President Joe Biden has nominated former Republican Senator Jeff Flake as his ambassador to Turkey. While the appointment technically crosses partisan lines, Flake supported Biden over Donald Trump last year.
Biden tapped Flake for the post on Tuesday, in a move that at first glance lends weight to his campaign trail promise to reach across the aisle and be a “president for all Americans.” In a statement following the nomination, Flake said that “US foreign policy can and should be bipartisan. That is my belief… and my commitment.”
Yet the former Arizona senator spent much of the Trump administration as what the former president would call a “RINO” (Republican in Name Only). He announced in 2017 that he would not seek reelection, accusing the Trump-era GOP of “casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals” and a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency.” A year later he held up the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh so unproven claims of sexual assault against him could be investigated (before eventually voting to confirm), and last year he joined two dozen former Republican lawmakers in declaring his support for Biden in the presidential election.
Now, Biden has apparently rewarded Flake’s loyalty. As ambassadorships go, however, Flake has been handed a tough one.
The US and Turkey are NATO allies, but their relationship has been strained in recent years. Ankara angered Washington when it bought Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles in 2017 and took delivery of them despite fierce American opposition in 2019. A year later, Turkey blocked a NATO defense plan for Poland and the Baltic states unless the US would declare the Kurdish PYD/PKK group a “terrorist entity.”
Relations have remained frosty since Biden took office this year. In April, Biden officially recognized the 1915 Armenian genocide, prompting Ankara to summon its US envoy and accuse Washington of “hindering peace and stability in our region.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then accused Biden of having “blood on [his] hands” due to his support for Israel’s strikes on Gaza.
Thankfully for Flake, a thaw may be on the cards. Before meeting Biden at a NATO summit in Brussels last month, Erdogan said that the US and Turkey should “leave [their] troubles behind.”
Before taking his post, Flake will need to be confirmed by the Senate. He is not expected to face any serious opposition from either party.
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