In brazen contradiction, Biden to back ‘whoever wins’ in Turkey
Despite everything, Washington cannot just take no notice of Erdogan.
When he ran for president, Joe Biden referred to Recep Tayyip Erdogan as an "autocrat" and suggested that the United States should back Erdogan's rivals.
Now that Erdogan is in the lead in a close fight for the Turkish president, Biden and his staff are a contrite group, claiming they are not taking sides, a new report by Politico argued.
Commenting on the results of the first-round vote in Turkey, Biden said, “I just hope … whoever wins wins.”
Elsewhere in his remarks, he likened the Turkish elections to his own 2020 election. “There are enough problems in that part of the world right now.”
The uneasy ambivalence of the Biden team is a reflection of a painful truth, the report added. Yes, Turkey is a strategically important NATO partner, and given Russia's involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and the current unrest in the Middle East, Washington cannot just take no notice of Erdogan, it stressed.
When pressed on the topic during a news briefing, the National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that US President Joe Biden is looking forward to working with whoever wins the Turkish presidential elections.
"President (Joe) Biden is looking forward to working with whoever the (presidential race) winner is. And again, that's not clear right now," he stated.
After no candidate won over 50% of the votes in the Turkish elections, the head of the nation’s election authority announced on Monday that a runoff will take place on May 28.
Former US officials and experts who work with Biden associates said they have been quiet recently about their preferences. Some believe that many government personnel would prefer to bid Erdogan farewell, the report noted.
Although neither opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu nor Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received above the 50% threshold, the President took the lead, according to poll statistics and head of the Supreme Election Council, Ahmet Yener, citing unofficial results.
The typical US argument that Washington doesn't intervene in foreign elections other than to advocate for them to be free, fair, and non-violent partly explains why the Biden administration is reluctant to openly speak out.
However, the administration could also wish to refrain from bolstering Erdoan's campaign. The opposition was accused of cooperating with Washington. Additionally, Erdogan criticized US Ambassador Jeff Flake for having a meeting with Kilicdarolu.
Read next: Nostalgic for Westernized Turkey, Western media root for Erdogan fall
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen, Ahmet Hamdi Camli, an MP of the Turkish Justice and Development Party, described the anticipated elections as the most important in the history of the republic, noting that the outcome will be fateful for Turkey. Camli also accused Biden of providing support for Erdogan's opponents.
Furthermore, based on his fieldwork, Camli claimed that votes in favor of the AKP party have been assessed to be increasing despite smear campaigns leveled against them by the Republican People's Party, saying that Kemal Kilicdaroglu should be ashamed of such tactics.
Read next: Turkish minister urges US to 'take dirty hands' off Turkey
Despite it all, Charles Kupchan, a former senior National Security Council official, argued that the ties between Washington and Ankara have improved to some degree.
“I think the Biden administration will be pragmatic and work with Erdoğan to the degree possible, knowing that this is the Turkish government that they have,” Kupchan said.
However, Turkey and the United States continue to disagree on a number of issues, including how to handle the ongoing crisis in Syria and relations with Russia.
Despite the West's draconian sanctions against Moscow, Turkey and Russia have in some respects strengthened their economic relations. Furthermore, Erdogan also serves as a key mediator between the West and Russia, most notably the grain deal.
“Washington’s policy was ‘do no harm,’ with the hope that perhaps Kiliçdaroğlu would win, but probably not,” Charles Kupchan, a former senior National Security Council official.