Washington and Ankara are Parting Ways with One Another
These days one can come across all sorts of articles that try to predict the direction that the US-Turkish relationship is going to take, as we’re witnessing a major shift on the geopolitical stage and both of these states play no small part in it. As it’s been noted by American analysts, unlike in previous eras, Washington and Ankara no longer share overarching threats or interests that bind them together, while their bilateral ties are riddled distrust.
Although the relations between Turkey and the United States have always been strained, they would still be sustained under the pretext of a threat that the USSR allegedly represented to both of these states. Therefore, disputes and all sorts of differences would typically be ignored. However, ever since the 1950s each successive US president has devoted his time to publicly recognize that Turkey plays a pivotal role In Washington’s designs. Then in the 1990s, US officials and analysts would claim that Turkey was poised to lead the economic and democratic development of the Central Asian states, while affecting Russia in a way favorable to the US. Moreover, back then the rapidly developing ties between Turkey and Israel resulted in Washington getting the idea that Washington, Tel-Aviv and Ankara would be natural partners in ensuring Western dominance across the Middle-East.
Throughout the Cold War, the nature of Turkish-American security cooperation played an important role in containing the USSR, this fact resulted in mutually irritating incidents being ignored by both sides. However, today, almost three decades after the end of the Cold War, Turkey and the United States would often find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum on most major international issues.
Over that period of time the world has undergone drastic changes, and one one would be a fool to ignore that fact. Even though some of the difficulties Washington faces in managing the bilateral relations with Turkey can be attributed to figure of the sitting Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, still most of those difficulties have natural causes. After all, even those Turkish politicians who are in opposition to Tayyip Erdogan still support the government of Bashar Assad, on top of being outright hostile to Kurdish nationalism and the figure of the runaway radical cleric Fethullah Gulen, who found refuge in the United States.
Moreover, Tayyip Erdogan would openly demonstrates Ankara’s negative attitude towards Washington’s desperate attempt to cling to its hegemony aspirations, as Turks support the notion of redrawing the global political landscape to make it truly multipolar. On top of that, there’s a long list of unresolved contradictions that have accumulated between Turkey and the US over years and years of unresolved disputes. Specifically, Washington has taken a harsh stance on Ankara’s intention of acquiring Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 air defense systems, while Ankara is targeting Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria, as those represent a major threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity. In addition, Ankara makes attempts to help Iran bypass Western sanctions, while getting increasingly repressive in its domestic policies. Those steps are guided by the embedded fears that pro-Western Kurdish militant formations in Syria may eventually try to demand the formation of a separate Kurdish state, which would be a nightmarish scenario for Turkey, as it will lose a chunk of its territories to this new player. However, Washington is all too willing to ignore those fears, as there’s a strengthening conviction that Ankara is a capricious all that is all to happy to ignore Washington’s strategic goals of containing Russia and China in the Middle East and Central Asia.
It’s most likely that the list of mutual contradictions and grievances between the two is going to multiply, making reaching mutual understanding even harder. Due to numerous complication in its dealings with the United States, Ankara would try to seek new geopolitical avenues through seeking closer ties with Moscow and Tehran, while also trying to improve its standing with the EU.
Those difficult times in the American-Turkish relations leave little place for optimism in public statements made by the representatives of those states. It’s true there’ no shortage of bilateral contacts, but the United States and Turkey are actively working on advancing their own agenda, while ignoring the grievances of the other side. There’s been reports about phone conversations between Donald Trump and Tayyip Erdogan, negotiations between representatives of the Pentagon and Turkey’s defense ministry, but still no progress in resolving the above mentioned issues can be seen.
The main talking point for Ankara these days is the ongoing intrigue around the so-called “security zone” in northern Syria. Turkish propaganda sources have kicked its efforts on promoting this topic in high gear. Following the media, official government bodies are also hard at work making slogans out of the speeches pronounced by Tayyip Erdogan, stressing that: “It’s impossible to act in Syria without Turkey,” “The United States must create a security zone together with Turkey,” “Only Turkey should control the security zone,” etc. Considerable effort has been wasted on the promotion of all these points, they are being repeatedly stressed by both the representatives of the Turkish elite and local political scientists. At the same time, Turkish media sources would underline the unacceptability of anyone else deploying its forces in the “security zones”, except for Turkey. Moreover, they would also insist that: “The US cannot lose Turkey, which has been a faithful ally for 70 years”.
In the comments of Turkish officials, sometimes there signs of real annoyance over the fact that Washington wouldn’t share with Ankara its vision of the process of US troops withdrawal from Syria, just like its designs for this country. As can be understood, the uncertainty of American position holds back Ankara from drawing its own plans in the region. There is a clear desire to somehow “push” Washington into some sort of action, that’s how Erdogan’s repeated statements can be interpreted, as he implies that if Washington cannot decide what to do, then Turkey will act on its own in the regions east of the Euphrates.
On the issue of S-400, Turkey refused the deal recently proposed by Washington to supply American Patriot air defence systems at the end of 2019 in exchange for burying the contract with Moscow. No matter how the US tries to sweeten the pill, Turkey is well aware of the fact that Patriot is inferior in most every aspect to the Russian S-400. And there should be no surprise over this fact, as even the Foreign Policy would go on about the inefficiency of American anti-aircraft systems. It’s precisely the reason why the United States would try to adopt the Israeli Iron Dome for its own defence needs, while advertising the outdated hardware to its “faithful allies.”
On the Capitol hill, the overall attitude towards Turkey is also getting increasingly tough. Congressmen are beginning to doubt whether “Turkey is worthy of NATO membership”, as the Russian-Turkish military cooperation is interpreted as a “threat” to the security of the Alliance. There’s plans of imposing sanctions on Ankara under CAATSA, while maintaining the moratorium on the delivery of F-35 Lighting.
As a result, the current political elite of the United States leads the country’s leadership to the idea that in the future, American policy should be guided by the fact that Turkey is not a friend of the United States, although it is not yet an enemy. Washington will still work with Ankara when it will be able to reap profits from this cooperation, but it will be equally happy to play against it.
However, whether the US will benefit from such a position and whether it will cause even more damage to Washington – only time can tell.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”