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Did Obama get Erdogan wrong?


Saturday, July 16, 2016

A few months before Friday’s attempted coup in Turkey, pro-government media outlets there published reports that the United States was actively plotting to depose Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Things came to a head at a State Department briefing in late March, when a Turkish reporter confronted spokesman John Kirby with the rumor: “Does the U.S. government try to overthrow the Erdogan government?” he asked.

Kirby called the question ridiculous and refused to dignify it with an answer. There was no evidence to the charge. And when Turkey’s military actually did move against Erdogan on Friday, the Obama administration swiftly condemned the action.

That doesn’t mean Obama has any love for Turkey’s longtime leader. Though he once saw him as a potential role model for Muslim leaders, Obama now considers Erdogan a thuggish autocrat who threatens Turkey’s democracy almost as much as the generals who tried to overthrow him. But Obama also understands that he’s stuck with Erdogan, a NATO partner he must deal with on critical security issues like the Islamic State and Syria. “You have to deal with the Turkey you have, rather than the one you’d like to have,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey under Obama…

“Obama wanted to believe that he could have a strong Turkey that would step in and take on the role of a strong power in the Middle East that would allow the U.S. to step back,” said Blaise Misztal, a Turkey expert with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “Erdogan said all the right things, and we believed him partly because we wanted to believe him.”