Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was afraid of one world leader and listened to another. He feared former US president Donald Trump because they were relatively the same: unpredictable, passionate about bargain, impulsive and utterly authoritarian. With Trump, Erdogan did not know exactly where he stood and whether he was serious in his threats to destroy the Turkish economy.
At the same time, there was no institutional brake because the former US president was not interested in what the State Department or the Pentagon were saying. He thought he knew everything and that he could handle Erdogan on his own.
In a strange way, this relationship was beneficial to Greece. Trump did not maintain any relations with the Greek diaspora, nor did he know where the Aegean or Cyprus were. The Greek Americans who were close to him did not care about these issues either. But there was a fear in Erdogan’s mind that if Trump reacted, for his own reasons, to an aggressive Turkish move in the Eastern Mediterranean, the price would be high.
There was one more thing: Because of the chaotic situation in the decision-making process, an experienced ambassador or even Mike Pompeo himself could take an initiative that would favor Greece, ignoring Turkey and the established “fetishes” of American diplomacy. The most characteristic change is that the US officials did not pay any attention to the “balance of the protocol” – that is, they did not even think that “it is not possible for Pompeo to travel to Greece and not pass through Turkey.”
Now we are back to the good old autopilot. The balances between the two countries are faithfully observed. The classic bureaucrats react strongly when it comes to discussing the idea of extending the US military presence in Greece to regions that may vex Ankara. And behind the scenes, Americans are urging their traditional allies to find a modus vivendi with Erdogan. In other words, the old reflexes are back. At a time when there are general doubts about whether the US is really interested in the Eastern Mediterranean, it is natural for Ankara to draw its own conclusions.
Erdogan was afraid of Trump (as well as Putin, of course) and listened to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Now he is not particularly afraid of anyone and will not have a stable interlocutor – or confessor – in Europe. This is something that may affect us the next time politics heat up in the region.