INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST DR. MATTHEW WEISS

upa-admin 08 Aralık 2020 7.200 Okunma 0
INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENTIST DR. MATTHEW WEISS

Matthew Weiss is a full-time Political Science Instructor at the College of Southern Nevada (USA), which is based in Las Vegas. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he taught classes for both the undergraduate minor and the Masters of Public Affairs program in Global Security Studies. From 2011-2012, he served as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore. He obtained his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California Davis (USA) in 2011. Dr. Weiss has published articles in a variety of journals concerning Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-Kurdish relations, water scarcity and conflict in Yemen, and cooperation and conflict over international river basins. His primary research and teaching interests center around international relations, Middle East politics, American government, and non-traditional security issues.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Dr. Weiss, thank you for your time. I want to start with a question on the elections. Democratic Party candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden elected as the 46th President of the United States. Joe Biden became the U.S. President elected with the most votes in the whole American history by having more than 81 million votes. In the meantime, his opponent and Republican Party candidate Donald Trump also garnered more than 74 million votes. How can we explain these elections by looking at Presidential and Congress results? Do you think public polls conducted and published before the elections failed at understanding the power of Trump?

Dr. Matthew Weiss: It’s fair to say that Joe Biden won a strong mandate from the American voters, especially as reflected by the fact that he won 7 million voters more than Donald Trump did in the nationwide popular vote tally. However, that it was not an outright landslide, as many observers predicted, and that the Republicans far exceeded pollsters’ expectations in national and state-level races, demonstrates that the political center of gravity in the U.S. in many respects tilts center-right.

The outcome does not indicate a sharp pendulum swing to the left as much as a repudiation of Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic and the economic disaster that it wrought. It wouldn’t even be accurate to suggest that Trumpism as an ideology has been decisively discredited. Over 70 % of Republican voters identify with Trump’s claim that the election was not free and fair despite there being no credible evidence of fraud, and Trump still commands the allegiance of tens of millions of followers on Twitter. Even so, though it is arguably far too premature to speculate on what will happen in 2024, I am not of the opinion that Trump will run for president again. Even if the political brand he embodies remains intact, I believe that Donald Trump’s future political fortunes have significantly declined as a result of his election loss and it is far more likely that he will anoint someone else, perhaps his daughter Ivanka, or one of his acolytes in Congress, to run in his stead in 2024.

It is important to note at the outset that election outcomes and margins of victory are arguably more difficult to predict and pin down in the United States than in perhaps any other democratic country due to the idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College for choosing the president, coupled with plurality, winner-take-all rules. American presidents are elected by an anachronistic system named the “Electoral College” whereby victory goes not to the candidate who wins the most votes nationwide, but rather to who racks up enough states in their winning column to get over the threshold of 270 electoral votes. Regardless of whether they win by a razor-thin margin or in a landslide, whichever presidential candidate wins the most popular votes in a given state (e.g., California, New York, Texas, Florida, etc.) receives, according to a winner-take-all formula, all of the available electoral votes for that state, whereas the opposing candidate walks away with none. It is the extreme opposite of a proportional scheme or system for allocating votes.

Therefore, even though this represents a hypothetical, extreme scenario, it is theoretically possible for a candidate to get to the “magic number” of 270 electoral votes by winning only by a single vote in the 11 states that are the most populous and hence richest in electoral votes, without winning a single vote in any of the other 39 states (or the District of Columbia, where the capital is based). Under this scenario, a winning presidential candidate need only win approximately 27 % of the nationwide popular vote. And as we have seen, 2000 and 2016 represented two recent elections where the winner of the Electoral College and hence the presidency (Republican candidates George W. Bush and Donald Trump respectively) lost the popular vote to their Democratic Party rivals.

This quirky system has two perverse implications that make pre-election polling a hazardous enterprise at best. First, presidential candidates expend an inordinate amount of time, resources, and energies on a few key “swing states” or “battleground states” where there are relatively equal numbers of Democratic and Republican-leaning voters and the outcome hangs in the balance. In these states, the presidential candidates compete the most fiercely as minor changes in voter turnout in favor of one or the other political party can be enough to put them over the top.

Secondly, national-level predictions of the popular vote margins between the two major party presidential candidates matter little. It is only the state-by-state breakdown that carries any importance in the final analysis. Problematically, however, state-level polls are notoriously under-funded relative to national-level polls despite the fact that the former are of far greater consequence for the ultimate outcome of the presidential race.

