Should Biden's first visit to the Middle East be to Turkey? - opinion

Making a Muslim-majority country his first foreign visit would be a significant display of outreach early in Biden’s presidency.

TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-US vice president Joe Biden chat after their meeting in Istanbul in 2016.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then-US vice president Joe Biden chat after their meeting in Istanbul in 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden still hasn’t spoken to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan yet (after 2 months in office and after calling all other major allies).
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have criticized Erdogan’s decision to pull Turkey out of the Council of Europe convention to fight violence against women. Blinken also “emphasized the importance of democratic institutions and respect for human rights” in a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to the State Department.
I will argue the crucial need for Biden to meet Erdogan to lay his cards on the table and address a number of outstanding issues and a toxic narrative in bilateral ties.
In contrast to Trump and Erdogan’s friendly relationship, Biden should make clear his intention to pursue a working relationship, determining the issues on which the US and Turkey align, while making clear the centrality of human rights and political freedoms as part of this relationship.
Making a Muslim-majority country his first foreign visit would be a significant display of outreach early in Biden’s presidency.
Biden is right to downgrade the US-Saudi relationship, but maintaining good ties are vital to both countries’ interests.
According to Jeffrey Fields, associate professor of the practice of international relations, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had a dissident journalist killed. American realpolitik explains why the tight US-Saudi relationship will likely continue anyway.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s actions, particularly the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, have led the US under Biden to pull away from the Saudi alliance. However, Saudi Arabia remains the US’s most important ally in the Gulf, which the US has armed to counter Iran and other threats. The US will also likely have to deal with MBS for several more decades.
I will argue that the US interests are the dominant consideration, and Saudi and American interests in the region remain aligned in many ways. The US would rather have a functioning relationship that comes with leverage than an adversarial one, given the rise of China and Russia and the never-ending Middle East quagmire. The relationship remains a marriage of convenience.
The author is a London-based writer and researcher on armed violence and foreign affairs.