Bill Antholis: Lack of consistent US interest in region is troubling

Bill Antholis: Lack of consistent US interest in region is troubling

The Trump-Erdogan relationship remains a mystery to most American observers. President Trump's praise of President Erdogan at the August GOP convention, thanking him for the release of an American hostage, drew considerable attention.

Yet it is the lack of consistent US interest in the region that is more troubling. Turkey's haphazard efforts to engage in maritime disputes, as well as in conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, have not been met with a consistent US response.

A clear victory by Vice President Biden, followed by President Trump conceding defeat, will still present some short-term uncertainty. President-elect Biden will need to select his team, and President Trump's team will need to cooperate in transition. Still, one can expect two things from a clear Biden win.

First, most Biden advisers share a more consistent focus on NATO as a critical alliance, as well as a more cooperative attitude toward the EU. With respect to NATO, the Biden team is likely to begin to work with NATO allies on establishing criteria for Turkey to remain a member in good standing. As worrisome, from that perspective, is the emerging conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Second, a clear Biden win would also likely be accompanied by Democratic control of the US Senate, which would also mean a more collaborative approach with NATO and EU allies in the region.

If the election's outcome remains uncertain, the most important question is whether the US national security establishment stays focused on events in the region.

Here, the fact that the State Department and Defense Department are in agreement about the general policy priorities is an added advantage. If the secretary of state and defense secretary are directing policy, one can expect greater consistency toward the region.

"The return to normal" question has at least three dimensions: a) How has American policy changed following Trump? b) How have European attitudes toward the United States changed following Trump? c) How has the world changed as a result of Covid? On the first, I think a Biden administration will try to re-establish ties with EU partners on a range of issues, from defense matters to climate change.

It will likely proceed cautiously, however, since it knows that Europe's desire for a stronger relationship will be limited by diminished trust for American commitments.

More importantly, the world together will need to respond to a post-Covid environment of weaker economies, frayed international institutions, and potential instability in countries just outside of the eurozone.

American attention to Asia certainly competes with attention to Europe on some issues; however, most of the critical issues facing the United States in Asia are ones for which Europe also has a major equities: developing and deploying safe and effective vaccines; repairing global commerce after the combination of Covid and four years of protectionist retrenchment; addressing China's efforts to use its investments in technology and trade routes to advance parochial interests.

Bill Antholis is Director and CEO of the Miller Center

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