As for the specifics of the 2020 race, pre-election polls were certainly far more accurate in 2020 than they were in 2016 in one crucial respect. Namely, whereas in 2020, the majority of the swing state polls far overestimated the magnitude by which the Democratic presidential candidate and now President-elect Joe Biden would prevail, in 2016, pre-election polls for the most part erred in predicting both the magnitude and the direction of the outcome. In other words, in 2016, almost across the board they erroneously forecasted that the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, would win in the key swing states in the weeks leading up to the election, and we all know how that turned out (an exception should be made for some of the polling sites and organizations that took the average of several major polls into account, such as “RealClearPolitics”, and correctly identified a tightening race in the final week or so of the 2016 campaign).

To some extent, the pre-election polls from this election cycle did significantly underestimate the residual strength of Donald Trump. However, more importantly, they significantly underestimated the strength and resilience of the Republican Party and their candidates on the whole. Defying the predictions of the pollsters, Republicans significantly overperformed the polls in contests for seats in the House of Representative, one of the two chambers of the national U.S. legislature (i.e., Congress). Instead of expanding their majority, as the majority of the polls predicted, Republicans actually netted about nine or ten seats and chipped away at the Democratic majority. Likewise, in the Senate (the other chamber of Congress), most of the Republican Senators who were said to be the most vulnerable held on to their seats. As such, the Democrats’ prospects of wresting majority control from the Republicans have dimmed (note: two looming runoff elections in the U.S. state of Georgia, which are a must-win for Democrats, will determine the final balance). Also, Republicans clearly dominated the Democrats in terms of either gaining or maintaining control over the majority of state legislatures.

In short, Biden’s victory is somewhat of an anomaly, as Republicans clearly remain in the drivers’ seat in national, state and local representative bodies. What accounts for the staggering disconnect in outcomes? For one, there is abundant evidence from exit polling and post-election analyses that in a sharp departure from recent election cycles, “split-ticket voting” was fairly common among the many white independent and suburban voters who tipped the scales in Biden’s favor. These pivotal demographics, who soured on Trump due to his character deficits and perceived inept management of the COVID-19 pandemic, paradoxically voted Republican for Congressional and state-level races. In other words, Biden did not benefit from the same “down-ballot” effect that many winning presidential candidates have enjoyed in past elections. It was far from a Democratic sweep, in other words.

Apparently, for many of the key constituencies that put Biden over the top, their decision represented less of an affirmative embrace of Biden and his policy agenda than a calculated decision to “punish’ Trump at the polls. They felt alienated enough by Trump to move decisively against him but wary enough of Biden and the liberal segments of the Democratic Party that they decided to box him in by handing control of Congress over to the Republican Party.

In many respects, Biden’s success hinged on an unstable coalition of independents, moderates, residents of the suburbs, middle-class and white college-educated voters who have been known to vacillate between the two parties over time and cannot necessarily be counted on to deliver for him in 2024. As stated above, many of these voters were motivated by a shared animus towards Trump more than anything else.

True, Biden won decisively among all of the traditional Democratic constituencies, including women and various minority groups, particular African-American and Hispanic voters. However, in what was a surprise to many observers, Trump actually gained support among many of these minority groups, especially Black and Hispanic men, relative to his first run in 2016, while Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 8 percentage points among white men. These defections are difficult to reconcile with the conventional wisdom that Trump’s appeals to white privilege and strident opposition to the movement for racial justice uniformly alienate minority voters. The slight erosion of support among minority group indicates a vulnerability that Democrats will need to address over the short-to-medium term.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: What can we expect from Joe Biden-Kamala Harris term in the next 4 years? What will be the most important issues and themes in the new era?

Dr. Matthew Weiss: It may be more appropriate to ask what we can expect from President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris in the next 4 months, because the defining challenge of their presidency will be to fashion effective policies and measures in the short run to address the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce, if not reverse the mighty economic blow the pandemic has dealt to the American economy. Here we are talking about an economic crisis, the likes of which have not been encountered since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and a public health crisis which some say is the worst to befall America in its entire history as a nation!

