The United States Cannot Have it Both Ways With Turkey

After Donald Trump Tweeted that French President Emmanuel Macron’s earlier statement suggesting that a pan-European army should be created in order to counter multiple “threats” including from the United States was “insulting”, it became immediately clear that the pseudo-G20 style summit masquerading as a war memorial in Paris was going to be more political war than peace.

Yet while Trump further stood out from his European hosts by refusing to attend a Saturday event at a military cemetery due to heavy rainfall, pictures have emerged showing a smiling Trump holding what appears to be a pleasant conversation at a dinner with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and First Lady Emine.

If the smiles are any indication of a geopolitical rapprochement between the nations with the two largest armies in NATO, then the otherwise calamity filled Paris summit can be named a success. However, such high hopes must be tempered with a sense of realism in respect of the present state of Turkey-US relations.

The tragic Saudi orchestrated murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led the United States to rethink its position vis-a-vis Turkey as Ankara’s handling of the internationally sensitive issue has clearly shown that Turkey’s leadership when it comes to bringing Khashoggi’s murders to justice has been peerless at a time when other nations have been exposed for giving Saudi Arabia a proverbial ‘get out of jail free card’ in spite of Riyadh’s dubious activities across several international borders.

Likewise, the conviction and release of the US national Andrew Brunson by Turkish judges has allowed a once contentions issue between the two states to fall by the wayside. Subsequent to Brunson’s release, Washington indeed dropped its sanctions against two Turkish government ministers, thus indicating that at some level a Turko-American rapprochement had already begun.

Finally, the beginning of joint Turkish-US military patrols in the YPG/PKK occupied Syrian city of Manbij has been greeted with cautious optimism by some although it is in north-eastern Syria where Turkey and the United States continue to have severe disagreements.

The fact that the US has not renounced and has not indicated that it has plans to renounce its battlefield alliance with a specifically anti-Turkish terror group operating in Syria is a definitive red line unless the US makes some tangible moves to ‘Arabize’ their occupation of north-eastern Syria. The fact of the matter is that because the PKK has murdered 40,000 people since the beginning of its dirty war against Turkey beginning in the late 1970s, it is simply unacceptable for a fellow NATO partner to be working with the Syrian branch of this terror group. Likewise, as the so-called YPG has fired deadly projectiles into Turkey from Syrian soil, the myth occasionally perpetuated by Washington that the YPG and PKK are different groups has clearly been exposed as a sham, not least because YPG terrorists took photos before a giant banner of the criminal PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Beyond this, as real life tales of horror regarding how the YPG/PKK treats those under its occupation continue to emerge, the US may find that in backing the YPG/PKK in Syria, not only is America backing a group that threatens the security and territorial unity of a traditional ally but that beyond this, the US is backing a group that treats those under its occupation in ways that violate every norm of civil society and international law.

Just as Turkey is able to compartmentalise and publicly contextualise its relations with the United States, Russia, the European Union, Iran and China – so too must the US be able to compartmentalise and publicly contextualise its relations with Turkey on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and Israel on the other.

If for example Mexico descended into a civil conflict, it would be unfathomable for Turkey to arm, fund and send troops to protect a Mexican terror group that specifically targets the United States. Yet in northern Syria, the US has done the exact equivalent in respect of partnering with a group that is constantly threatening Turkey’s security.

This is why, in spite of the wider world acknowledging that in respect of Jamal Khashoggi – Turkey got things right while also experiencing a thaw in relations since the release of Andrew Brunson, until the United States totally breaks off its armed alliance with the YPG/PKK in Syria, Turkey and the US will not be able to see eye to eye on an issue of vital importance.

The issue is not just one of many but is indeed the main area in which the decades old Turko-US partnership remains threatened. If American policy makers cannot see the long term folly of their inevitable short term alliance with a blood-soaked terror group in Syria, the good tidings that Trump and Erodgan greeted each other with in Paris will have all been for nothing.

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