The historic meeting between Turkey and the U.S. this week was a spotlight event that succeeded in undermining negative expectations, demonstrating that the two countries' decades-long alliance continues to strengthen despite differences. Furthermore, the meeting revealed the undeniably positive effect that dialogue between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his U.S. counterpart President Donald Trump uniquely holds over the future of bilateral ties.
Continuously expressing overwhelming willingness to improve relations while simultaneously voicing respect for one another during the meeting on Wednesday, the two leaders showed the world that there is one thing that can overcome any diplomatic difference: strong communication. According to İbrahim Altay, editor-in-chief of Daily Sabah, who was present at the visit alongside other journalists, this unique relationship can be felt in presence of the leaders, which cast a positive atmosphere over the meeting in general.
"Although there are differences between Turkey and the U.S., as well as within different social groups and institutions in both countries, the fact that there is a unique and well-established dialogue between the two leaders made it possible for these allies to stick together and continue to work together on critical issues," Altay said, detailing his impressions of the meeting.
Negative expectations unwarranted
Before Erdoğan's visit, many argued that there was no point in holding a meeting, since the disagreements between the NATO allies had reached the point of no return. Such hopeless expectations, fanned in the media and across social media, led some to wonder if the widespread nay-saying would influence the outcome of this historical meeting. The head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, called on people to stop spreading negativity and to wait and see the outcome of the meeting; meanwhile, political analysts from think tanks such as the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research's (SETA) Director Burhanettin Duran called on critics to "give diplomacy a chance." In the end, diplomacy did not fail Turkey or the U.S.
"There were some doubts and guests that were claiming that the meeting was going to end without any achievements. Yet, they turned out to be wrong," said Altay. He further underlined that journalists present were similarly convinced of the fruitful nature of the meeting from the atmosphere. "Even though the parties do not agree on every term, they will continue to work together to understand each other," he said, highlighting that any negativity was rooted in already existing disagreements.
The leaders discussed various crucial topics, from regional and international issues to bilateral matters. Turkey's efforts for Syrian refugees have been appreciated, and a call has been made to European states regarding the subject. The determination to establish a $100 billion trade volume was also emphasized. According to Altay, via this visit, a plan has been clarified on how to achieve such a volume. The importance of the fight against terrorism was also stressed.
"When we analyze these points, we can clearly see the positive aspects of the meeting, and the concrete outcomes can already be seen," Altay expressed.
Leaders' impact on diplomacy
All points mentioned above are actually issues that have created major problems in Turkish-American relations; however, thanks to the personal communication between Erdoğan and Trump, the meetings between the two managed to take place in a remarkably positive environment, albeit in lieu of unanimous, concrete agreements. The effectiveness of the role leaders play in diplomacy and policy-making has been long-debated. The earliest work on the issue goes back to World War II, a time when negotiations often hinged on the personalities of national leaders and their personal influence in national and world politics. While some experts argue there is little room for a political leader to have dramatic influence over politics, since ultimately, they must work within the framework of the existing international system, others claim that had the leading actors been different different, the history of world politics may have taken a different course. Ultimately, some pundits claim the strong personalities of the leaders are also effective in their relations with other leaders, having an overall influence on bilateral political relations.
When it comes to the case of Turkey's recent diplomacy, many argue that the personal ties the country's president forms with other leaders are a unique variable that determines how things develop. Especially as far as the relations with countries like the U.S. and Russia, both of which are some of the most strategic allies of Turkey, are concerned, the personal communication between Erdoğan and Trump - as well as that of Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is, according to many pundits and analysts, a key factor.
"We've been friends for a long time, almost from day one. We understand each other's' country. We understand where we are coming from," Trump told Erdoğan during their meetings, voicing his admiration for him as well as mutual respect. Erdoğan also said following the meeting that although there are some who aim to damage the duo's bilateral ties, Trump's "sincere" approach and constructive attitude can be felt while discussing the disagreements, which is quite remarkable. He also highlighted that the key to overcoming differences in opinion is to have a healthy dialogue based on information and facts.
The U.S. media acknowledged this special relationship by commenting that Erdoğan maintained a unique influence over Trump like no other world leader. The Economist expressed that no leader other than Erdoğan had been capable of creating such warm ties with Trump, underlining that other than the affection between the leaders, there appeared no common points between the two countries. Similarly, CNN said no other leader but Erdoğan gets he wants from Trump at this level, criticizing the U.S. president for aiming to build strong ties with the Turkish leader. The New York Times also pointed at the unique relationship, basing it on the so-called similarities between the leaders as well as Trump's interest in strong leaders. Even from within Turkey, the spokesperson of the man opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) claimed that the meeting benefited from the personal relationship between the two. Although all these comments recognize the uniqueness of the ties between the two leaders, they seem to have overlooked the special dialogue's impressive impact on bilateral politics.
Weak ties in Obama era
In comparison, this impressive impact can be understood by analyzing the past and comparing it with today's politics. One common recurring theme during Turkey-U.S. meetings is how Turkey was wronged during the era of former U.S. President Barrack Obama. According to Ankara, the roots of many problems with the U.S. originate in the Obama era, partially implying that the wrongdoings of that time caused such differences.
Obama used to count Erdoğan among his best interlocutors on the world stage. In 2012, Obama considered Erdoğan one of the five leaders with whom he had forged a close working relationship and that he trusted. Later on, the two leaders encountered significant disagreements, especially concerning Syria's Bashar Assad's fate and the so-called "chemical weapon red line," which pushed their personal relationship to the breaking point in 2013. Then, as communication between the leaders weakened, the problems such as the purchase of S-400 missiles and a safe zone in northern Syria emerged. For instance, when it comes to the S-400s, Turkey's case is quite clear: since Obama refused to sell the Patriots to Ankara despite being a partner in production and paying the price, Turkey had to turn to Russia and buy S-400 missiles, which has turned out to be one of the major disagreements between Turkey and the U.S. today. Even Trump slammed the Obama administration's reluctance to sell Patriots to Turkey in 2013, saying Turkey was not treated fairly as a NATO member.