The recent release of a video featuring comments uttered by US presidential candidate Joe Biden about Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been roundly condemned in Ankara as being“interventionist”. Based on an interview with The New York Times on 16 December, 2019, Biden was recorded expressing: “What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership.”
In retrospect, Biden’s remarks were eerily similar to those made in 1970 by the secretary of defence at the time, Melvin Laird, when he conveyed his views on Latin America’s first democratically-elected Marxist President Salvador Allende in Chile. He declared at a National Security Council meeting: “We want to do everything we can to hurt him and bring him down.” Three years later, in September 1973, Allende was toppled in a bloody military coup.
Having declared his disapproval of the “autocrat” Erdoğan, it remains to be seen how Biden will translate his support for the opposition, should he become the 46th president of the US. Will he adopt the Chilean option of a coup, or will he pursue his mission “by the electoral process”, as he informed The New York Times in 2019?
In Biden’s interview with The New York Times, he described Erdoğan as an “autocrat” and communicated his support for the opposition leaders in defeating the Turkish president through the electoral process.
Even if Biden doesn’t pursue the Chilean route, there is still something ethically distasteful about his remarks. The US has no business in changing the democratically-elected governments of other countries, least of all Turkey – a NATO ally.
While Biden’s remarks were seen as offensive in Turkey, they were by no means surprising. The US has a long history of intervention in foreign countries, which in most cases has resulted in dreadful civil conflicts.
Andrew Tully’s book, CIA, the Inside Story, devotes an entire chapter to the US involvement in the coup that overthrew Iran’s 35th Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Tully recalls: “It was in 1953, of course that the CIA stage-managed the overthrow of Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, that celebrated compulsive weeper, who had seized Britain’s monopolistic oil company and was threatening to do business with the Kremlin. At the time CIA’s coup was hailed as a blow for democracy, which it was.” Sixty years later, in August 2013, the CIA publicly admitted for the first time its involvement in the coup.
Ten years after its intervention in Iran, the US orchestrated a coup in South Vietnam. A 2013 report published in Foreign Policy read: “For the military coup d’état against Ngo Dinh Diem, the US must accept its full share of responsibility.” The Pentagon Papers revealed: “Beginning in August of 1963 we variously authorised, sanctioned and encouraged the coup efforts of the Vietnamese generals and offered full support for a successor government. We maintained clandestine contact with them throughout the planning and execution of the coup and sought to review their operational plans and proposed new government.”
Given its past record, it is no wonder that Biden’s controversial statements have provoked outrage across Turkey’s political divide. “Only the Turkish nation, not someone from the US or another country, can decide to change its government and president,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu avowed.
Following the latest coup attempt in 2016, Turkey will spare no effort to prevent foreign intervention in its politics. Ankara maintains that Biden should differentiate between the Kurdish people and PKK terrorist groups. They affirm that in Turkey, Kurds work in every governmental department and they will continue to contribute to the development of the country, as they have always done.
Recent events in our region have shown that Washington will not recognise a coup, as such, if it serves US national interests. Former Secretary of State John Kerry refused to accept the labeling of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s military takeover in Egypt as a “coup”, claiming instead that: “The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment – so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy.”
In the long run, it is not Biden’s self-declared commitment to the “electoral process” that will influence decision-makers in Ankara. It will be the methods he employs to accomplish the regime change that he desires. Whatever form it takes, US intervention in Turkey’s internal affairs will be resisted, regardless of how White House officials choose to describe it.
President Erdoğan’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun appeared to speak for all Turks when he declared that Biden’s statements: “Have no place in diplomacy by a presidential candidate from our NATO ally.” Without a fundamental shift in approach towards Turkey, a Biden presidency seems set on a collision course of far-reaching consequences.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.