Differences between Washington and Ankara
Turks are saying, “There are hostages; my hands are tied.”
Americans are saying, “These manslayers are massacring a citizen of mine every week but we do not stop the operations.”
Turks are saying, “This is happening right next to me; there is the risk that they may strike us.”
Americans are saying, “They have already started hitting Europe. In May, they killed four people at a Jewish Museum. This is no longer a risk, it has started.”
Turks are saying, “All right, I have the responsibility to protect the southeast wing of NATO, but let us do it quietly.”
Americans are saying, “We are forming a coalition; at least you should openly declare it so that it has an effect on other Muslim countries.”
Turks are saying, “I did not allow more than 4,000 people to enter the country in 2013. Now, 6,000 people are not allowed to enter.”
Americans are saying, “Again, foreign fighters coming from Turkey to Iraq and Syria are still the biggest problem. More is needed to combat this.”
Turks are saying, “I have 13 border gates with Syria and I am only keeping three of them open. Third country citizens, though, can only use two gates.”
Americans are saying, “When better intelligence sharing is achieved, better results will be obtained.”
Turks are saying, “Do not arm those people in Iraq; no one knows where these weapons will end up.”
Americans are saying, “The ones to be armed in Iraq are settled, institutional structures. The risk you mention is actually in Syria.”
United States President Barack Obama held a press conference in Wales after he met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Out of the four questions asked, two of them were about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levent (ISIL). Turkey was not even mentioned once.
Not only because of Ankara’s reluctance to appear on the frontlines of a struggle against ISIL, but it is also because of the differences I tried to cite above.
Beyond the fact that the Erdoğan-Obama meeting took longer than expected, in the four-sentence note of the White House, the threat of foreign fighters is mentioned and there is an unexpected stress on “the scourge of anti-Semitism.” Thus, it directly targeted Erdoğan’s words, while he was criticizing Israel with a shift towards anti-Semitism in a Hitler analogy. In the note, while the anti-Semitism risk was brought up, the phrase “inclusive society” was chosen, the same phrase the Jewish organization Anti-Defamation League (ADL) used in their open letter to Erdoğan the same day. It is a reference to the difficulties the Jewish community in Turkey is currently facing.
I have to add this as a note: According to an aide of Erdoğan, domestic politics were not discussed in the meeting and the phrase “building tolerant and inclusive societies” actually meant Iraq and Syria.
This will last longer than expected. According to Matt Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) who spoke at the Brookings Institution panel this week, the business of defeating ISIL will probably not happen during Obama’s term as President, which will end in 2016. Thus, ISIL will remain to be the most important axis in Turkish-American relations for a long time to come. Hence, the bilateral relations that were regarded as “strategic” will become more “strategic.” All other issues will be pushed backwards.
Relation between the two countries will be tested further when Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to put a deadline of the end of September to determine a road map against ISIL, an issue Ankara has remained quiet over.
As a top American official said, “While the U.K. and Australia give special operation support, while Jordan is providing intelligence, while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates give money, what will Turkey give?” This question will pressure Ankara a lot in the coming weeks.
A piece of information from a top official source: If the course of the war in Syria continues this way, it is only a moment’s time that ISIL, which has transferred a vast majority of the heavy weapons it has obtained at its Mosul raid to Syria, will seize North Aleppo. According to projections for this case, an additional 1.5 million refugees will leave Syria. What is called the moderate opposition, those groups that have weakened with no coordination left among them will completely disappear within three to six months. And ISIL will become an attraction center for all opponents, for the radical Islamists from all over the world, as long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power in Syria. Thus, just as we have spent the 2000s talking about al-Qaida, it will be ISIL’s era from now on.
There is an essential difference of stance. This country has seen a prime minister who did not change his overseas travel schedule after the biggest terror act was experienced in the history of the country at Reyhanlı in 2013. But the U.S. is not like that. While ISIL is slaughtering one American almost every month, while the danger of ISIL is growing, we are entering a very different phase. The Turkish-American relationship may undergo a very painful period, the first signs of which have appeared this week, as expected.