Confrontation between Turkey and US set to continue
Relations between Turkey and the U.S. have probably never been so tense.
What lies behind the worsening situation in Ankara-Washington ties? Is it a continuation of the March 2003 syndrome, when tension peaked around the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Are the Americans trying to punish Turkey and the so-called “Eurasianists” here? Or is it possible to say the “caliphate” hopes of a certain someone, the hallucinations of “Sunni solidarity” are at the root of this discord? Or is the perennial perception seeing Kurdish demands for fundamental rights as an “existential threat” at the root of this discord?
Perhaps, in the absence of a new Yalta deal, continued proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia and local greed aiming to take advantage of this situation can be blamed. Could it be possible to go out with one guy, flirt with another, while still claiming to live happily with your old partner? Of course, it is not compatible with the concept of loyalty to dump a 60-year-old marriage for the sake of a fleeting momentary pleasure.
One has to be worse than naïve to try to convince the Turks that separatist terrorists that have been waging a futile campaign against the Turkish state can be enrolled to serve as allies in the fight against other enemies. How can an ally provide sophisticated arms and ammunition to a group considered by Turkey as a serious terrorist threat to its security and still claim that it respects the responsibilities of an alliance?
Having a few sessions of talks at various levels may demonstrate a will for a resolution. But unfortunately the problems are far bigger than the American nourishing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) or the Turkish purchase of S-400 defense systems from Russia. Talks between the two countries initiated by the sacked Rex Tillerson and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu duo were doomed to fail from the start. That is not just because Tillerson was fired as secretary of state, it is because the interests of Turkey and the U.S. in Syria in particular and in the Middle East in general fundamentally conflict with each other.
So these talks have not opened a new page in Turkey-U.S. relations. But the departure of Tillerson and the arrival of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state - as well as his prospective successor as CIA chief, Gina Haspel - could mark a bleak new start. The new tsars of Washington will most likely undertake some very dangerous and explosive plans in isolating Iran and perhaps even Russia.
The explosive, not-so-distant remarks of Pompeo regarding Turkey’s sole-decision maker, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, should also not be forgotten. Would it be an exaggeration to believe that with Pompeo in such a strong position in the U.S. administration the probability of sanctions imposed on Turkey either because of the S-400 controversy or because of the case against Hakan Atilla (and formerly against Reza Zarrab), the verdict in which is due to be announced on April 7? After all, it should not be forgotten that David Cohen, a close associate of Pompeo for years, is one of the people who testified against Atilla.
Pompeo has staunchly supported using the PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a force against Iran. Could he agree to a compromise deal, at least for the containment of the PYD and the YPG east of the Euphrates?
Tillerson would have been unable to deliver anything to please Turkey, and Pompeo will be unwilling to do so. It seems that Turkey will not compromise on its operations in Afrin and elsewhere in Syria if it considers those moves necessary for its national defense. Will the U.S. consent to that in Manbij and elsewhere? No. Therefore, the era of cold confrontation between Ankara and Washington appears certain to continue.