Turkey’s strongman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have been encouraged that fraught relations between Ankara and Washington are set to mend after sharing a fist-bump with US President Donald Trump at last week’s Nato summit, it has emerged.
Trump—on July 16 accused by former CIA director John Brennan of conduct “nothing short of treasonous” during his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin after he sided with the Russian leader over the FBI in addressing alleged meddling by Moscow in the 2016 US presidential election—is often accused of being more comfortable in the company of authoritarian leaders than he is side by side with democratically elected counterparts.
On CBS This Morning on July 16, Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and a CBS News senior global affairs contributor, said that backstage at the Nato meeting there was an eyebrow-raising moment between Trump and Erdogan. Bremmer said: "Trump was very frustrated; he wasn't getting commitments from other leaders to spend more [on defence]. Many of them said, 'Well, we have to ask our parliaments. We have a process; we can't just tell you we're going to spend more, we have a legal process.' Trump turns around to the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, and says, 'Except for Erdogan over here. He does things the right way,' and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president."
CBS reported the incident as a startling gesture of support for the increasingly authoritarian Turkish leader. Trump has never criticised Erdogan for the two-year-long state of emergency in Turkey—described by the UN human rights office as “chilling” and giving Erdogan the right to rule by decree—nor has he ever publicly remarked on how Turkey has in the past two years become the world’s biggest jailer of journalists while conducting massive purges throughout society. Having won re-election in mid-June, Erdogan has assumed new sweeping powers as Turkey’s first executive president. The post of prime minister has been abolished and parliament plays a diminished role.
"If you want to talk about to what extent the allies are comfortable with Trump as a person, a strongman leader, what we saw at the G-20, at that second meeting, what we see now with Nato and the Putin meeting, this is a very visible suggestion," Bremmer added on the programme.
"Which would make a fist bump unattractive and disturbing to people—it's a universal sign of 'Way to go, good job,'" co-host Gayle King remarked.
Bremmer agreed that heralding a strongman leader like Erdogan, who has initiated crackdowns internally against critics and who has no effective domestic opposition, would make other European leaders nervous. "Turkey is hardly a liberal democracy at this point," he concluded.
Bremmer also related other startling moments involving Trump at the Nato gathering. "One is that emergency session where they asked the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents to leave in the middle of their presentation. Apparently Trump said, 'OK, we're done with you now,'" he said.