As of this writing, the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 % in the U.S, but the skyrocketing increase in COVID-19 infections, which shows no sign of abating any time. Soon, and the renewed shutdowns and curfews is likely to take a significant economic toll and raises the specter of a so-called double dip recession. At the same time, absent swift and decisive action by Congress, which is hamstrung by partisan gridlock, to pass a second large economic stimulus package, tens of millions of struggling Americans are peering into the abyss as extended unemployment benefits and a federal moratorium on foreclosures and evictions are set to expire. Also at risk is the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal loan program designed to generate incentives for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll, which was part of the original stimulus package. The fact that upwards of 54 million Americans are reported to be facing food insecurity in the richest country in the world is prime evidence of the dire straits in which the most vulnerable Americans find themselves.

Therefore, curbing the spread of COVID-19 and reviving the economy will undoubtedly be the defining priorities of a Biden-Harris Administration and it seems likely that Biden and Harris will rise to the occasion when they take the helm in January 2021. Reports suggest that a comprehensive plan of attack for combatting the pandemic are taking shape. Among the more innovative proposals that are circulating are the creation of a “Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard”, akin to what exists in South Korea, to display transmission rates of the virus in regions across the country, free COVID-19 tests, a concerted strategy to trace the contacts of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and isolate or quarantine those who have been determined to have been exposed, and the creation of a task force to address the Coronavirus’ disproportionate effect on people of color.

Moreover, Biden has sent many signals that he will take scientific “best practices” seriously in a way that Trump has not, as evidenced by Biden’s call for a 100-day nationwide mask mandate as the centerpiece of his mitigation strategy and the fact that he has assembled top-flight infectious disease experts to make up a COVID-19 advisory board.

Further afield, Biden and Harris have unveiled ambitious plans for tackling climate change domestically and internationally, the credibility of which is bolstered by the fact that as a Senator from California, Kamala Harris was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, a far-reaching plan to transform the 21st century American economy away from fossil fuels and create millions of jobs in the renewable energy sectors. It also goes without saying that Biden will pick up where President Barack Obama left off and bring the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement on Day 1 of his presidency.

It is also quite conceivable that Biden and Harris will make major strides in addressing racial justice and police brutality against African-Americans, an issue which burst into public view again last summer in a wave of demonstrations that engulfed major cities in the U.S. following a slew of police killings of unarmed black men. Harris’ profile as the first African-American Vice President, coupled with her past experience as a District Attorney for the city of San Francisco and as Attorney General for the State of California, where she dealt with such issues on a daily basis, places her in an ideal position to advocate for police reform and sweeping racial justice measures.

The primary limiting factors to achievements the policy areas mentioned above are Biden’s gradualist instincts and the obstacles presented by a potential Republican-controlled Senate. Regarding the first, even though Biden has long been known as a centrist and not one who has distinguished himself as a progressive trail-blazing reformer, the urgent needs of the moment, especially those presented by the acute, multidimensional COVID-19 crisis, could well push him towards being a greater agent of transformation than his profile and background would suggest. The scope and ambition of his plans for jumpstarting economic recovery and suppressing the pandemic suggest that he has correctly read the mood and expectations of much of the American public for bold action on these fronts and he is prepared to go big. The closest historical parallel is arguably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who presided over an unprecedented expansion of the federal government’s role in provision of social welfare programs and services at the height of the Great Depression. There was nothing about FDR’s aristocratic, patrician background that predisposed him to being a great liberal reformer, but the man and the moment melded in such a way that it ushered in some historic economic relief measures and programs, such as social security, that are still with us today. Biden may well follow the same trajectory.

As for the other constraint, should Republicans win one or both Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month and hold on to their majority in the Senate, Biden, much like Obama, will likely have to resort to executive orders rather than depend on Congress to fulfill his policy wish list. Much can still be accomplished, but executive orders can easily be reversed as soon as the presidency falls into the hands of the opposing party. Obama’s legacy was practically overturned in its entirety when Trump entered office, and Biden will likely experience the same fate unless he can garner support from Congress and translate his priorities into legislation that stand a chance of surviving multiple election cycles.

