In order to appreciate our present, very dangerous relationship with Turkey, it is important to understand its world history however briefly reviewed: The Ottomans Empire lasted a bit over 624 years (ending in 1923). If you were to visualize a map of the Mediterranean Sea with your anchor in present day Turkey and then create a backward letter “C” – moving west on the rim of its northern and southern shores you would begin to visualize its vast control of that part of the world. In essence, the “empire” was an assemblage of voluntary and captured countries. Admittedly, the Empire became one of the most powerful and controlling world powers in all history.
The Empire was very much pro German before the start of WWI. I would suggest you go back to see the marvelous movie: Lawrence of Arabia. It deals with another aspect of the area’s history during the same time-frame as Lawrence led a revolt of the Arab people against the Empire. When the United States entered WWI it declared hostilities against Germany. The Ottoman Empire in April 1917, then severed its diplomatic ties with the United States. It wasn’t until 10 years later, long after the secession of hostilities, that formal diplomatic relations were re-established with the Ottoman Empire’s successor, now the created independent nation state, Turkey. For reasons that are immaterial at his juncture, the United States never declared war against the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey’s place, this very day, is front and center on the United States’ military and political map. The complexities created by the waring parities, local and international, in Iraq, the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS and the Kurdish peoples demand for nation status, has created an ongoing volatile conflict worthy of a Shakespeare drama. In this geo-political arena, two long allies– Turkey and the United States– have collided and have escalated their collision on a daily basis as they represent, at the same moment, different, overlapping and in some cases violently competing military goals and parties. In addition, Turkey’s political structure has undergone profound political upheaval that complicates the areas security and our long standing relationship. The future does not present a good picture for our interest in that region of the world as our diplomacy with succeeding administrations has been less than successful. America’s voice in that region is but a feeble croak.
The time line of the United States and its present day confrontation with an ever increasingly anti-American hostile Turkey can start with the Cold War and the West’s confrontation with the swelling political, geographic and aggressive engagements of the Soviet Union. A reasonable marking date is 1974, with the advent of the Truman Doctrine. The United States Congress chose Turkey, among other nations, as the recipient of extraordinary economic and military aid, with the heating of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine would be the foundation, with its immense financial assistance to help to create a major Turkish military force now attached to NATO and a strong, hardened army in the war against ISIS forces. It would become the basis upon which these two countries would build their relationship for the next four decades. It is also prudent to know that 2.5 billion dollars found its way into Istanbul in just one twenty year period, and help jolted Turkey’s shift toward massive democratic reforms in the election process, political representation and substantial social restructuring, until its recent swift and politically violent flipping of that Muslin nation. Its present stance while not altogether hostile is clearly strongly anti-American.
There were political and military actions that the United States undertook in Iraq that caused increasing strident outrages in Istanbul, but those headlines did not became the reason for its political transformation. Today, Turkey can be defined as a quasi-dictatorship.
Turkey has fought a long, costly insurgent war against the Kurdish people in general and the Kurdistan Worker Party (the PKK) in particular. The PKK is recognized by the EU and the United States as a terrorist group. But, and equally important, there is more than one Kurdistan group seeking its people’s independence. Turkey has been involved in an increasingly hostile war toward the Kurdish people in general and their demands. (Either as an independent Kurdish state within the borders of its destabilizing neighboring state or within its own national boundaries.)
Turkey’s turn away from democracy and its norms began with Erdogan’s grab for political power in mid-2016. He accused the U.S. Military Command of siding with the architects of a failed coup while Istanbul arrested certain Pentagon contacts in Turkey. With the crushing of the coup, there were deep mass arrests ordered by Erdogan not only up and down the ranks within the army but also in the judiciary and civil service. Istanbul then demanded the United States government extradite a Turkish cleric and national living in the States as the coup’s instigator. The United States government, in turn, demanded that Turkey produce the “evidence” that the cleric was in fact connected with the attempted coup. The Turkish controlled press followed, claiming that a United States general was behind the coup which was followed quickly by the American suspension “indefinitely” of all non-immigrant visas from Turkey with the traditional tic-for-tac suspensions by Turkey.
To complicate both the political clash and the war on the ground, during the ongoing Syrian Civil War, the United States forces have been openly allied with the Kurdish YPG fighters and have been supporting them with military and logistic help. Turkey considers these Kurdish fighters in the same light as the PKK, namely as terrorists and has told Washington they will attack those Kurds with the same force as those they employed against the PKK. It has been alleged, in current headlines, that the deadly nanpan has been deployed against civilians in the town of Azaz in northern Syria. This puts the United States and Turkey in direct military conflict.
In addition, in its lurch from a secular democratic nation state, Turkey has joined Qatar as the prime source of funding to speed the spread of extreme Islamism “everywhere from western Africa to Southeast Asia”.
The news reports describing the area’s conflict both politically and on the battlefield is Russia’s physical arrival in the area with its continued support of Syria’s Assad against United States’ interests in the region. This in turn will not only complicate the delicate state of our security interests but complicate the ground hostiles. It will then stall or even more than likely collapse any meaningful democratic move in Syria’s future and will permit yet another tyrant, Assad to remain in office.
Intertwined is the predictable direct military clash between United States and Turkish forces with Russia sitting at Istanbul’s side. Turkey, which looks less each day like a NATO ally, it is claimed consulted Moscow before attacking U.S. Kurdish allies in northern Syria and has obtained surface air-to air missiles from its sponsor the Russians.
The future of the Kurdish people and their lives as a people is in jeopardy. And their outcome can be reliably predicted by examining the United States’ previous behavior– it will leave unconscionably yet another weaker ally in the lurch, as we did with the Iraqi Kurds in Kirkuk, and now to abandon the Syrian Kurds as soon as it is expedient, advantageous, and politic for us. Why do we choose the strongest military ally however faulted and compromised instead of the appropriate one?