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Turkey and US: an icy relationship, but convenient

Reader comment on item: ‚Äč"The 60-year U.S.-Turkish Alliance is Over"

Submitted by Michael S (United States), Nov 12, 2015 at 03:08

* How do you foresee the future of the relations?

I would be surprised if they ever return to the warmth and trust of the pre-AKP era. They will be business-like and correct without the enthusiastic spirit that began long ago in Korea.

I agree with this empriically, though I cannot grasp the depth of how a Middle East scholar sees this. The Korean War was before my time (I was only a child then), and I never met a Turk until in the early 2000s -- and even then it was a select group of a few very secular students.

I'm equally unable to relate to Barack Obama, and the political base he represents. Trying to understand how "America" will deal with "Turkey", then, reduces in my mind to some very sterile, impersonal facts:

  1. Turkey and the US APPEAR to be at cross-purposes regarding ISIS and the YPG
  2. Turkey and the US are intimately connected by deep and sensitive bonds of technology sharing, intelligence sharing and long-term investments in human capital
  3. #2 is a stronger connection than #1; therefore, I doubt the sincerity of #1: US support for YPG and opposition to ISIS must therefore be shams.

The facts on the ground bear this out: After several years of supporting YPG against ISIS, we have only 50 special forces on the ground, and conduct occasional airstrikes. The Russians, on the other hand, after less than two months of becoming intertwined in the conflict, they conduct many dozens of focused airstrikes every day, coordinated closely with thousands of Russian "volunteers" working on the ground with Assad's men.

US Alliances have been essentially unchanged since the US Civil War: Since that time, our main allies were the British Empire and its dominions: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa until around 1990. When Turkey was friendly with the British, they were our friends; when they were enemies with the British (as in WWI), they became our enemies; and when they were neutral, we didn't pay much attention to them. LIkewise with the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, etc. Concerning China, the rule of thumb has been that whenever US relations with China improved, they declied with Japan; and visa versa.

Turkey is, and has always been, peripheral to our core strategic interests. Israel is in this same category, despite the protestations of every US leader since Truman that we actually give a hoot. In 1948, President Truman was instrumental in allowing Israel to become an independent country. Then, when the Israeli Jews were being attacked on all sides by well-trained and wel-equipped armies, Truman slapped an arms embargo on them. In 1956, President Eisenhower even went against our British allies, siding with the Soviets to oppose Israel. President Kennedy, until his untimely death, was continually putting pressure on Israel in a testy relationship; and this sort of relationship has characterized most subsequent US Administrations with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson, Israel's best ever friend in the US.

Until Erdogan, Turkey's relationship with us largely mirrored Israel's: Officially, we were all allies; but in the nitty-gritty of things, we didn't see eye-to-eye. Turkey has been strategically important to us -- first, as a major military power bordering the Soviet Union; and later, as a major military power bordering the Islamic world. Even under Erdogan, Turkey is strategically important to us and we are useful to them; but there's no "warmth" in the relationship that I can detect. In fact, it seems rather icy.


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