The American Interest
MIDDLE EAST AFLAME
The U.S. and Turkey: Past the Point of No Return?
With Ankara and Washington on a collision course in northern Syria, both sides will have to rethink their priorities if they want to salvage an increasingly hollow alliance.
U.S.-Turkish relations have deteriorated for some time. But until recently, no one would have thought that the American and Turkish militaries, closely allied since the 1950s, could end up confronting each other directly. Yet in northern Syria today, that is no longer unthinkable.
In mid-January, to forestall U.S. intentions to build a “Border Security Force” composed mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters, Turkey launched a military operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin enclave in northwestern Syria. On January 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his determination to move beyond Afrin into other parts of northern Syria, mentioning specifically the town of Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed alongside Kurdish YPG troops. Turkish officials warned the United States to sever its ties to the Kurdish forces, which Turkey considers a terrorist group. This led President Donald Trump to tell Erdoğan to “avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”
The collision course Ankara and Washington are on is making any notion of a Turkish-American alliance increasingly hollow. If a point of no return is to be avoided, both sides will have to rethink their priorities, and begin to build trust. That process can begin with an honest appraisal of how we got to this point, with America and Turkey on the verge of coming to blows.
In the United States, much of the blame has naturally been laid at the feet of Erdoğan, the headstrong and authoritarian Turkish President. To American eyes, it is easy to see how Erdoğan’s growing intolerance of dissent goes hand in hand with an increasingly adventurist foreign policy that directly challenges American interests. Yet while Erdogan is part of the problem, its full scope goes far beyond a single individual. The real story of the past several years is how the Syrian and Kurdish issues have interacted with Turkish domestic politics to pull Ankara and Washington apart.
By Svante E. Cornell
in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.
January 2, 2018
When President Trump announced that the US had recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the region prepared for violence. Aside from a few days of sporadic protests, relatively little happened. Most Arab leaders – Saudi Arabia chief among them – took the decision in their stride. The one major exception was Turkey. This intriguing op-ed explores why the NATO ally has reacted as it has. Read on! The Editor.
Both in Europe and the United States, this argument is made with increasing frequency but it doesn’t reflect reality.
On October 31, a citizen of Uzbekistan was arrested for the terrorist attack in New York City that led to the death of eight people. The attack drew parallels to a similar truck attack earlier this year in Stockholm, as well as terrorist deeds in Istanbul and St. Petersburg. In these cases the perpetrators were of Uzbek origin. In addition, over 2,000 Central Asians have taken part in the civil war in Syria, fighting for jihadi organizations like the Islamic State or the Nusra Front. Is Central Asia a breeding ground for extremism?
By S. Frederick Starr
Both Asia and the West have failed to come to grips with Central Asia, and both are now paying a price for this failure. True, it’s easy to ignore a region that until recently appeared only on the western fringes of maps of Asia, the eastern fringe of maps of Europe, or the southern fringe of maps of Russia. But as we start to view the Eurasian landmass as a single continent, Eureka! There is Central Asia, square in the centre!
Dealing With Turkey: Taking the Long View
By Svante E. Cornell
October 31, 2017
The U.S.-Turkish relationship has recently become so bad that analysts in both countries now wonder if it is beyond repair. There are good grounds for the worsening of this relationship, not least President Tayyip Erdoḡan’s increasingly blatant anti-Americanism. But going forward, American leaders must not make the mistake of equating Turkey with Erdoḡan. They must devise a policy that maintains a long-term view of Turkey as an American ally.
Turkey has a unique position in the Muslim world as a country that held the Caliphate for several hundred years but then turned into a secular republic. Over the past ninety years, Islam has coexisted uneasily with the Turkish state, which has tried both to co-opt and suppress a powerful political Islamic movement that began gathering force in the 1960s. Turkey is unique in the fact that a movement rooted in political Islam managed not only to come to power in democratic elections, but proved able to stay in power and continue to win elections for over a decade. Whereas this aspect of the Turkish experience is widely lauded by Western observers, there is nevertheless another side to the coin. As the power of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) grew, they also turned increasingly authoritarian and Islamist. Turkey’s experience is indicative of the broader nature of “moderate” political Islam, and its relationship with democracy; it suggests that “moderate Islamism” has embraced the mechanics of electoral democracy but not its fundamental values.