News & Politics

Joe Biden Will Visit Turkey This Week. Does He Have the Courage to Call Out Autocrat Erdogan?

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the third day session of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden will arrive in Turkey. His main mission is to smooth things over with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is getting angrier with the United States by the day.

The reason Erdogan is so angry with the United States is, Erdogan says, that America still provides a safe haven to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara accuses of being behind the failed military coup on July 15. Both before, but especially after the coup, the Turkish government accused Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, of being a terrorist leader comparable to self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of ISIS.

Turkey has requested Gülen’s extradition, but thus far the United States has refused to play along. The reason, White House officials have said, is that they need actual evidence of Gülen’s supposed crimes. They can’t just take Erdogan’s word for it.

Erdogan begs to differ. To him, all that matters is his desire for Gülen to be extradited. The Islamic authoritarian has no time for trivial things like “the law.”

So, it’s up to Biden to talk this matter over with Erdogan and to convince him that he is still America’s best friend in the region.

Bloomberg believes that Biden has another job: he will also try to convince Erdogan to put a stop to his ridiculous purges that have already cost 80,000 Turks their jobs:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will find himself in a familiar role when he flies to Turkey this week, offering President Recep Tayyip Erdogan effusive support in public while delivering a tougher message behind closed doors.

It’s a part Biden has played before with Erdogan and world leaders from Beijing to Baghdad, coupling his ebullient personality with the clout of his standing as President Barack Obama’s closest surrogate.

This time, though, “Biden has a very difficult trip ahead of him,” said Bulent Aliriza, the director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Knowing Biden and Barack Obama, this second part of Biden’s mission will be dropped at the very moment Erdogan makes clear he has no time for such niceties. When the United States was still willing and able to use its power, Erdogan would have undoubtedly taken a step back, but that’s no longer the case. In fact, if there’s one thing foreign (and especially Islamist) autocrats know, it’s that they can get away with everything. Obama and Biden have no red lines. Or, when they do, they’re too cowardly to take action when they’re actually crossed.

Turks and others who are waiting for a change in Erdogan’s oppressive policies will have to wait until a new American president and vice-president step into the White House. The Turkish president knows he has nothing to fear from Biden and Obama, so he’ll see no reason to end his persecution of opponents. At least not until January 2017.