Is disorder in DC deepening Turkey-US rift?
The Turkey-US rift brings to mind this question: Is President Donald Trump in full control of his diplomatic and military apparatus?
Perhaps U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was thinking he could soothe Turkey’s fears regarding Syria by playing with words in his speech at the Hoover Institute in Stanford University on Jan. 17. Instead the speech made Turks even more disappointed.
He had heard from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during their meeting in Vancouver on Jan. 16 that Ankara was furious over the U.S.-led coalition statement about the formation of a 30,000 strong Border Security Force (BSF) in Syria to guard the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Çavuşoğlu wanted to know how the coalition could make such a statement without talking with Turkey, since Turkey is a member of the coalition.
Çavuşoğlu also wondered how the U.S. could form a force on the borders of a NATO ally that the country had sworn to protect? How could the U.S. continue to collaborate with a terrorist group in Syria despite earlier promises about dismantling the collaboration as soon as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) strongholds in Syria were taken back?
The terrorist group that Çavuşoğlu mentioned was the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkey for the last three decades and designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. The YPG is also considered the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group formed through the efforts of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan recently said the aim of the name change was to “conceal collaboration with terrorists.”
Nevertheless, the next day Tillerson said the U.S.-led coalition statement did not reflect the truth and it would be incorrect to call the border force an “army.” He said Turkish officials had been told U.S. intentions were only “to ensure that local elements were providing security to liberated areas.”
The first reaction to Tillerson’s words came in the morning hours of Jan. 18 by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who said the statements from the U.S. Administration were “contradictory” and “confusing.” Then Çavuşoğlu appeared on a live interview on CNN Türk.
“[Tillerson’s] statement did not fully satisfy us. The American officials from Barack Obama to Donald Trump have promised us that their collaboration with the YPG would end with all weapons immediately collected. We want them to honor their words,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that the current American stance would cause “irreversible damage” in relations between the two countries.
Hours before Yıldırım’s statement, the Turkish military buildup in the Western areas of the Syrian border was put on high alert, in line with a statement issued after a National Security Boards (MGK) meeting late on Jan. 17 and chaired by Erdoğan. Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head are on their way to Moscow to secure more support in Syria against the YPG/PKK accumulation on its borders, “including the use of Syrian air space,” according to Çavuşoğlu.
It seems the Turkish government is determined to act on YPG/PKK presence in Syria whether it gets help from its NATO ally the U.S. or not and has already started to get support from NATO’s main rival, Russia.
But all these developments bring other questions to mind concerning the chain of command in the U.S. capital. Is President Trump in full control of his diplomatic and military apparatus? Is there a discrepancy between the State Department and Pentagon over Turkey? Is the U.S. trying to carve out a PKK-controlled Kurdish enclave from Syria, or is an illegal intelligence and military network trying to benefit from disorder in DC? Is this disorder widening the gap between the two NATO allies Turkey and the U.S.?