Both Presidents Obama and Trump made efforts early in their presidencies to establish warm relations with Turkey’s authoritarian and Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, only to find themselves frustrated by his uncooperativeness in several key areas. Among these are Erdogan’s effective sinking of the once-strong Turkish-Israeli military alliance, his support for Hamas (which maintains a headquarters in Turkey), his sponsorship of blockade-running flotillas to Gaza, and his involvement in fomenting violence and rioting in Jerusalem. While it is easy to blame the growing gap between Ankara and Washington on Erdogan’s personal and ideological proclivities, Steven A. Cook argues that the two nations no longer share the common interests they did during the cold war, and that the U.S. should act accordingly:
[American] policymakers should regard Turkey as neither a friend of the United States nor an enemy. In many areas, Turkey is a competitor and antagonist of the United States. As a result, American officials should abandon the intensive and often fruitless diplomatic efforts to convince Turkish policymakers to support the United States. Instead, the United States should not be reluctant—as it has been in the past—to oppose Turkey directly when it undermines U.S. policy. In practical terms this means the United States should develop alternatives to the Incirlik air base [used by American troops in Turkey], suspend Turkey’s participation in the F-35 jet program, and continue, [over Ankara’s objections,] to work with the [Kurdish] People’s Protection Units (YPG) to achieve its goals in Syria. . . .
[Some] analysts discount Turkey’s growing commercial ties with Iran and periodic high-level visits of Iranian and Turkish officials to one another’s capitals, arguing that historical, cultural, and geostrategic factors will always render Turkey an important counterweight to Tehran. Turkey has partially proved this by continuing to host a U.S. radar installation in southeastern Turkey. [But this fact] should not obscure Ankara’s consistent willingness to weaken international pressure on Iran. While Turkey has decreased the amount of Iranian oil it imports, Ankara has signaled that it will continue to purchase gas from Iran after November 4, 2018, defying U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran after the Trump administration withdrew from the [nuclear deal]. . . .
[Moreover], U.S. officials should take a stronger public stand on Turkish policies that undermine U.S. policy. . . . Records from the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations indicate that remonstrating with Turkish officials in private and publicly praising them has little, if any, effect on the policies that Ankara pursues at home and abroad. . . . The Trump administration’s own experience indicates that public pressure on Ankara is effective.