46th United States (U.S.) President Joe Biden, starting from the early days of his presidential campaign, has always underlined that democracy will be his priority both in domestic politics, and in foreign policy. Biden, in his article “Why America Must Lead Again: Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump” published in March/April 2020 edition of the Foreign Affairs, clearly expressed his wish for uniting democratic nations around the world against authoritarian and totalitarian states. He even promised to organize a global Summit for Democracy for renewing “the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world”. Biden, after being elected President, tried to keep his earlier promise and exalt democracy both in the U.S. and abroad. Of course, President Biden’s insistence on democracy and human rights is a good thing for people who suffer in anti-democratic regimes. However, since foreign policy is a domain where Realpolitik always dominates, the U.S. administration should carefully balance its foreign policy in the new term.
Due to harsh Cold War period during which geopolitical thinking dominated the scene in the free world, the U.S. had engaged in dirty politics in many parts of the world in the recent past. The toppling of democratically elected secular Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh -after nationalizing Anglo-Iranian Oil Company- in 1953 with the U.S.-British “Operation Ajax” is one of the earlier Western-led anti-democratic interventions. Another earlier anti-democratic intervention organized by the U.S. Department of State and the CIA was the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état (Operation PBSuccess). Turkey has also suffered a lot from military coups as an American ally during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the country had to face with three major military interventions (1960 coup, 1971 memorandum, 1980 coup) during the Cold War. Maybe the most tragic among the U.S.-led interventions was the 1973 Chilean coup that deposed Chilean President Salvador Allende. During the Cold War, due to harsh competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (USSR), pure geopolitical thinking and anti-democratic methods seemed very convenient for Washington and the Western world against the communist expansionism. However, with the end of Cold War and the emergence of the U.S. as the only superpower, Washington has started to perceive the world in a more normative manner. The emergence and the deepening of the European Union (EU) has also accelerated this trend and realized the supremacy of democratic thinking over geopolitics. However, due to earlier U.S. connections and the need to protect Israel in the Middle East, U.S. Presidents never have had the luxury to cut off all their ties with the anti-democratic governments around the world. President Biden and his team will also face the same difficulty in the coming months. Here’s why?
The U.S. in the last few years has been trying to sail for Indo-Pacific region in order to counterbalance the rising China. It is obvious that earlier U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies targeting China was not haphazard and Biden administration is also trying to increase American power in the Asia Pacific. However, the U.S. has historically important stabilizing duties in the Middle East as well such as protecting Israel, preventing nuclear proliferation, struggling against radical movements and terrorist organizations and providing stability for Gulf monarchies. In order to that, President Biden has to work with Kings, Sultans and democratically elected populist leaders such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Thus, President Biden’s insistence on democracy has its own limits especially when it comes to Middle Eastern politics. Losing Turkey, like President Jimmy Carter did in 1979 by losing Iran, of course, would be a geopolitical nightmare for Washington. That is why, while promoting democracy both domestically and internationally, President Biden and his team should act cautiously in not angering allies. Obama administration’s carelessness concerning the 2013 Egyptian coup was a good example of how Democrats could embrace Realpolitik in times of crises. Thus, Turkish efforts to keep a civilian-led democracy should be supported by Washington and the U.S. should adopt a more constructive positioning for encouraging Turkey for democratic reforms instead of punishing Ankara. Same could be said for Gulf monarchies, Egypt, and other American allies that do not have democratic regimes.
In addition to that, although Washington as the beacon of democracy will always compete with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, it should adopt selective engagement policies even towards these countries in order to keep global stability. It is a fact that we live in the age of pandemics and a lot of international crises, so, eventhough Washington identifies these states as hostile countries, it should be able to provide their support and contribution to some important international issues. For instance, Russian support is crucial for the state-building process in Syria and the stability in Ukraine. China on the other hand is a very important actor for defeating the Covid-19 pandemic globally, increasing global trade, and preventing offensive acts of the North Korea. Lastly, cooperation with Iran and the renewal of the JCPOA deal is absolutely necessary for Washington to keep Israel and Middle East safer.
For all these reasons, President Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken will have hard times facing with Realism in the coming months in order to be successful in their offices. Keeping Turkey as an American ally will also help Washington a lot in the Middle East in case the S-400 crisis could be somehow solved with reciprocal concessions.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