Joshua Walker is the Global Head of Strategic Initiatives at Eurasia Group and a non-resident Transatlantic Fellow for German Marshall Fund. He is an expert on US Foreign and Security Policy, Turkish Politics, Japanese Politics and Leadership Analysis as both an academic and policymaker at the U.S. State Department. We made an interview with Joshua Walker in May 2012, but recent developments in Syria and emerging problems in terms of Turkish-American relations directed us to ask for his expertise once again.
Ozan Örmeci: Joshua thanks for accepting our interview. Turkish-American relations have been passing from a difficult period in recent years with problems emerging in Syria and especially over the future of Kurds. Turkey blames Washington for helping terrorist groups (PYD and YPG) in Syria, whereas United States seems disappointed from Turkey’s lack of interest in developing common strategies in the Middle East. How do you see the future of Turkish-American relations concerning problems in Syria, discussions about the future of Kurds and strategies towards Iran? How these two allies once again begin working together to shape the Middle East?
Joshua Walker: Thank you for having me and discussing such important topics. Obviously, the world has dramatically changed since the last time we talked and in particular the mood here in Washington is very different. This is not just a reflection of the Trump administration, but a general trend of populist nationalism that has swept advanced democracies from America to Europe that brought President Trump to office along with BREXIT and movements in Eastern Europe, Italy etc. This means that the domestic politics in Washington and Ankara are driving much of their foreign policies, which has led to the current situation in Syria along with a host of other issues that have plagued our relations particular since the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt that still colors all strategic conversations being had today.
Having said this, I see the long-term trajectory in Syria as being positive for the U.S.-Turkey relationship given that the Trump administration has decided to withdraw and has accepted Turkey as its long-term partner over the Kurdish fighters that had been Washington’s short-term solution that led to such tensions. Given Turkey’s history in the region and regional power, its in both Turkey and America’s interest to work more closely in the Middle East in relation not just in Syria, but Iraq, Iran, the Gulf and many other places. When the US and Turkey work together, both sides gain and as American foreign policy is re-oriented in the Middle East, a closer working relationship that goes beyond the personalities and politics of Presidents Erdoğan and Trump will be necessary.
Ozan Örmeci: Looking from Washington, how Turkish democracy is assessed today? What are major problems for the United States in relation to Turkey’s current political regime? How President Erdoğan’s leadership in understood in the US? Do you see any similarities between President Trump and President Erdoğan’s ruling styles?
Joshua Walker: What’s most striking as a scholar of Turkey that has been watching Turkish politics since 2002, when the AKP came to power, are the similarities in personalities and style of Erdoğan and Trump. I believe in some ways President Trump is jealous of the powers Erdoğan has, but fundamentally the differences are less about our strong man leaders and the institutions of our democracies. In Washington, to be very honest with you, very few people even think about Turkey and the only thing they tend to know about the country is its leader Erdoğan who most believe is an authoritarian ruler in the same mold as Putin of Russia and Xi of China. Given the current populist mood and the weaknesses of advanced democracies, this may not be a bad thing for Turkey; but given the way Turkey was looked upon back before the Arab Spring as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and for Muslims as a NATO member and EU aspirant, it’s disappointing to see these changed perceptions. In many ways, its like a self-fulfilling prophecy; once Washington and by some extent the West gives up on Turkey and starts treating it like Saudi Arabia or any other Middle Eastern ally, the fullness of our alliance and potential is lost.
However, I still believe in the Turkish nation and people because of my experiences there and because of the demographic realities and the potential I see in Turkey’s youth that I don’t believe exists in truly authoritarian states like Russia. Turkey’s democracy is struggling along with its institutions, but we also have to remember that the nation is not even 100 years old yet, at that age America was fighting a Civil War. So, I believe we must be realistic, but also optimistic in our assessments to help Turkey’s civil society, free speech, and institutions that will guarantee and solidify its democracy. America and Turkey will continue well beyond Trump and Erdoğan; therefore, looking to the foundations and roots is what I believe we must be focused on in terms of US-Turkey relations today that tend towards anti-American and anti-Turkish feelings because of politics in both of our capitols.
Ozan Örmeci: Looking from Turkey, the United States still seems a very strong ally though it has been entering into a period of withdrawal from global leadership. How Americans feel about this trend? What do you think about 2020 Presidential elections?
Joshua Walker: Insallah you are right. I’ve been worried at the level of anti-Americanism I’ve felt from Turkey not directed personally, but towards America for its lack of action on Turkey’s interests in Syria, against FETO, and as an ally in general. I think Turks need to understand that this is clearly no longer the Cold War where a shared enemy the Soviet Union united our two militaries that guided our relationship. The rhetoric of “shared values” that many administrations have talked about has given way to interests where American and Turkish interests have diverged, but as I said previously, we are stronger together and from both a tactical and strategic perspective I hope we can regain a longer-term perspective. Things may not go back to the way they were during the Cold War, but even then we had major disagreements like in Cyprus, we maintained our alliance.
Today, the biggest threats to our alliance are not coming from Russia, though Putin would like us to believe this sometimes, but from within. The type of bias and pervasive negativity that simplistically equates all Americans to Trump and his tweets or any presidential candidate in 2020 or Turks to Erdoğan and his rhetoric is not helpful. We need to be adding, not subtracting, layers to our relations to include cultural, economic, educational, entrepreneurial etc. along with our political and strategic relations that predominate U.S.-Turkey relations today. I remain stubbornly optimistic in the long-term for both our countries and our alliance, thanks to friends like yourself and the work of your readers as private citizens even as I’ve become more pessimistic about the ability of our governments to manage relations between our nations.
Ozan Örmeci: Joshua thank you for your time. I wish to host you for a conference on Turkish-American relations this year in our university. Good luck in your studies.
Interview: Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 You can read it from here; http://politikaakademisi.org/2012/05/25/amerikali-akademisyen-dr-joshua-walkerla-roportaj/.