In terms of foreign policy, the expectations of every knowledgeable observer, and mine are no different, is that Biden will return the U.S. to the international fold and will clearly and unambiguously repudiate the “America First”, neo-isolationist posture that Trump personified. Biden will surely go to great lengths to restore frayed ties and revive alliance relations with first and foremost, NATO, and other fellow democratic countries (Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, among many others) that Trump estranged through his unilateralist approach and lack of interest in eliciting the input of traditional allies and partners before making consequential foreign policy decisions. Multilateralism and adherence to the rules and institutions of the liberal international order were the lodestars that Biden followed throughout his long career as a Senator and later as Vice President under Obama, and there is little reason to expect his approach will differ as President.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: For the Turkish audience and Turkish social scientists who do not know too much about Joe Biden, what are his strong political views and what he represents in the U.S. Politics and Democratic Party?

Dr. Matthew Weiss: Given that I already addressed where Biden fits in the domestic political equation, it may be most helpful here to elaborate on Biden’s experience in and approach to foreign policy and international relations. It suffices to say that Biden will be entering office with the most impressive foreign policy credentials of any president-elect since George H.W. Bush in 1989. Biden spent many years as the majority leader or ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate and played a key role in many of President Obama’s foreign policy initiatives as Vice President. In fact, one of the primary reasons that he was chosen by Obama to be his vice president was due to the need to balance out Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience at the time.

This is not to say that Biden always made the right judgement calls on foreign policy issues. Many of his critics judge him to have been on the wrong side of history, and deservedly so, for voting for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution against Iraq in 2002, which set the stage for the ill-conceived U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq under the administration of George W. Bush. He also lent ammunition to the false pretenses for going to war against Iraq by playing up the discredited allegations surrounding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Nonetheless, on several prominent international issues that dominated the Obama Administration’s time in office, Biden staked out moderate, sensible, well-reasoned positions, and did not shy away from going against the grain of what a majority of Obama’s leading foreign policy advisers were recommending. One key example was the review of Afghanistan policy conducted early in Obama’s first term in which he and his advisers debated the force posture and focus of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan going forward. In sharp contrast to the other members of Obama’s foreign policy brain trust, Biden advocated for a lighter footprint (i.e., fewer “boots on the ground”) and an overhaul of the overall U.S. strategy from an expansive, open-ended nation building quest to a narrower counter-terrorism strategy involving a combination of special operations forces and greater reliance on drones and other surveillance and targeting technologies. He also argued that the Taliban did not pose an existential threat to the U.S. and that efforts should instead be focused on defeating the remnants of al-Qaeda.

For the most part, Biden lost this debate as Obama decided to heed the advice of his generals and surge 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, but he did draw in part on Biden’s recommendations concerning the scaling back of the mission in Afghanistan and the de-emphasis on nation-building. In many respects, the subsequent course of the war, which revealed the futility of defeating the Taliban and its independence from al- Qaeda, along with its amenability to negotiations with the U.S, proved Biden right.

Along with his extensive experience in foreign policy being an asset, Biden will bring into office a seasoned team of advisers who have worked with him for decades. Antony Blinken, who Biden has chosen to be his Secretary of State, is said to be so intimately familiar with Biden’s worldview and ways of thinking that he can complete his sentences. Naturally, some of the foreign policy officials and advisers that Biden assembles will have divergent views. At times these disagreements may be fractious. However, it is highly unlikely that these differences of opinion will devolve into the type of chaos that routinely flares up in the Trump’s White House. It is reasonable to expect that a Biden-Harris Administration will present a far more coherent foreign policy picture to foreign leaders and audiences than has been the case under Trump. Trump has a penchant for personalizing foreign policy and staging ill-timed interventions in the actions and decisions of his foreign policy officials and at times, deliberately undercutting them.

While Biden will certainly seek to put his own stamp on American foreign policy initiatives and in doing so, may overrule, at times, the recommendations of his inner circle, more often than not, he will lead by consensus, and will, in stark contrast to Trump, be mindful of the need to send a consistent message to allies and adversaries alike.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: What would be the most important issues in Turkish-American relations in the new era? Do you think the lack of personal ties and friendship between President Trump and President Erdoğan will negatively affect U.S.-Turkish relations? What will be the most problematic issues in bilateral relations in Biden presidency?

Dr. Matthew Weiss: Joe Biden’s ascent to the presidency brings the possibility of both cooperation and discord in Turkish-American relations depending upon the problem set. The strongest assets that Biden brings to the table are his deep reservoir of foreign policy experience and extensive dealings with foreign leaders.

