Demonstrative of what is widely understood as a pressing need for rapprochement between the U.S. and Turkey, last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson was welcomed in Ankara by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan and Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlt avuoglu. A day prior, U. S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis had a lengthy meeting in Brussels with Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministers Conference.
Perhaps not as proactive as circumstances may demand, however, the interaction amongst top-level U.S. and Turkish officials is, nevertheless, testimony to the indispensable strategic partnership that has existed for more than 60 years between Washington and Ankara. The currently prioritized face-to-face dialogue is concrete recognition of the strategic importance that Ankara continues to garner.
The United States’s bilateral alliance with Turkey has proven to be critical in the realm of the multifaceted strategic cooperation in defense that necessarily exists in the region and in terms of the Middle East security matrix, addressing the war against ISIS, Syria’s complex security challenges and cooperation in multilateral organizations such as NATO, G20 and other platforms.
The Washington-Ankara partnership has been pivotal in addressing a series of pressing security challenges that NATO faces today, as well as largely assisting to limit the influence exerted by Russia and Iran in the Middle East.
It appears too, following a decade of “leading from behind,” the U.S. has understood the importance that Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey plays in securing a peaceful Middle East, curtailing war destruction.
The recently propelled dialogue by key leaders of both governments surmises that U.S. officials have finally recognized that terrorist tactics by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and People’s Protection Units (YPG, aka the Syrian Democratic Forces -SDF) are inexorably linked to one another and that Ankara cannot allow a terrorist group to threaten its sovereign territory.
Ankara’s national security posture is in substance no different to that of the U.S. The primary duty of the Turkish government is to defend its territory and to protect its citizens.
The meetings of mid-February seemed to convince official Washington that there are no altruistic reasons behind YPG’s willingness to work with the Pentagon in defeating ISIS. It is public knowledge that YPG aspires to establish an independent state within the territories of Syria and Turkey.
All of these principles are nonnegotiable and indispensable to Washington, as is safeguarding regional security and geostrategic balances in the Middle East. The White House must realize that a stronger YPG would be disastrous for the region and is prone to inflict terrorist attacks. The time has come for Washington to realize that a concerted strategy with its key NATO ally is in its best interest.
In the context of future policy and strengthening of the bilateral partnership built upon mutual respect and shared interests; Washington must explore ways to reaffirm the profound relationship with Turkey, address a complex security landscape and strengthen economic cooperation.
According to U. S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson; ” Turkey has allowed the United States and other NATO countries to base forces in Incirlik, [it] is the linchpin of strategic stability at the crossroads of the three continents. Our two countries share the same objectives in Syria: the defeat of ISIS, Daesh “
This statement epitomizes the important role that Turkey plays in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy and regional security strategy in the Middle East. On the other hand, Mr. Mattis reiterated the Pentagon’s commitment to help Turkey fight PKK and help Ankara secure its borders, while fully acknowledging in Brussels the legitimate security concerns of Turkey.
In order to continue to overcome such a crisis of confidence, Washington must genuinely support Turkey’s operation Olive Branch assigned to eradicate the terrorist networks in Afrin and fight all terrorist factions, including PKK’s Syrian affiliate, PYD, YPG or SDF, and the Gulenist Terror Group (FETO) network in the US.
It would be remiss not to emphasize that the extradition to Turkey of radical cleric Fethullah Gulen who, by all the evidence, planned and orchestrated the violent attempted coup d’etat in Turkey a year ago, is a simple, yet utmost weighty way, to renew relations. In doing so, U.S. taxpayers will also save the hundreds of millions they are bilked out of each year by Mr. Gulen’s profoundly corrupt charter school network in the U.S.
Over the last 60 years, Washington and Ankara have shown an untarnished role to become the grand arbiters of regional security in the Middle East and beyond. Whether the Department of State and the Pentagon are up for this challenge, it remains to be seen in the months ahead.
• Peter M. Tase, is a strategist on the geopolitics of the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Latin America.