Is Biden's Visit a Last Chance for Turkey and America?

Turkish and American well-being and national security are interdependent.

Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting Turkey at a time when the aftermath of the coup attempt on July 15 has reiterated deep anti-Americanism in the country. There are four reasons for this mood. The Turkish public and officialdom believe that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s initial response to the coup, when he called for “peace and continuity,” betrayed the expectation of an “Egyptian-like outcome.” The leadership has also stated that the White House statement, finally in defense of Turkish democracy, arrived only after it seemed like the coup attempt was failing. Added to all this is the fact that Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind behind the coup attempt, resides in rural Pennsylvania. These very quickly fed into a narrative that the United States either must have known about the plans and did not inform the Turkish government of the pending coup, or was actually directly involved in it. A former chief of staff of the Turkish military has also remarked that such a coup attempt would not have been realized without CIA’s assistance. Lastly, Washington insists that Gülen’s extradition hinges on whether Turkey can produce enough evidence that connects him to the coup attempt—a precondition that is aggravating Turkey’s sense of betrayal.

Anti-Americanism in Turkey: “We’ve never liked you.”

Anti-Americanism in Turkey is not a new phenomenon. Pew public opinion surveys show that Turks traditionally have an unfavorable view of the United States. However, this has not prevented both sides from working together on a wide range of issues in the past, despite the ups and downs in bilateral relations. For example, both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama received standing ovations for their addresses to the Turkish parliament in November 1999 and April 2009, respectively. The current situation is particularly unique, because relations are trapped in clashing perspectives or a dialogue of the deaf.

Turks want to know why Western leaders and media failed to express any empathy with the trauma their country suffered through, and why they are reluctant to applaud the public’s stunning defense of Turkish democracy. Instead, the West lends emphasis to the scale of purges and detentions that have taken place since. The New York Times, for example, has calculated that the scale of the post-coup purges would correspond to revoking the licenses of every third teacher in private elementary and high schools across the United States; taking nearly every fourth officer in the U.S. Army into custody; suspending every state judge in California, Texas, New York and Georgia; and firing nearly every third employee of the U.S. Department of Education. Not surprisingly, this casts a shadow over the rule of law and human rights in Turkey.

Furthermore, many in the West also try to understand the rift between Gülen and Erdoğan, since  they used to be in a “symbiotic” relationship. Also Erdoğan’s identification of the coup attempt as a “gift of God” has even led The Washington Post to put forward that the president “mounts his own political coup” to get rid of his opponents. Additionally, as a prominent Turkish columnist has pointed out, the contemptuous language Erdoğan has recently employed towards the West also prevents Western audience from fully appreciating what transpired in Turkey.