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‘Turkish-American Relations: How to De-Escalate the Current Crisis, Restore Confidence and Fix Relations?’

21. Yüzyıl Türkiye Enstitüsü tarafından yazıldı.

INSIGHT Incek Debates

 Turkish-American Relations: How to de-escalate the current crisis, restore confidence and fix relations?

Incek Debates, on 24 January 2018, discussed ‘Turkish-American Relations and how to de-escalate the current crisis, restore confidence and fix relations’. Speakers were Amb Namık Tan, Ms Zeynep Gürcanlı(Sözcü) and Assoc Prof Oktay Bingöl (Başkent University). The session was chaired by Dr Haldun Solmaztürk and was participated by a select group of experts. Below is Rapporteur’s Summary of the debate, not necessarily reflecting particular viewpoints expressed by any one of the panelists, nor those of any one or of all the participants in consensus. The debate was off-the-record.

THIS IS NOT A COMPREHENSIVE PAPER ON THE SUBJECT, NOR MINUTES OF THE DEBATE, BUT ONLY RAPPORTEUR’S SUMMARY OF THE PROCEEDINGS—UPDATED ASOF 4 FEB 2018

Incek Debates, in February 2017, soon after President Trump came to office, warned about “overly optimistic expectations on the part of the Turkish government based on selective comparisons of Democratic administrations with Republican ones” because such comparisons were “not supported by political reality and historical record”. “A confluence of styles and overlap of certain values—at the top leadership level—(would) not necessarily lead to convergence in interests. Therefore, such unfounded expectations, divorced from respective national interests (were) simply artificial, misleading and counterproductive”, it was concluded. “There (were) many areas and issues over which potential clash of interests (were) doomed to come into play” and both countries appeared to have ‘no policy, no strategy, but many plans’, yet their leaders had “many bright ideas with episodic engagements in foreign policy” which were rationalised by the so-called ‘reactive pragmatism’.

Good for the Incek Debates, but not so good for the Turkish-American relations, this is exactly what happened in the course of one year.

The crisis between the two countries is deepening. Bilateral relations are mired with mutual distrust and political, military, legal, diplomatic problems. There is a long list of ever-mounting challenges. Furthermore, involvement of ‘personalities’ in national security affairs hardly helps. One commentator calls this state of affairs, probably fairly, “an alignment of the perfect storm”.

Executive Summary

The breaking point in relations was YPG’s Raqqa ‘show’ on 19 October 2017 when they dedicated the ‘victory’ to PKK leader Ocalan. It all collapsed three months later, on 14 January 2018, when the news of a new 30,000-strength ‘Border Security Force’ in Syria to be established by the so-called ‘U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition’ shocked the Turkish society. Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into Afrin region of Syria against PYD/YPG on 20 January.

There is a distinct potential for a direct confrontation between the two militaries. The U.S. appears to form another autonomous Kurdish entity in a federal Syria, with access to the sea. This is a vital ‘concern’ for Turkey. On the other hand, the current Turkish leadership, gives the impression that it aims to establish its own ‘protectorate’ within a federal Syria.

This conflict is no longer limited to Turkey and the United States. It has turned into a major battlefield of the ‘new’ war between the West and the ‘rest’. Other primary belligerents are Russia, Iran, Israel and EU member states—oddly, mostly NATO nations.

Neither country has the power to impose a lasting final state on the Middle East or on any one country, say Syria, alone. There has to be some compromise. This debate is of the general opinion that regional and global peace and security are in political stability, promotion of ‘democratic regimes’ and international cooperation.

Bottom line

Both countries have failed in the ME and become slaves of their own mistakes. Both countries are faced with dilemmas which must be resolved. The current crisis—or the conflict—is unlikely to be solved soon. It may further escalate and get worse.

Neither country has the power to impose a lasting final state on the Middle East or on any one country, say Syria, alone. There has to be some compromise.

This debate is of the general opinion that regional and global peace and security are in political stability, promotion of ‘democratic regimes’ and international cooperation, that is multilateral solutions to international problems.

If both countries see their vital interests lie in this set of principles, then there is sound ground for cooperation. However both countries need to review their policies and give up ‘federal’ schemes for the future of Syria. A democratic, unitary Syria within its existing borders to start with, is the way forward to regional peace and stability—as the end state.

Ethnic, religious and other groups have to be accommodated—and their various rights secured—within existing borders and democratic regimes.

Both countries need to achieve ‘national’ consensus first and then seek consensus at the international level. This can only be done by leaderships in respective countries.

Turkish-American relations are more important than ever. However strategic partnership is an overstatement which leads to inflated expectations, hence frustration on both sides.

Both the personalities and the clashing world views of ‘leaders’ on both sides do not allow much optimism for the foreseeable future. Above all, national interests diverge. The two sides need to improve communication and be open and honest, bearing in mind that no quick, easy solutions are possible.

2019 elections in Turkey are crucial and a matter of life and death for the governing party—and President Erdoğan. It is the general sense of the debate that an improvement in relations based on a ‘compromise’ is unlikely before 2019. If anything, it will be a precarious period with much posturing and associated risks between now and the next elections in Turkey.

The full report is available to 21st Century Turkey Institute members.

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