Turkey’s national referendum on Sunday—which approved constitutional reforms granting near-dictatorial powers to the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—triggered a call from Donald Trump that some have criticized for effectively condoning the collapse of democracy. But Lee Smith argues that the call was a necessary reaffirmation of the unsteady alliance between Washington and Ankara:
To the Turkish president, the call likely signals that he can once again count on a reliable NATO partner, one eager to reset America’s Middle East policy. That the call seems extraordinary, even repugnant, to much of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment shows that the chaos unleashed by the Obama administration over the last eight years may have left permanent scars. . . .
No, Turkey’s problems are not all Obama’s fault. Erdogan committed many foreign-policy blunders all on his own. Perhaps most importantly, he provoked a break with Israel, and while Ankara and Jerusalem have since patched up minor differences, their once strategic relationship is unlikely to be repaired while he governs.
Still, the Obama administration added to Turkey’s woes. The main venue was Syria, where Russia was supporting forces in the conflict that Turkey opposed. When Moscow brought down a Turkish plane in 2012 and Obama officials backed the Russian version of events, Erdogan began to understand there would be no help coming from his NATO partners, because the alliance’s driving force, [the U.S.], had its own ideas about the region and how to reshape its role there. The nuclear deal with Iran was the Obama administration’s key initiative, and the deal as President Obama conceived it required realigning American regional interests with Iran. This meant tilting against traditional Middle East allies, preeminently Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. . . .
The Trump administration’s support of Saudi Arabia’s conflict with the Houthis, strong and public backing of Israel, and the strike on Shayrat airfield in retaliation for Assad’s chemical weapons attack are steadily convincing Middle Eastern powers that the new White House has returned to the traditional American view of the region.