In some respects, the warm relationship between President Trump and President Erdoğan, albeit one that was more transactional than it was motivated by genuine friendship, acted as a brake against the further deterioration of Turkish-American relations. Therefore, the defeat of Trump, who in many respects shielded Erdoğan from accountability for actions that he took that ran counter to vital American interests, such as the purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, which is incompatible with NATO’s defenses, is a source of significant concern in Ankara.

However, as much as the personal Trump-Erdoğan connection may have shaved the rough edges off an otherwise rocky bilateral relationship, Trump’s thoroughly improvised and ham-handed approach to foreign policy, born of his lack of foreign policy experience, and in my view, utter inability and unwillingness to learn the art of diplomacy on the job, created additional sources of tension and discord with Turkey to a degree that often goes unacknowledged. The foreign policy approach that Trump pursued, which was not grounded in any overarching principles or doctrine apart from the narrow, self-serving criteria of what personally benefitted Trump, often generated more problems with Turkey and other allies than it resolved.

A prime example of this is the degree to which Trump sought to cater to the appetites and whims of other Sunni powers, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates), who rank among Turkey’s greatest rivals in the region. From turning a blind eye to the Saudi government-orchestrated murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s ruthless consolidation of power, to initially backing the same monarchies and Egypt in their dispute with Qatar and Turkey (a stance from which he later abruptly changed course) to approving arms sales to the tune of tens of billions of dollars to the Saudis and Emiratis, Trump has consistently, if unwittingly, intervened in the intra-Suni conflict in ways that run roughshod over Turkey’s vital interests. This is not to mention Trump’s unprecedented indulgence of Israel’s annexationist drive to expand illegal Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied Palestinians Territories, coupled with its complete disregard for Palestinian rights, which has drawn sharp condemnation from Turkey, whose regional image is bound up with its advocacy of the Palestinian cause.

From this standpoint, Biden, with his superior foreign policy experience, may serve at least some of Turkey’s core interests better than Trump has, since he is less likely to give free rein to the whims of Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s ambitious crown princes and fork over billions of dollars in advanced weapons to them. Many observers expect that Biden will place far greater emphasis on human rights than his predecessor. Ironically, this may have the effect of placing some aspects of Turkey’s behavior under the spotlight. At the same time, though, it is likely pressure will be turned up on the Saudis and Emiratis for their aggressive pursuit of the war in Yemen, which has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, as well as their interventionist policies in Libya and elsewhere. While some backlash from Turkey is to be expected should the U.S. ratchet up its criticisms of Turkey’s repression and jailing of government critics, Erdoğan’s negative reaction may be limited as long as the enhanced scrutiny of human rights is applied to his Sunni rivals as well and has the salutary effect of curbing their ability to project power in areas of contention with Turkey such as Libya and the Horn of Africa.

Another quality that Biden brings to the table which may compensate to some extent for Turkey’s loss of a valued, if unreliable partner in Donald Trump, is Biden’s interest in multilateral engagement and in reviving alliances that deteriorated under Trump. First and foremost, of course, is NATO, an institution in which Turkey has a vital stake as the member country with the second largest army. Undoubtedly Turkey will figure prominently as Biden ramps up U.S. engagement and seeks to build bridges with an institution that he regards as one of the linchpins of American national security. In Afghanistan and elsewhere, Turkey has assumed a central role in past NATO peacekeeping missions and a reenergized NATO may lay the groundwork for a renewed sense of shared purpose between Turkey and the U.S. that can moderate some of the more bitter disputes of recent years.

It is also possible that Biden, as part and parcel of a diplomacy-first approach, may take a special interest in the management, if not resolution of conflicts, such as those in Libya and Syria, where Turkey is itself a protagonist. This prospect does not guarantee that American approaches to diplomacy would invariably be in harmony with Turkey’s interests. However, in line with was previously stated, Turkey might come to appreciate the benefits of the U.S. acting in the capacity of an impartial mediator to the extent that it is willing to apply equal, if not greater pressure against Turkey’s Sunni rivals.

