Professor Paul Kubicek (Ph.D. University of Michigan) is an American Political Scientist teaching at Oakland University. Dr. Kubicek grew up in San Antonio/Texas and moved to Michigan in 1990. He has taught in Ukraine and in Turkey and has an abiding interest in European and Middle Eastern politics. He has published over 50 academic articles and written or edited 7 scholarly books. He is also the editor of Turkish Studies journal.
Ozan Örmeci: Professor Kubicek, thank you for having this interview. In order to inform our readers, I would like to start with a question on coronavirus disease. How is the United States coping with the epidemic? How Trump administration’s handling of the subject is perceived by American people?
Paul Kubicek: This has been a very difficult and in many ways a very strange time, as I am sure it is for many parts of Turkey. We have seen the US, particularly New York, become an epicenter for this crisis. Daily life has been disrupted for tens of millions of people, and there is much uncertainty both from the public health standpoint and about the economy. As for President Trump, he remains a polarizing figure. Many believe he was slow to realize the severity of this crisis, and the US was not prepared in terms of testing and medical equipment. Political leaders are trying do manage this crisis while deflecting blame. I hope that the government response improves as this crisis unfolds.
Ozan Örmeci: Turkish-American relations entered into a new turbulent period after the failed coup attempt in 2016. There are many disagreements between two allies such as Turkey’s recent purchase of S-400 air missile defense system from Russia and the blocking of Turkey’s purchase of F-35 jets by the U.S. Congress, conflicting Kurdish policies of two countries in relation to Syria, Turkey’s close economic relations with Russia etc. From your perspective, how this impasse could be solved and a new era of cooperation could start once again in bilateral relations?
Paul Kubicek: As you note, there are profound difficulties, and I must say there are no easy solutions. Both sides, I think, deserve some blame, and both will need to make some changes to improve the relationship. For the US, its pullout from Syria and the apparent end of its support for the Syrian Kurds has removed one irritant in Turkish-US relations. The offer to Turkey of a Patriot missile system is also helpful, but it may be too late as Turkey seems intent on following through with the S-400. I do think that it would be helpful if both President Trump and President Erdogan could tone down some of their hostile rhetoric. I also think it would be useful if the two sides could focus on the benefits of their economic relationship and perhaps downplay larger geopolitical issues.
Ozan Örmeci: Turkey’s current regime is considered as an authoritarian system by many European and American political scientists. However, Turkey’s three biggest cities’ municipalities are ruled by pro-secular CHP (Republican People’s Party). Moreover, two new political parties (Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party and Ali Babacan’s Democracy and Leap Party) are recently established by former leaders of the governing AK Parti (Justice and Development Party). So, as a scholar who worked extensively on Comparative Politics and Turkey’s democratization, how would you assess the current Turkish regime in international standards?
Paul Kubicek: Turkey has moved, in many ways, in a more illiberal, even authoritarian direction in recent years, but it is not a completely authoritarian state and Erdogan and the AKP, although powerful, are not in a position like that of Vladimir Putin in Russia or even Viktor Orban in Hungary. Opposition parties, as you note, have won some recent local elections. There are fractures within the ruling AKP, and whether any of these new parties can make a real breakthrough is an important question. My sense is that some Turkish leaders are already imagining what the post-Erdogan political scene will look like, as Erdogan is looking more vulnerable. Of course, the opposition is fractured and this certainly benefits Erdogan, who seems secure in his position as President. So, while I do remain troubled by some elements of state overreach, especially with respect to the media and courts, I remain cautiously optimistic. The resolution of the Academics for Peace cases, for example, is encouraging.
Ozan Örmeci: 2020 is the Presidential election year in the United States. Although Turkish public seems unaware of the developments, probably the media coverage will increase before the election. How would you consider the reelection chance of President Donald Trump? I would also like to take your opinion about who will be the Democratic Presidential candidate?
Paul Kubicek: At this point, it seems likely former Vice President Biden will be the Democratic challenger. I do expect a close race, focusing on a few key states, including Michigan, where I live. The coronavirus crisis has been Trump’s top argument, the success of the economy, in clear jeopardy. On the other hand, he may find his footing and Americans could still yet rally behind him. It will be a strange campaign given all of these circumstances. I could imagine the election going either way.
Ozan Örmeci: Professor Kubicek, thank you for your time. We wish you and all American people success and health in these difficult times.
Google Scholar page – https://scholar.google.com.tr/citations?user=E-r764kAAAAJ&hl=en.