Signs of normalization between Turkey and the US
In one of my previous columns I described the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. as a “pathological partnership.” I was referring to the hostile attitude against Turkey and criticizing American policy of arming and supporting groups affiliated to the terrorist PKK, like the YPG in Syria.
My opinion is that the large portion of the onus of this problematic relationship is on former President Barack Obama and his generals who have implemented it so far.
I also claimed that the Democrats’ YPG-centered policy, which was shaped when the U.S. had no strategy in Syria, was short-sighted and unsustainable. I have also been writing for years as an academic that this policy is not good for the Kurds either, since the YPG-PYD does not represent them fully and that this organization is leading them to existential dangers in the region. The main threat for Kurds is coming from the south of the Arab world, not from Turkey. I will explain this in my next column.
It seems that President Donald Trump’s order of the “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of the U.S. military from Syria has the potential of ending the tension between Turkey and the U.S. It will provide a new opening in the region. Although the timing of this order is surprising, the order itself is not.
Trump actually is a very predictable, rational and pragmatic actor, unlike the way the American media portrays him. As a journalist and academic who predicted his election win two years ago from months before, I see that he has been trying to keep his election promises. The nature of his decisions may be controversial and provocative but they are not surprising at all. His promise of building a wall at the Mexican border, his anti-migration rhetoric, his criticism against European countries about their inadequate defense spending, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal… He mentioned all these plans during his campaign speeches.
His plan of withdrawing troops from Syria is no different. During a televised debate with Hillary Clinton, he had accused her of supporting rebels without actually knowing who they are and hinted that he will not continue this. He talked about ending endless wars.
It seems that during the last two years the president listened to his generals’ objections and now said “that’s enough” after a series of talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He probably concluded that he could establish a rational relationship with Ankara based on mutual interests and ended Obama’s policy. It should be no coincidence that on the same day, the State Department declared the consent of selling Patriot air defense systems to Turkey. These two declarations imply a coordinated decision-making process. Both decisions have strategic meaning for the interests of both countries.
If implemented, the U.S. withdrawal will not end, but limit Turkey’s partnership with Russia at a certain level, and it will provide continuous impact to the U.S. and NATO in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, the Caucasus and in the Middle East by keeping an important ally aside. Otherwise Russia would enjoy the full support of Turkey and project its power in these areas. This could be a major strategic loss for the U.S. in the region since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. By leaving the short-sighted and ideological approach of Obama and his generals at CENTCOM, Trump got closer to his global goals.
As mentioned earlier, the pillars of building capacity in northern Syria on the YPG-PYD has always been weak. This Marxist-Leninist organization has little impact on the devout Muslim Kurdish society. That’s why the YPG needed so much military equipment from the U.S. to hold on to power, pressuring families and tribes. The PYD’s actions already alienated many in the region. It would not be the proudest action for the U.S. to protect this organization.
In addition to this, Turkey, after being targeted by several terrorist organizations like the PKK, YPG, FETÖ and etc. since 2015, proved its resolve and value to its friends. After a bloody coup attempt and being hit hard by terrorists, the Turkish army completed a difficult mission in Syria, the Euphrates Shields operation in 2016 with a success. The Turkish military also cleared the YPG from Afrin district within two months and established a stabilized region this year.
Turkey has proved its respect to treaties and agreements it signed and that it delivers once agreed. For instance, although the EU has not implemented a part of it, Turkey stopped the illegal migration to Europe as agreed, according to the Turkey-EU Agreement of March 18, 2016.
Trump’s decision is important for both countries. From Turkey’s point of view not only a terrorist threat is being removed but also a hard foreign policy issue will be treated. The decreasing security threat from Syria and the ease in Turkish-American relationship will also provide an environment for Turkey to focus on democratic issues.
Trump showed leadership and it seems that he is willing to end this irrational policy in Syria which he inherited from the Obama administration. If implemented, the U.S. withdrawal will end the era of meaningless tension between the two countries. This can be considered as the first signs of normalization.