Did Turkey outmaneuver the US?
Washington is unhappy about Turkey’s “Operation Euphrates Shield.” The potential for a serious confrontation between fighters from the Peoples Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), is very real and clearly of deep concern to it.
The PYD/YPG combo is allied to the US in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Washington is very happy about this alliance which has secured important successes against ISIL.
Turkey says the PYD/YPG and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are “birds of a feather,” who bear allegiance to PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey for heading a terrorist group.
The US, like much of Europe, also says the PKK is a terrorist organization, but refuses to brand the PYD/ as such. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was put on the spot in April by US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) during Senate hearing and had to acknowledge the PYD/YPG-PKK link. (www.c-span.org/video/?c4591280/ash-carter-pkk-ypg).
Washington refuses however to end its alliance with the PYD/YPG. It probably felt until recently that there was little Ankara could do against this, given that it was unable to enter Syria militarily after Turkey downed a Russian jet while it was on a bombing mission against anti-Assad forces in Syria last November.
By reconciling with Russia and resetting its Syria policy, Ankara appears to have put Washington in a difficult situation where the only real option it seems to have is to force the PYD/YPG east of the Euphrates River, and end its dream of establishing a “Kurdish corridor” along Turkey’s border.
Washington can’t overlook the fact that the Turkish military and its allies in the Free Syria Army (FSA) have the potential to deal ISIL a serious blow. It is no secret that it wanted the Turkish military to get actively involved in Syria against ISIL a long time ago.
That is happening now, but not the way it wants.
Meanwhile President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on record saying the US has to choose who its ally is, Turkey or the PYD/YPG. This approach is not alien to Washington. Former President George W. Bush used a similar phrase after 9/11 and said “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The balance Washington is trying to maintain between Turkey and the PYD/YPG is tantamount to supporting terrorism for the Turkish political and security establishment, as well as most Turks. That is why Washington’s call on Ankara not to move against the PYD/YPG will most likely go unheeded. Turkey has crossed the Rubicon by going into Syria, and is openly declaring its target to be not just ISIL but also the YPG.
We have to also remember that ties between Turkey and the US are tense already over the July 15 coup attempt and Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind of this attempt who lives in the US, where he is enjoying US protection as far as Ankara is concerned.
On top of all this the US has the advantage of using the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey against ISIL, which it clearly does not want to lose, despite calls from hotheads in Washington to pull out of this base.
Thanks to that debate, many Turks are also surprised now of the fact that the US has been storing tactical nuclear weapons in Incirlik, and would actually welcome a US evacuation from the base. This is clearly not a debate US officials are delighting over.
The situation is a very messy one for the Obama administration, which is on the way out. Not knowing what comes after Obama, Ankara obviously decided to act while the iron was hot, given that the environment in Syria has turned to its relative advantage.
Looking at this overall picture it does appear as if Ankara outmaneuvered Washington in a way US officials never expected. This has also put the onus on Washington. It will have to decide in earnests now between Turkey and the PYD/YPG, if it does not want to leave a festering issue for the new administration to deal with.