Trump Congratulates Turkish President Erdogan On Winning Referendum NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council and former U.S. representative to NATO, about U.S. interests in Turkey after the referendum vote to give Turkish President Erdogan sweeping powers.

Trump Congratulates Turkish President Erdogan On Winning Referendum

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After Turkish voters elected to give their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, even more power, President Trump called him to say congratulations. The White House says the two leaders talked about U.S. military action in Syria which Turkey supports and their joint campaign to fight ISIS. The State Department was more guarded, saying democracies gain strength through diversity.

For more on what the Turkish referendum means to the U.S., we turn now to former U.S. Representative to NATO Ivo Daalder. Welcome to the program once again.

IVO DAALDER: Glad to be here.

SIEGEL: Turkish President Erdogan is about to become more powerful, the Turkish parliament less so. Should policymakers in Washington care about that?

DAADLER: Well, yes. The United States has stood for democracy and its strengthening for many, many years. We have stood behind Turkish democracy for many, many years. And this is a step back. It's putting more power in the hands of a single individual at the expense of the parliament and other forces in society at a time when an authoritarian streak has been part of Turkish politics for many months, indeed years. So this is a bad day for democracy in the world. And a bad day for democracy is not a good day for the United States.

SIEGEL: Turkey is a longtime member of NATO. And when countries have applied to join the NATO, at least in this century, they've been obliged to show that they have stable democratic systems. Do you think Erdogan's powers are growing to a point where Turkey might run afoul of NATO's principles?

DAADLER: Well, one of the principles in the NATO treaty - often a forgotten article, Article 2 - talks about the importance of free institutions and the importance of the NATO members to work together to strengthen free institutions. Joining the NATO club meant joining a club of democratic states. To see the kind of rollback as we see in Turkey and indeed in other NATO members like Hungary is disconcerting to say the least.

SIEGEL: Well, what then do you make of President Trump's congratulatory call to the Turkish president? Does it show that we're more interested in stability - or at least the president is - than in more democracy?

DAADLER: I guess, and I guess it's a sign that there was an election. It was a very close election. And indeed Erdogan's position seems to have won out, and in that sense, it was in some ways pro forma. But I wish it was a little more than that.

We have interests in Turkey as an ally within NATO but also as a country that is engaged with us on dealing with threats of ISIS in Syria. And I think we should have the kind of honest discussions with an ally like that when it comes to issues of democracy and human rights. And it would be a good idea for the United States to remind not only Turkey but its friends and allies around the world that we do stand with democracy, particularly when it's threatened.

SIEGEL: Is it possible that what's happening in Turkey really isn't that unusual for Europe these days. That is, that just as in the middle of the last century there was often frustration with parliamentary rule as not being able to get things done, fascists could make trains run on time, and Stalinists could industrialize Russia. Are we in danger of being at a time when authoritarian rule looks more attractive to a lot of voters?

DAADLER: Well, in some ways, we are seeing a return to that kind of popular sentiment. Clearly the political center throughout many European countries has been unable to fulfill the desires and wishes of much of the population. If you look at the elections in France that are coming up, if you look at what's happening in Italy, if you look at what's happened in Poland already or in Hungary, you see forces of more authoritarian or more populist or more nationalist that are trying to fill the void. And in that sense, what we're seeing in Turkey today is yet another indication of a move towards a new kind of politics in part because the mainstream is no longer able to occupy a majority of opinion in their own countries.

SIEGEL: Ivo Daalder is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. He's now president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Thanks for talking with us once again.

DAADLER: My pleasure.

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