Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


JULY 2016

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hold clearly different views of what American foreign policy should be in 2017. Trump favors a nationalist "America first" view of our national interests that in some ways resemble the isolationist policies of the Republican Party in the 1920s. Clinton espouses a more internationalist view of U.S. interests that's consistent with those of both Democratic and Republican parties since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s.

The political upheaval in Turkey resulting from a failed coup attempt by the country's military caused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to arrest thousands of military and police personnel and dismiss tens of thousands civil servants, including school teachers along with judges and prosecutors, from their government jobs. Erdogan imposed martial law for three months and is purging anyone who sympathized with the coup. A major issue for Turkey's NATO allies, particularly the United States: will Erdogan use the failed coup as justification for imposing firm personal control on the country and move toward authoritarian rule.

President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the coup and supported Erdogan. They also urged him to follow the rule of law, support human rights for his people, and not jeopardize Turkey's fledgling democracy.

Still, Turkey's leaders suspect the United States knew about the coup and now harbors a prominent Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who it claims was the instigator of the plot. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, resides in Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile. He strongly denies involvement in the coup, but Turkey is demanding his extradition to face charges in a Turkish court. Secretary Kerry responded that when Ankara formally asks for Gulen's deportation and presents evidence of his involvement in the coup, the State Department will initiate the process of deciding the validity of the case for extradition.

This may not satisfy Turkey's government. Erdogan's official spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, penned a column in the New York Times July 25 titled, "Turkey Demands Justice." He asserts that "The United States should not let this man exploit its laws to avoid a fair and legitimate accounting in Turkey." He also issued this warning: "It does not make sense for any country to condemn the coup without taking action against the lead putschist."

The big question for Washington is this: What happens to U.S. use of a major airbase at Incirlik, which U.S. and NATO allies use to bomb ISIS targets?

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump will be obliged in coming months to address Turkey's demand for "justice." For Obama, the issue is whether to risk losing influence and perhaps a strategic base in Turkey by concluding that evidence against Mr. Gulen does not warrant his extradition to stand trial for treason. Clinton will be conflicted by strong liberal groups in the Democratic Party who will defend Gulen's right to asylum because of Erdogan's authoritarian policies. For Trump, who supported Erdogan's harsh crackdown on opponents, he argues that Washington should not interfere in Turkey's internal affairs and work with Erdogan. He hasn't yet commented on the Gulen case.

Turkey's turbulent situation presents Washington with an age-old dilemma in dealing with many other countries: Should U.S. strategic interests take priority over promotion of democracy and human rights in foreign policy?

In May 2009, a new president, Barack Obama, in a widely-circulated speech in Cairo, called on Middle East regimes to practice democratic government and the rule of law. Seven years later, Obama finds himself obliged to support a tough military ruler in Cairo because Egypt is a key political and strategic ally in the Arab world. The president faces a similar challenge in Turkey, where Erdogan imposes increasingly tough measures against opponents.

In my view, Turkey is too crucial an ally for Washington to hold back on extraditing Gulen if a valid case is brought by Turkey's government. But Obama should insist as part of the deal that Gulen's trial will be open and that U.S. official observers will be present. If Turkey refuses and interferes with U.S. use of Incirlik airbase, Obama should warn Ankara that its role as a NATO ally will be in jeopardy.

File last modified on Wednesday, 15-JUN-2015 1:52 PM EST

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