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Erdogan Will Benefit from Biden’s Comments, Analysts Say
Joe Biden, as he appears in the video. (Screengrab/YouTube)

Erdogan Will Benefit from Biden’s Comments, Analysts Say

Ankara calls US Democratic presidential candidate ‘interventionist’ after video shows him calling for Turkish president’s defeat

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will get a large boost from Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden, who called for him to be voted out of office, analysts have told The Media Line.

In video from a December interview with editors of The New York Times, Biden said the US should make it clear that it supports the Turkish opposition.

“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,” Biden says in the video. “Not by a coup, but by the electoral process.”

The comments resurfaced on Saturday, leading to an uproar in Turkey, with Ankara continuing to hit back on Sunday.

“We tried a coup in the past; it didn’t happen. So now let’s change tactics and methods,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said sarcastically, according to the country’s state news agency, Anadolu.

The idea of divided loyalty within the leadership is especially sensitive in Turkey, the scene of a bloody coup attempt in 2016. Ankara accuses Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, of being behind it.

The failure by the US to extradite Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, has been a sore spot in Turkish-US relations since the attempted coup.

There have been cracks in Erdogan’s power, however, with two splinter groups emerging from his Justice and Development Party (AKP). They are led by former high-profile AKP members.

“It’s safe to assume the relationship between the United States and Turkey will be significantly damaged in an irreversible way,” Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based analyst with a PhD in political science, told The Media Line.

It’s safe to assume the relationship between the United States and Turkey will be significantly damaged in an irreversible way

While its relations with NATO have become more fraught, Turkey has been courting a stronger relationship with Moscow to offset its reliance on the US.

Russia has been happy to reciprocate, increasing its sphere of influence and broadening a division in NATO. Ankara’s purchase of a Russian air defense system that was delivered last year has been one example of this change.

“It gives Russia a new card to play,” Bakeer said of Biden’s interview. “Turkey will be forced to strengthen its relationship with Russia.”

US President Donald Trump has failed to impose congressional sanctions over the weapons, and this typifies the interpersonal relations Erdogan has relied on to curry favor with Washington.

Biden’s comments suggest that if elected president, he will be less inclined to appease Turkey. Bakeer adds that the candidate should retract his statements to avoid harm to the bilateral relationship.

Elmira Bayrasli, a Turkish American who is director of Bard College’s globalization and international affairs program, is skeptical about the significance of the remarks.

“Candidate Biden and a potential President Biden are two different people, responding [to] and dealing with a different set of circumstances,” she said.

In an email to The Media Line, Bayrasli wrote that in the past, US presidential candidates had spoken harshly about Turkey, but after they entered office, their tone softened.

“What the video does is play into Erdogan’s savvy PR game [of] ‘us versus them,’” she noted. “Erdogan will use it to prop himself up, as he is prone [to do], as Turkey’s savior from those forces that are, as he claims, ‘jealous’ of Turkey’s success.”

What the video does is play into Erdogan’s savvy PR game [of] ‘us versus them. Erdogan will use it to prop himself up, as he is prone [to do], as Turkey’s savior from those forces that are, as he claims, ‘jealous’ of Turkey’s success

Turkey’s leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), sought to distance itself from Biden’s comments, saying it did not need “imperialist favors.”

Anti-American sentiment is strong in Turkey across the political spectrum. A week after the failed coup, a pro-government outlet held a poll on its Twitter account asking which US institution gave the most support to Gulen’s network. The CIA was the top choice, with nearly 70% support.

Bakeer says he is certain that the majority of Turks believe the US was involved in the failed putsch and believes Biden’s comments will boost the Turkish president by making the opposition seem like Washington’s tool.

“All the AKP has to do is play the video,” he said.

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