RELEASE: CAP Report Outlines Possible Flashpoints in US-Turkey Relations as Biden Administration Begins

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress discusses the issues that could shape U.S.-Turkey relations under the Biden administration and outlines possible flashpoints that could emerge in 2021.

With Turkey militarily engaged in Syria, Iraq, and Libya—and at loggerheads with Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and France over Eastern Mediterranean maritime boundaries and potential energy resources—there is no shortage of issues that could turn into deeper conflicts. Beyond attempting deterrence, the United States should have a firm transactional relationship with Turkey. U.S. officials should seek to slow escalatory cycles that cannot be stopped and to deal with the many discrete disagreements the countries face on a case by case basis.

The Trump-era approach to Turkey was incoherent. It was fragmented between the deliberate moves of some government officials to hedge U.S. bets with respect to Turkey, congressional hostility, and President Donald Trump’s friendly treatment of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Under the Biden administration, American policy will likely be more consistent and deliberate. Erdoğan will not be able to upend U.S. policy with one call to the White House. Human rights, democracy, and the fight against corruption will be back on the agenda.

“Turkey may face a difficult transition from the laissez-fare, right-wing hyperrealism of Trump and his administration to the more values-based, liberal internationalist approach of Biden and his team,” said Max Hoffman, director for National Security and International Policy at CAP. “The Biden administration will have to balance the core interests of the United States with the fact that overly punitive steps could cripple Turkey’s economy while doing little to strengthen its democracy and pushing Ankara toward Moscow.”

Biden has long been sympathetic to Kurdish political and cultural rights and helped orchestrate the Kurdish-led campaign that defeated the Islamic State in Syria. He will likely maintain support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which will continue to rankle the Turkish government. Biden will also reinforce the U.S. commitment to NATO and the broader relationship with Europe, a move that could cut in several directions for Turkey. And the ongoing saga of Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system remains a primary issue driving the collapse of bilateral relations from the U.S. perspective.

Read the report: “Flashpoints in U.S.-Turkey Relations in 2021” by Max Hoffman

For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at  or 202-478-6327.