Toward a new deal with Trump?
With Donald Trump assuming his mantle on Jan. 20, Turkey is hoping to open a new page with Washington. Until then, Ankara is working to raise the stakes for a better deal with the new administration. That is why the age-old threat of closing the İncirlik Air Base has re-emerged once more last week.
Turkey has openly conveyed its frustration over Washington’s cooperation with the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the perceived lack of U.S. support for its operations in al-Bab against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Doubtlessly, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement has been observed cautiously in Washington, given that Turkey possesses the second largest military force in NATO.
Since the failed coup, Russia has proved to be a better ally to Turkey than the U.S. in terms of taking Turkey’s sensitivities into account vis-à-vis the Kurds – even though the same PYD has an office in Moscow.
Nevertheless, the Euphrates Shield Operation and the extension of the mission to al-Bab would have been impossible without a green light from the Kremlin.
Now, Turkey expects Trump to respect Turkey’s red lines in Syria – that is, contain the Kurds to the east of the Euphrates.
Up until today, prospective POTUS Trump has not announced a clear foreign policy strategy. However, just like reading the tea leaves by assessing his campaign promises and the profiles of his incoming cabinet members, Trump is unlikely to embrace an interventionist political stance unless there is a direct threat to U.S. interests.
But Trump emphasizes with pride that he will be a deal-making president, meaning he will approach diplomatic bargaining just like arranging a business deal.
In this respect, if the U.S. agrees to deliver on Turkey’s requests, the question to ponder should be “what is going to want in return?”
Trump has reiterated many times that he intends to establish good ties with Russia in contrast to his predecessor.
Until the new administration consolidates its power, it is unlikely that Washington will engage in outright clashes with Russia.
However, considering the hard-liners in Trump’s administration, this honeymoon will not last long; at some point, a crisis is inevitable, but it is also too early to say where in the world conflict will first erupt.
In this context, the course of the Cyprus talks this week is important in terms of determining the security balance in the Mediterranean.
Another key determinant of the future order in the Middle East will be the U.S. approach to Iran. Will Trump follow an accommodating or a confrontational policy toward Iran, such as revoking the nuclear deal?
Given the anti-Iran stance of the names expected to join his administration, Washington might focus on containing Tehran instead of challenging Russia in the short run by driving a wedge between Russia and Iran and Turkey and Iran.
This strategy might already be in play when assessed in line with the recent cease-fire process between Russia and Turkey, which largely overshadowed Iran.
Since the air attack on Turkish soldiers in al-Bab on Nov. 24, 2016, Turkey’s rhetoric toward Iran has turned critical.
Turkey’s sharp u-turn regarding the Bashiqa camp and particularly PM Binali Yıldırım’s emphasis on the sovereignty of Iraq can be interpreted as a message to Iran, as well.
It is no secret that PM Haidar al-Abadi is not content with the image of leading a government in which Iran pulls the strings.
Trump’s presidency is most likely to bring about changes on a regional as well as global scale. One should bear in mind that periods of transition have always been full of risks and uncertainties, all of which require immense statecraft.