The U.S. and Turkey partnership has come under serious strains due to continuous differing policies and conflict of interest of the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Both nations’ partnership is built on distrust, suspicion, and absence of effort to fix the recurring differences.
The current strains are due to the U.S. arming the Kurdish fighters (YPG) in northern Syria. The main reason for Ankara’s objection lies in Turkey’s internal Kurdish conflict. Ankara views the YPG as an extension of PKK and has repeatedly called Washington to cease its partnership with the YPG, empathizing with its historical relationship with the Kurdish fighters and its concern for national security. Ankara is concerned that the weapons provided to the Kurdish military will be used against them.
Washington has accused Ankara of turning a blind eye to the Islamic State (I.S.), and failing to stop the flow of extremist fighters within the country. In contrast to Turkey, the U.S. has ignored the “connection” between the PKK and YPG to successfully complete its struggle against I.S. This indicates the confidence and dependence Washington has with the Kurdish military.
The differing policy visions and disagreement between the two nations has become a concern. Truthfully, both sides need each other. Turkey claims itself to be a regional hegemony. It has one of NATO’s largest armies and it is an emerging economy, demonstrating the use of soft and hard power to serve its interests. Since the beginning of the Erdogan administration, Ankara has attempted in every opportunity to be a leader and assert regional influence. As Turkey flourishes economically and politically, it expects the U.S. to support its decisions. Otherwise, Washington’s failure to meet Ankara’s interests can push Turkey into a closer relationship with Russia and Iran.
Despite the tensions between the two nations, Ankara still remains incorporated with Europe and the U.S. as that is where its interests are. Turkey is not an oil and natural gas exporter and thus, the country’s economic stability is dependent on the market economy. Turkey needs to maintain peace with Europe and the U.S. as most of its trade, investment, and tourism comes from these two places.
Despite the heat between Ankara and Washington in January 2018 as Turkey started the Afrin operation, known as the “Operation Olive Branch,” at a press conference in February, the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu, agreed on the importance of U.S.-Turkey alliance. To restore relations, Cavusoglu announced that the countries have agreed to “establish a ‘joint mechanism’ to deal with the disputes and take ‘collective response.’”
Recently (March 10), the Trump administration has told Turkey it will acknowledge its demands and restrain Kurdish fighters who have been the key players in supporting the U.S. campaign against the I.S. The announcement from Washington has momentarily ceased the tension between the two nations.
Unfortunately, there is no happy ending for I.S. is the Kurds. The U.S. has calculated that the war against I.S. will end, therefore, fixing its relationship with Turkey which outweighs the Kurds loyalty.