America and Turkey: A Difficult RelationshipOctober 13, 2017 12:00 am Leave your thoughts
As a starter, it’s important to stress that there is no fundamental ideological divide between East and West any longer. Turkey was on the front line of the confrontation with the USSR in the decades’ long post-war Cold War standoff.
There is now no longer one big enemy as during the height of the Cold War when East confronted West in what appeared to be a battle to the end, notwithstanding the brief period of Detente. Today America and Russia are not engaged in a fundamental conflict despite the loud noises from the media in the US and the near hysteria over alleged Russian interference in the presidential election. It might feel like McCarthyism all over again but surely this is largely an artificial crisis manufactured by the Democrats who refuse to look at why they lost the presidential election and instead prefer to take what is the far easier option of blaming Russia to avoid examining too closely their own policy weaknesses and failure of their leadership, i.e. the very flawed candidate they ran in Hillary Clinton. It’s an avoidance of reality and while dangerous it does not reflect a permanent or fundamental divide between the US and Russia. Trump was actually quite correct when he remarked that the US and Russia should try to “get along together”. Today they have a common enemy in defeating radical Islamic terrorism and a common interest in ensuring that the North Korea crisis does not escalate into full-blown confrontation. America joined with Russia and China at the UN on the Korea issue.
In fact radical Islamic terrorism is a common foe of the US, Europe, China and Russia. Trump initially saw that was the case but he has been blown off course by the wild political intrigue stirred up by a Democrat-leaning media. The Russia threat is the biggest piece of “fake news” ever in fact.
The United States as well as its allies in the Middle East, including Israel and the wealthy Gulf states, Qatar and Saudi Arabia in particular, and of course Turkey, have been playing dangerous games with radical Islamic terrorism to gain strategic advantage; at present all their common objectives are regime change in Syria and to pull Iraq away from Iran, although Turkey has latterly significantly moved away from these aims.
The sponsoring of Islamic extremists is nothing new and was first evident in Afghanistan where the US gave its backing, materially, logistically and ideologically, to the Mujahedeen who were fighting jihad against the Soviet backed regime in Kabul in the ’70s. The US likewise backed ruthless terror groups in Latin America at this time, for example, the Contras in Nicaragua; clearly, Washington has never held back from supporting the nastiest groups as long as they are anti-Communist. The same argument that they are supporting anti-Communists today does not work today simply because there is no Communist threat.
The anti-Russian sentiments are fabricated and ordinary people fail to see why their leaders keep banging on about Russia all the time. In this respect, Turkey does not fall for the current anti-Russia crusade and is more open to forging new alliances especially when its relations with traditional western allies grow ever strained. In this regard, Turkey seems to have given up on ever becoming accepted as a member of the European Union or has at least expressed highly negative opinions about the prospect and even doubted that the country needs to join.
There are even solid evidential foundations for the argument that the US and its allies secretly set up these terror groups in the first place- it is said that ISIS leader Baghdadi is thought to have been covertly and extensively trained by Mossad.
Turkey was long thought to have been turning a blind eye to an ISIS support network that had been operating inside the country while ISIS volunteers from Western Europe were permitted to travel freely through Turkey to go to wage jihad in Syria.
This is a chapter of the Syrian crisis that is now effectively over as Turkey has taken action against such activities by jihadists and as ISIS is defeated on the ground inside Syria and Iraq as it loses the territory it once self-defined as a “Caliphate”. The creation of an Islamic Utopia in Syria and Iraq has all but been defeated by a combined but uneasy alliance of the major powers and local forces.
Ankara’s dispute with Washington focuses on the attitude to the Kurds, principally the Kurds in the PYG fighting as part of the SDF in Syria, whom Ankara sees simply as “cousins of the PKK”. Turkey is less worried by the existence of the KRG in Iraq and has little problem with Barzani in charge in Erbil, even though Turkey formally opposed the recent independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, as did every country in the world apart from the state of Israel, it seems that Turkey does not view the move as an immediate threat, unlike the advances of the PYG in Syria, this is because Turkey’s leaders fear the impact of any Kurdish successes in Syria on the Kurds inside Turkey: they worry that this will awaken Kurdish nationalistic aspirations in the southeast and these will be exploited by the PKK which Turkey sees only as a terrorist organisation and not as a political movement with mass support. Opportunistic Turkey has therefore used the aftermath of the failed coup as a pretext to crackdown on all Kurdish political organisations including elected representatives despite the fact that Kurds were not part of the coup plot, in fact they were one of the first to condemn it. The coup plot is attributed to the exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen, who is himself no friend of the Kurds. The US has expressed its concern at the scale of this crackdown, and refused Turkey’s demands to extradite Gulen claiming that there is not enough evidence of his involvement.
The current diplomatic crisis between Turkey and America is tied up with Gulen. The rift will not be resolved until something is done about Gulen. It is unclear if Washington would go to the brink of jeopardising its alliance with Turkey for the sake of Gulen.
Therefore relations could be resolved if the US were to move on Gulen’s fate.
They would not need to extradite him but just possibly indicate a willingness to look again at his case and consider Turkey’s allegations. So it is important not to exaggerate too much the depth of divisions. A lot of it is rhetoric and political theatre of which Erdogan is a master. Trump always speaks warmly of Erdogan too. It should also be born in mind that Turkey has always been a difficult partner for the West. In previous decades the Turkish Republic has suffered military coups and savage repression, also engaging in a virtual civil war with the Kurds in the 80s and 90s during which thousands died. Perhaps the current downward turn in relations is not so calamitous when set in the longer term context. Relations may be strained but they are not at breaking point just yet. So America and Turkey have always had a difficult relationship. The latest diplomatic row is simply the latest chapter in the history of what has been a very stormy affair indeed.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by David Morgan