Is Turkey a US ally, Mr Trump?

Is Turkey a US ally, Mr Trump?

It is good and perhaps necessary that U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order for a “Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” on Jan. 28. It is necessary because the strategy of former President Barack Obama obviously did not work. 

Obama was too late to intervene in the Syrian civil war and also too little due to his no-boots-on-the-ground policy. The partner he chose as a ground force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or DAESH, was also particularly controversial for Turkey. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are the Syrian extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. for more than two decades. That created a major rift between the U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey, as the PKK has been fighting against Turkey with territorial and sovereignty claims, in a campaign that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984. 

Despite Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan’s belated offer to fight together against ISIL if the U.S. dropped the PYD, Obama did not change his mind. This caused Turkey to look for ways to fight to push ISIL away from its borders, as well as the PYD, by cooperating with its NATO rival Russia.

Turkey’s cooperation with Russia produced the first viable ceasefire in the six-year-old Syria civil war, while the U.S.’s cooperation with the PYD/PKK came to a standstill at the gates of ISIL’s de facto capital Raqqa.
So Trump’s search for a new strategy against ISIL, to be drafted within 30 days, is a move in the right direction. However, the content of the executive order does not promise a better way to carry out such a fight.

Hürriyet Daily News Ankara bureau chief Serkan Demirtaş has pointed out how Trump’s order completely ignores ISIL’s Turkish victims. When giving examples of ISIL attacks on “allies,” the order cites ISIL attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, which were all awful acts of terror that claimed innocent lives. 

But ISIL has killed around 250 people in Turkey in five major attacks since mid-2015, most recently the Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul in the early hours of 2017. Don’t the Turkish people – as well as the German, Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian and American tourists killed in Turkey - count as victims of ISIL for Trump? Hasn’t Turkey been in a fierce fight against ISIL in Syria, landing major blows against the group and so far losing 56 of its soldiers in that fight? 

Is Turkey no longer an ally of the U.S.? Worse, was Turkey not counted by Trump as an allied country targeted by ISIL because of its Muslim majority population?

Considering other moves by Trump - such as closing the U.S.’s doors to all citizens of seven Muslim majority countries, or preparing to limit the fight against extremism to what he calls “Islamic terrorism” (thus taking white supremacist terrorists off the list), or defining the target in the executive order as “Islamic terrorism” – worries are fueled that the new U.S. line under Trump will be at odds with Turkey under Erdoğan, who reacted against Germany’s Angela Merkel on Feb. 2 when she referred to “Islamist terror” in their joint press conference.

If terrorism is the common enemy among NATO allies, they should look for common ground instead of highlighting ideological and political differences. Trump’s stance will be most important in that respect in the coming days.