Trump and Turkey 100 days on

Trump and Turkey 100 days on

U.S. President Donald Trump passed his 100th day in office on April 29. While the first 100 days is traditionally a benchmark for change in the Oval Office, many things have certainly been reconfigured in Washington. 

However, in contrast, little can be said to have changed around U.S. policies concerning Turkey. 

In the first months of the Trump administration, strategies mixed, policies changed, and Turkey pushed for a new, elevated place in Washington. Now, with a clearer direction in place, it seems that only Ankara’s self-promotion among American officials is still taking place. 

While Trump’s congratulatory phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following the April 16 constitutional referendum has animated the imaginations of Turkey’s governmental cadres, the backlash in Washington has been substantial. Long-standing institutional disagreements concerning not only the U.S.-Turkey relationship but, more importantly, the U.S. policy in Syria continue both within Washington and between Washington and Ankara.

Below is an updated quick guide to the key issues continuing to plague U.S.-Turkish relations within the first 100 days of the Trump administration.

On the PYD/YPG… 

Recent Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq and Syria have been telling of the United States’ support for the People’s Democratic Units (YPG), who Washington views as a partner against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Turkey views as a partner to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which both countries consider as a terrorist organization. While Turkish airstrikes have been targeted at PKK forces across Turkey’s border, the number of YPG forces who have also been killed in the attacks has drawn the ire of the U.S. government. Disapproving remarks and angry tweets have come from the U.S. State Department, Pentagon, and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) alike, with only the White House remaining silent to the issue. Within the past 100 days, it has become clearer that the U.S. will not abandon Turkey as its ally, but it has also become clearer that the U.S. will not abandon the YPG as its partner as long as it continues to fight ISIL.

On safe zones in northern Syria…

This is perhaps the biggest non-issue given the current situation on the ground in Syria. With increased Western and Russian support of the Kurdish cantons stretching across Turkey’s border, only a small fraction of territory wedged in between them is under control of the Turkish military, and Turkey has little wiggle room in which to work out much possibility of a utopian safe zone that it could patrol with U.S. support. No concrete plans for such zones have come to light within these 100 days.

On Gülen’s extradition… 

Although Turkey continues to raise the issue of the extradition of Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gülen, the man allegedly responsible for perpetrating the July 15, 2016, coup attempt and the forming a parallel state within Turkey, upon any interaction with any U.S. official, the U.S. government has remained most quiet on this issue. Despite this issue’s jurisdiction within the U.S. Department of Justice, the Turkish government has brought up the issue of Gülen with U.S. officials from Trump to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The issue of the extradition reached the height of scandal when it was revealed that former Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn met with a number of high-ranking Turkish officials in New York in September 2016 to discuss the possibility of the imam’s extradition by force. Given this as well as their lack of institutional jurisdiction, U.S. officials are now all the more hesitant to discuss the issue. 

Reading this situation, it can be surmised that while the U.S. has examined and considered its issues with Turkey within Trump’s first 100 days, concrete steps toward the resolution of key issues between the two allies have yet to be taken. The least that can be said of the relationship is that while nothing moved forward, nothing moved back. In the end of the day 100, prophecies from earlier pieces have proven correct: Trump did not make Turkey his priority within his first 100 days in office.