Pathological partnership of Turkey and the US

Pathological partnership of Turkey and the US

Not very long ago, in 2009, terms like “strategic partnership” or “model partnership” were used to describe Turkish-American relations. Those who used these terms were underlying the long term common security partnership, common objectives in world’s most turbulent region, in the issues like Iraq and Afghanistan and commitment to work together. Those who advocated “Model Partnership”, during the Obama’s visit of Turkey in 2009 April suggested that modern, secular Turkey with its Muslim population would serve as a model to other Muslim nations.

These were just ideas and never been materialized on paper yet they reflected a positive perspective and were important. Today we face far different reality. Perhaps Turkish-American relations are at the lowest level since the beginning. We are in the worst days of Turkish-American relations because there is not much hope for quick recovery. There are great disagreements and even existential conflict between the two sides. If we have to develop a concept to define this relationship I would term it “pathological partnership.”

I think at the bottom of this problem lies a great misunderstanding, false expectations and misjudgement about the regional affairs. Especially American decision makers’ analysis about Turkey, its concerns, its motives and its politics are far from the reality.

First of all it should be said that Turkey’s geopolitical importance which was a key for President Truman in 1947 when he tried to build a strong defense line against Soviets, is no less important for the American strategy to counter-balance Russian Federation today. When you look at the Russian A2AD line from North to South, when you read the Russian Maritime Doctrine, when you observe Russian build up in the Black Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean and its military activities around Trans Dniester, Turkey’s essentiality to the United States can easily be understood.

However, it seems that the US decision makers under the impact of CENTCOM prioritized its tactical activities and achievements in the Middle East. US Kurdish policy in Iraq and Syria have distanced Turkey from Washington. Analysts have so much focused on their perceptions and they cannot see other aspects of the situation. The latest statements of US Special Envoy to Syria Mr. James Jeffrey proves that fact. He said “The U.S. view is let’s pull the plug on Astana.” In fact Turkey had two successful military operations against terrorist organizations in Syria with the help of Astana Process, getting support of the Russian Federation. Turkey defeated ISIS in the Northern Syria with Operation Euphrates Shield. This enabled US operation in Raqqa to be successful. Also Turkey defeated the PKK/YPG terrorists in Afrin.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s reaction to Jeffrey was not surprising in this regard when ne said “It is a wrongful statement. The statement by Jeffrey is unfortunate. If the cease-fire in Syria is still preserved, even despite the violations, if today we can still talk about a political process, if we can discuss the constitutional committee… they have been achieved thanks to the Astana process and Sochi [talks].”

Astana Process produced concrete results and responded Turkey’s immediate security concerns. Turkish military forces gained its self-confidence after July 15 coup attempt. Turkish Foreaign Minister’s statement reflects dissapointment for Turkey that the US policymakers do not share Turkey’s existential, essential security concerns.

Another common mistake can be seen in the Foreign Policy article by James Jeffrey and David Pollack. Two authors wrote that “There is a way forward, tricky but essential, to reconcile American interests with both their Turkish and Syrian Kurdish allies. The first step is to encourage the PYD to further distance itself from the PKK, while reminding Turkey privately that the PYD has largely kept its 2012 commitment not to provide material support to the PKK inside Turkey. It is useful to recall that as recently as 2015, Turkey and the PYD worked well together in facilitating the successful military operations against the Islamic State in Kobane, right on the Turkish border, and then-PYD leader Salih Muslim was an honored official guest of the Turkish government. This fragile entente fell victim to the collapse of the PKK-Turkish ceasefire and peace talks later that year — which made U.S. military support for the PYD a constant irritant in ties with Turkey… The second step should be to set up direct channels for resumed discussions between the PYD and Turkey, and between the PYD and what remains of the mainstream, moderate Syrian Arab opposition that Turkey still supports.”

These expectations proves that the problem, the situation and the attitute of Turkey and Turkish public ib not understood at all. Not only the state and security apparatus in Turkey but also the people are far from this point. It would be easier to correct the relations if the American analysts update themselves to the new situation. 

Today the enemy number on efor Turkey is the PKK and its affiliates elsewhere. An Avarage IQ person can easily understand the connection between the PKK and the PYD. The decision to form the PKK branches in Iraq, Syria and Iran was accepted at the 8th PKK Congress on 20-24 April 2002. Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat/Democratic Union Party (PYD) was established on 17 September 2003, in order to continue its existence in Syria under the orders of Abdullah Öcalan.

According to Turkish security officials PKK/PYd/YPG were behind many terrorist attacks in 2016. The sad memories of Ankara Merasim Street bombing and the Guven Park attack are fresh and clear in the minds of Turks. Following the breach of the ceasefire in June 2015, 793 security forces and 314 civilians lost their lives in the war against terror. Turkey was on the edge due to the activities of terrorist organizations. Under these circumstances bringing Turkey and PKK/PYD together looks like nothing more than an illusion. It does not seem possible to revive talks or convince the state officials and the public in the near term.

Another security threat for Turkey is the Gulenists who are considered as terrorist organization (FETO). A great large portion of Turkish public believe that FETO is responsible for TUrkey’s current problems. The trauma of July 15 attack is much deeper than the Western governments think.

The lack of support from the US and from other Western capitals to Turkey against these threats is the source of deep distrust.

Stephen Walt’s theory is states form alliances when they face a common threat.  The main logic behind Astana/Sochi talks among Turkey, Iran and Russia is no different. Turkey is looking for friends against these existential threats since she feels alone and abondoned by her traditional allies.

The US have not responded Turkey’s security problems on the contrary she continued supporting Turkey’s two biggest enemies.

The deadlock between the two countries can only be resolved through US’s reconsidering and remembering Turkey’s role in her global and regional strategies.  

Turkey is on the intersection point of three competing geopolitical strategies. US efforts to keep its position as dominant global power, Russian Euroasianism and Chinese One belt one road strategy. The will and decision of Turkey will determine which of these strategies prevail. 

If the relations sour and Turkey leaves NATO as more and more people suggest louder it, southern flank of NATO will collapse. Russia’s hand will be stronger in the Black Sea, Mediterrenean an deven in the Gulf region. If Turkey gets closer to China  Modern Silk Road Project will be more meaningful, carrying Chinese impact to the shores of Europe.

The price of distancing Turkey will be high for Washington too. It would be the greatest strategic loss in 40 years in the Middle East after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

For these reasons it seems wiser that those who proposes policy to the US administration about Turkey, should analyse the facts better regarding Turkey and review the current approach. It is vital for both countries.

Improving Turkish-American relations is the interest for both sides.  But biased analysts and experts who are far from the reality are poisoning the air with their ideological perspectives.

The start of Turkish-American relationship were based on common security concerns. Beginning to correct relations from where things began can be a good start.

Bora Bayraktar,