Then there is the issue of Iran, its nuclear program and its regional ambitions. A Biden Administration may choose to capitalize on Turkey’s unique position as a Sunni power that has relatively cordial ties with Iran, despite their geopolitical antagonisms. Turkey may well offer itself as a go-between the U.S. and Iran as Biden grapples with how to piece together a refurbished version of the landmark JCPOA agreement in 2015 that the Obama Administration brokered with four other great powers and Germany. This agreement, which Trump walked away from, placed severe constraints on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

At the same time, the fault lines between Turkey and the U.S. are legion and well known, and they include, among others, the U.S. investigation into Halkbank, a Turkish government-owned bank accused of helping Iran evade sanctions, the potential activation of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense batteries and Turkey’s expanding partnership with Russia more generally, Turkey’s energy ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, the recent resurgence of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, Erdoğan’s authoritarian approach to governance, and many others. On some of these issues, Biden is constrained by both increasing skepticism of Turkey’s value as an ally in Congress, a sentiment that is increasingly shared by representatives of both major political parties, and by members of his own Democratic Party. For instance, there are many Democratic members of Congress who favored Armenia over Azerbaijan, which was backed and supplied by Turkey, in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Once Biden takes office, any one of these bones of contention could flare up in such a manner that they would overshadow, if not derail nascent cooperation between the Biden Administration and Turkey in other areas. However, by far, the biggest impediment to the return to a more constructive relationship between Turkey and the U.S. is the Kurdish Question and the specter of another Turkish military incursion into northern Syria designed to weaken, if not eliminate the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey sees as offshoots of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK, which has fought an on-and-off-again insurgency against Turkey for decades, is designated by Turkey, the U.S. and Europe as a terrorist group, but the U.S. sees the PKK’s Syrian Kurdish affiliate in a more benign light and supplied it with training and weapons to fight the extremist Islamic State (ISIS).

One reason that Turkey is especially wary of Biden is because as Obama’s Vice President, he was one of the architects of the policy of arming and partnering with the YPG, and he continues to favor cooperation and dialogue with the PYD and YPG. Biden views the Syrian Kurdish groups as legitimate players in the Syrian equation and as useful counterweights to Islamist extremists, whereas Ankara regards the PYD and YPG as expansionist organizations that pose in combination with the PKK, an existential threat to Turkey’s very territorial integrity and independence.

Deft diplomacy by Biden to establish some kind of formula for balancing American relations with Turkey and the Syrian Kurdish groups is extremely unlikely to appease Ankara, for it regards the very prospect of an ongoing relationship between the U.S. and the PYD/YPG in any form as unacceptable. This strategy of ‘threading the needle’ to dance around Turkey’s concerns has been tried in the past with little success and is unlikely to work again. For instance, Ankara never saw the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an armed formation which grouped PYD forces with a diverse mix of Arab fighters and those from other non-Kurdish ethnic groups as an acceptable workaround solution.

In short, any initial goodwill and emerging cooperation between Biden and Erdoğan could readily dissolve in the event of a flare-up of tensions over the Kurdish issue. Some analysts speculate that the Turkish government may be looking to take advantage of the transition from Trump to Biden to expand its military operations against the YPG or at the very least, move to cut off its oil shipments in order to deprive it of an economic lifeline. The apparent calculus is that Erdoğan should do as much as he can in the here and now to erode the PYD/YPG’s standing because he will have far greater room for maneuver in the waning days of the Trump Administration than he will when Biden assumes office.

As for Turkish-Russian relations, as a confident regional power that covets its freedom of action, and has no desire to return to the days of being attached at the hip of the U.S. and the West, as it was during the Cold War, there is little to no prospect that Turkey will forsake energy and security-related cooperation altogether with Moscow. However, through the judicious use of economic, energy and security incentives, the Biden Administration may be able to make itself a more attractive partner in Turkey’s eyes than Moscow. The fact that Ankara has taken delivery of the S-400 missile system yet has not made it fully operational, provides one crucial opening for Biden to convince Ankara that robust cooperation with the U.S. will better serve its needs than a full-fledged embrace of Moscow.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Could you give us some advices about who to read and following order to understand new trends in Turkish-American relations?

Dr. Matthew Weiss: There are more than a few good think-tanks and policy institutes based in the U.S., Europe, and Turkey that regularly offer objective, high-quality analyses of Turkish-American relations. One of these is the Ankara branch of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States, led by Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı. Also, I especially like to follow the Al-Monitor, a news website that specializes in reporting and analysis from and about the Middle East and features a lot of insightful commentary from Turkish correspondents and other experts and observers concerning a wide range of issues.

Dr. Ozan Örmeci: Thank you Matthew. It was a privilege to interview you.

 

 Interview: Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ

Date: 08.12.2020

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