The State Department's new point man on Europe and Eurasia is a specialist on France and Turkey who was a close adviser to the election campaign of President Barack Obama.
The White House recently announced that it has named Philip H. Gordon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, as assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. The position requires confirmation by the Senate. He would replace Daniel Fried, who has held the position since 2005.
Gordon has scant experience with the former Soviet Union, and his deputy (who has yet to be named) is likely to be more prominent in that part of the position's portfolio. But his record on key issues like NATO expansion, US-Turkey relations and how to manage ties with Georgia suggest that there will be few dramatic changes in US policy.
Gordon traveled to Georgia in 2005 and subsequently wrote a piece for YaleGlobal Online (co-authored with Derek Chollet) urging stronger US support for Tbilisi. "Georgia has implemented far-reaching economic reforms, cracked down on corruption, and extended an olive branch to its Russian-backed ethnic minorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," they wrote. "Our impression is that most of its [the government's] problems -- including the lack of fiscal transparency and parliamentary oversight -- stem more from the new government's inexperience and the lack of a genuine opposition than from anything nefarious."
In March 2008, he testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that Georgia and Ukraine should be given Membership Action Plan status at the upcoming NATO summit. "While Russian concerns should obviously be taken into account in any discussions of European security, Moscow cannot have a veto on the choices of neighboring democratic governments. NATO enlargement is not and has never been a threat to Russia, which should understand that it can benefit from democracy, stability, and prosperity in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus," he said. "Russia's opposition, then, is perhaps a further reason to act on MAP for Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest rather than waiting."
On Turkey, he has warned that a volatile mix of factors -- including the US war in Iraq, European intransigence on EU membership and increasing western pressure to recognize the Armenian genocide -- has created the risk that Turkey may lose its western orientation. The danger is not that it will become Islamist, but that it will seek allies in the non-western world, he argues.
"The threat to Turkey's Western orientation today is not so much Islamization but growing nationalism and frustration with the United States and Europe. A majority of Turks still want to see their country firmly anchored in the West, but their patience is wearing thin because of what they perceive to be Western double standards and neglect of Turkish national security interests," he wrote in a 2008 book, Winning Turkey, co-authored with Omer Taspinar.
"If the strategic relationship with the United States continues to erode and prospects for joining the EU continue to recede, Turkey could opt for a more nationalistic and authoritarian path, perhaps combining a version of isolationism with closer relations with sometime rivals of the United States, including Russia, Iran, China and Syria. Americans and Europeans who do not take the risk of such a development seriously underestimate the degree of resentment of the West that has been building up in the country."
Gordon has written about French efforts to ban denial of the Armenian genocide. While that goes farther than anything proposed in the United States, he has suggested that governments should stay out of the matter. "Ultimately, historians, not governments, should be the ones to decide these sensitive issues," he wrote in The New Republic in 2006. Obama, during his presidential campaign, said he supports official US recognition of the genocide.
"As the new president continues filling his various foreign policy appointments, we remain encouraged by the great promise of his historic election to change how the US government addresses the Armenian Genocide -- breaking with the sad practice of viewing this human rights issue in the context of Turkish threats, and instead seeing it in terms of American values -- like truth, honesty, and justice," said Elizabeth Chouldjian, communications director of the Armenian National Committee of America.
Gordon previously served in government in the administration of former president Bill Clinton, as director for European affairs at the National Security Council. During the presidential campaign, he served as head of the Europe team in Obama's group foreign policy advisers.
"I think he brings tremendous strength to the position," said James Goldgeier, Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gordon's greatest strength is on France, Goldgeier said; he has translated books from French into English, including that of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Testimony. "He knows France as well as anybody," which will be useful as Sarkozy increasingly acts as a bridge between the US and Europe, Goldgeier said. Gordon has "deep expertise" in Turkey, as well, Goldgeier said.
Gordon is a political appointee, as opposed to Fried, who is a career diplomat. Gordon's close relationship to Obama will be an asset, Goldgeier said. "He was involved in the campaign from the beginning, so he knows everyone involved in the campaign, he knows what the president's priorities are and so he can step into this quite confident that he knows what he's supposed to do in terms of carrying out the president's agenda," he said.
Joshua Kucera is a Washington, DC,-based freelance writer who specializes in security issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.