Biden's democracy message.
But when the media are intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting, when Internet freedom is curtailed and social media sites like YouTube or Twitter are shut down and more than 1,000 academics are accused of treason simply by signing a petition, that's not the kind of example that needs to be set."
These words from US Vice President Biden came shortly before his scheduled meetings with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoy-lu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an. Biden had a meeting with journalists critical of the Justice and Development (AKP) government and he even made time to meet with imprisoned journalist Can DE-ndar's family telling DE-ndar's son that his father is a brave man.
These are important gestures coming from the Barack Obama administration. They are important because, under Obama, Washington has not pushed for democracy promotion or "value projection" as experts of American statecraft call the term. Even during his acclaimed Cairo speech in 2009, Obama refrained from blatant calls for democratization in the Islamic world. After all, democracy promotion under his predecessor -- the "freedom agenda," as the Bush administration named it -- turned into a major failure associated with the invasion of Iraq. It was not a coincidence that Obama's Cairo speech was titled "a new beginning."
Under these "new circumstances," Obama pursued a realist foreign policy. For instance, Washington did not fully support the "Green movement" after the rigged elections in Iran. Even when the Arab Spring came in 2011, Washington supported "change" but also maintained a realistic approach in Syria by not getting involved militarily in the way, for instance, the neoconservatives would have engaged in coercive regime change. But it was in Egypt where we saw Obama's realism most obviously displayed. The White House continued its political relations with the Egyptian military regime even after it ousted a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government.
So why is the Obama administration taking a stronger pro-democracy position in Turkey now? "Too little, too late" critics of the Obama administration in Turkey and in the US would say. They may indeed find Biden's words insignificant or a purely a symbolic attempt to "check the box" before attending more serious business with Erdoy-an. Such critics should not forget that this is not an just an Obama administration problem for American foreign policy. There has always been great tension between American ideals and national security interests. Even the most idealist and pro-human rights US administrations face the dilemma of "inconsistency" and "double standards" when they deal with autocratic allies. And lately, Turkey, fits in this category.
I never believed that America could have fundamentally changed the autocratic trends in Turkey over the past few years. Domestic dynamics are always more important than external ones when it comes to democratization. Even the European Union, which has a much bigger role in Turkish domestic dynamics, could not have stopped Erdoy-an's autocratic agenda. We can see in the example of Hungary how liberalism and democracy can be undermined even in a country that is within the EU political system.
Despite all this, we still have to understand why Biden is speaking of democracy now, much more forcefully than ever before. In my opinion this is probably because Washington finally realized that Turkey will not fully cooperate with the US on national security issues unless it changes its autocratic tendencies at home. A number of interconnected policies such as Erdoy-an's confrontational policy on the Kurdish question, the war with the PKK, the presidential regime agenda, and aggressive Syria and Iraq policies have transformed Turkey into a much less predictable partner for Washington.
Most of these policies are products of Erdoy-an's erratic and autocratic governance. For instance, without Erdoy-an's presidential regime change agenda, there would not be such a major war with the PKK and the peace process with the PKK would probably have continued. This, in turn, would have changed Turkey's approach to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and made America's life much easier in terms of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This is why the Obama White House has probably decided that it is time to speak louder in warning Turkey about these negative autocratic trends that hurt Turkish-American security cooperation. The White House should have reached this conclusion much earlier.
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