it needs to deal more honestly with the Turkish state and its officials. Even the resentful sotto voce the New York Times has adopted in its Turkish coverage since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine betrays the concreteness of the situation.

What they and we are witnessing is a historic change. The only pattern that historians have been able to define with certainty is that powers rise and fall, as Herodotus so clearly stated 2,500 years ago. The American global system – partly because of its own (and the United States’) shortcomings, partly because of the rise of other powers — is fragmenting, and other global players are accumulating new roles, powers, and influences. Whether US officials can approach this emerging reality rationally, objectively and calmly, with informed analysis and remain focused on the shared democratic interests of all NATO members, is a major drama that will unfold in coming years.

**The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.​​​​​​​

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