Ian Lesser: A distracted America could complicate crisis management

Ian Lesser: A distracted America could complicate crisis management

Without question, Ankara would prefer to see a Trump victory. Biden has been much more outspoken in his recent criticism of Turkish policy. And Presidents Trump and Erdogan seem to have some sort of rapport. But even with a second Trump administration, Turkey will almost certainly face pressure from Washington and additional sanctions related to the S-400 purchase. There is a bipartisan consensus on this in Congress, and East Med tensions will only add to the pressure for sanctions.

The basic lines of US policy toward the East Med –lready very concerned about brinkmanship and essentially supportive of the Greek position –re unlikely to change. In office, a Biden administration would likely be more directly engaged and also more inclined to press the issue inside NATO and in coordination with the EU. In the period from the election until the inauguration there could be some risk that actors in the region see a window of opportunity for more assertive actions. This would probably be a misjudgment, but a risk nonetheless.

A distracted America could complicate crisis management in many areas, from the Indo-Pacific region to the Mediterranean. There may be a sense that Washington is looking elsewhere and less likely to engage if things go wrong. Transitions can be complicated even under normal conditions. Much depends on filling key cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. Delays on this front can encourage drift and inaction. In the East Med, this may only matter in the event of a direct clash. But it would add an additional increment of risk in an already risk-prone setting.

Ian Lesser is Vice president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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