The well-established relations between Washington and one of its most important NATO allies – Turkey, has recently come under strain due to a growing list of differences between the two and their often conflicting interests. Washington has responded to this development by sending the Turkish lira into a free fall that has recently hit a record low against the dollar. Although Turkish President Erdogan upon establishing his own party in 2002, but prior to his first electoral victories, could often be seen by the fireplace in the Oval Office, these days the growing mutual distrust between Ankara and Washington is clearly visible.
There are many reasons for this. Among the major ones is Washington’s stubborn refusal to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen currently residing in America, accused in Turkey of the attempted coup of July 2016.
Added to this, is the ongoing support the United States provides to different Kurdish communities much to Erdogan’s disappointment, as Ankara has always been particular sensitive to the problem of Kurdish separatism. Indeed, Turkey’s approach to the Syrian conflict wasn’t just dictated by its ambition of combating ISIS, but by its reluctance to allow Syrian Kurds to establish an enclave along its border. Given the fact that Turkey serves as home to the largest Kurdish group of 14 million people, the long-term military and political support of the Kurds provided by the United States poses a serious threat to the territorial integrity and security of Turkey. However, Washington’s approach to the Syrian conflict has effectively deprived Turkey of its hope that once ISIS is finally defeated, Washington will break its ties with the Syrian Kurds. This resulted in Ankara launching Operation Olive Branch in the northwestern part of Syria in late January, so it could clear the border region from the presence of PYD / YPG supporters, as well as any remaining ISIS militants.
The quarrel between Washington and Ankara reached new heights due to Ankara seeking ways to mend its relations with Russia through allowing the construction of the Turkish Stream joint gas pipeline and its determination to acquire Russia’s S-400 air defense systems, thus becoming the first NATO member to purchase weapons that were not produced in the US. As a result, Washington began voicing demands to kill the weapon deal in exchange for allowing Turkey to acquire its Patriot air defense systems, while kicking Turkey out of the F-35 program and embarking on a sanctions rampage through exploiting the Law on Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions (CASTA).
However, it’s clear to pretty much everyone at this point that the driving force between the crisis in bilateral relations between Turkey and the United States is the fact that Ankara has been gradually increasing its influence across its home region in recent years, as it pursues an independent foreign policy and protects its national interests. This leads to Turkey seeking cooperation with other regional and global powers, primarily with Russia. In this context, the purchase of Russia’s S-400 and the operations conducted by Turkey in Syria in order to ensure its territorial integrity have undoubtedly become a point of concern for the United States. The latter is dead-set to force Turkey into abandoning these policies, through using a number of trump cards up its sleeve, including sanctions.
Given NATO’s failure to secure its stated goals (namely, the fight against terrorism), this alliance is becoming an instrument of Washington’s foreign policy, with Ankara’s membership status turning into a bargaining chip. Should the two countries part their ways, this can seriously weaken NATO to the point where other members begin questioning the validity of the alliance, and this Washington cannot allow, which means that it will continue putting more pressure on Ankara.
In his revelations he published in The New York Times, Erdogan would point out that:
Over the years, Turkey rushed to America’s help whenever necessary…Yet the United States has repeatedly and consistently failed to understand and respect the Turkish people’s concerns. And in recent years, our partnership has been tested by disagreements. Unfortunately, our efforts to reverse this dangerous trend proved futile.
There’s no hiding the fact that the US Congress and the entire political establishment has been bitterly disenchanted with the figure of the sitting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, notes the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. American congressmen were not just enraged by Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian air defense systems, but also by Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria. And finally, they reacted by double slapping Turkey by formally recognizing the “Turkish massacre of Armenians” in 1915 as genocide. In addition, the other day, after several unsuccessful attempts to get a majority of votes, the US Senate Foreign Policy Committee has nevertheless adopted a law that enacts sanctions against Turkey.
Ankara, as it was expected, has angrily reacted to such actions, with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announcing that there could be a review of the provision that allowed US forces to occupy two major air bases within the Turkish territory. Incirlik airbase in the southern province of Adana has been one of the primary hubs of US operations in the Middle East for years, including operations conducted in Syria and Iraq. The other base – Kureggik is located in the east of the country and is one of the key NATO bases in the region.
In an attempt to talk some reason into the American establishment, Tayyip Erdogan has recently announced:
At a time when evil continues to lurk around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States, our ally of decades, will only serve to undermine American interests and security. Before it is too late, Washington must give up the misguided notion that our relationship can be asymmetrical and come to terms with the fact that Turkey has alternatives. Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.