August 24, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal

Joe Biden’s Challenge in Turkey

The stakes for Vice President Joe Biden’s travels this week are high. When he arrives in Ankara on Wednesday, Mr. Biden will be the highest-level U.S. official to visit Turkey since the failed coup attempt in July. The U.S. and Turkey are allies and NATO members, but bilateral relations have been strained amid accusations by Turkish officials and media outlets that Washington was behind the coup effort. As anti-American sentiment rises, fueled at least in part by Turkish officials, Ankara seems to be pivoting east.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim are expected to renew their calls for the U.S. to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric and former Erdogan ally living in Pennsylvania who they say masterminded the coup effort. A poll taken in the immediate aftermath of the putsch found that two-thirds of Turkish citizens believe Mr. Gulen was behind the coup and that the plotters received foreign support. After years of watching Mr. Erdogan amend policy and retaliate against political rivals, Turks have grown accustomed to a politicized judiciary complying with the executive’s whims; many believe Mr. Gulen’s extradition could be expedited if the White House pushes for it. A key challenge for Mr. Biden’s delegation would be to explain the complexities of the rule of law, due process, and separation of powers in the U.S.

Also on the agenda are Syria and the fight against Islamic State. Turkey has struggled to provide for the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees it has accepted, and the country has become a frequent target of ISIS suicide attacks (including at a wedding this past weekend) and rocket fire. Turkish officials view ISIS and the YPG–the Syrian wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)–as one and the same. Lately, Turkey has been shelling both groups. The complication for the U.S. is that Washington relies on the YPG in its efforts against ISIS. Mr. Biden faces the daunting task of sustaining this fragile and makeshift coalition.

Incirlik Air Base, which is near the Syrian border, has provided support for U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS. Because the coup effort involved Turkish military officers and aircraft stationed there, the base was closed immediately after the attempted coup. It has been reopened, but its long-term future remains in question.

More broadly, Turkey’s commitment to its alliance with the West also appears to be in question. Since the coup attempt, 40,000 people have been detained, and 80,000 civil servants have been suspended from duty. More than 130 media outlets were shut down just in July. Mr. Erdogan’s recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and high-level visits to and from Iran, suggest that NATO’s main majority-Muslim member is drifting from the alliance and the values that underpin it.

Ankara’s growing authoritarianism and diplomatic pivot away from the West would be a blow not only to Turkish democracy but also to its NATO allies. As Mr. Biden meets with Turkish officials, he might remind them that the bilateral partnership–within the NATO umbrella–is based on military cooperation as well as shared values. There are benefits–such as, yes, a mutual-defense clause–but also responsibilities. Altering Turkey’s current course requires not appeasing Mr. Erdogan but listening to his concerns while also being frank about U.S. and NATO expectations.

Aykan Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir.