U.S. should accept transactional relationship with Turkey – report


Relations between the United States and Turkey are unlikely to get better any time soon and Washington would be better off settling for a transactional relationship focused on common interests rather than shared values, says a new report by the Washington, DC-based think-tank Atlantic Council.

Resident senior fellow Aaron Stein, author of the report, wrote the aim was to help the United States “craft a realistic Turkey policy, given the current state of tensions over regional policy and the entrenchment of authoritarianism and illiberalism in Turkey”.

The trajectory of the relationship suggests a need for the United States to get acquainted with “transactionalism,” wherein the majority of the bilateral talks are simply aimed at managing a troubled but important relationship … The conclusion, of course, is the need to set aside the idea that the glue holding the alliance together is one of shared values, in favour of a narrow set of shared interests.

Tensions between the United States and Turkey have risen over the U.S. refusal to immediately hand over Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen – who stands accused of mounting last year’s failed coup – Turkey’s arrest of two U.S. consulate employees and the impending U.S. trial of an Iranian-Turkish gold trader charged with bypassing U.S. sanctions on Iran in league with Turkish and Iranian officials.

Despite praising U.S. President Donald Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ramped up his rhetoric against the United States in recent weeks, analysts say, largely for domestic political reasons.

Stein made a number of policy recommendations including joint military task forces exclusively to strike al-Qaeda-linked groups in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Continued U.S. assistance to Turkey to strike armed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets does little to help end the conflict, the report said, and in fact can be viewed as prolonging it.

Instead, the United States should ask tough questions about Turkish strategy and insist on clear, articulated political goals.

Stein argues that Turkey’s allies in Washington are finding life increasingly difficult:

In the United States, it is harder to “make the case for Turkey,” particularly now that Erdoğan has opted to embrace a conspiracy theory that indirectly blames the United States for the failed coup in July 2016, and politically motivated arrests disrupt the day-to-day functioning of US diplomatic facilities.

One issue the report covers in detail is the dispute over U.S. warplanes using the Incirlik base in southern Turkey to help the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition which includes the Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG), the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Ahval asked Stein whether the United States should heed calls to abandon Incirlik, which was built by U.S. forces in the 1950s and is used under a 1980 Defence and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA) between the two countries.

“It’s a silly idea,” he said. “Incirlik is a big base with good infrastructure.”

The only people pushing for the base’s closure, Stein said, were Turkish Islamists and the American hard right:

The issue with the U.S.-Turkey relationship and Incirlik is that the U.S. has asked to use it for non-NATO missions, which runs counter to the 1980 DECA and opens the issue for domestic debate. Turkey, for obvious reasons, hates that the U.S. gives direct support to the Syrian Kurds from Turkish airbases. And yet, Turkey allows it because they are the weaker of the two parties. The war with ISIS will end and the U.S. will, again, want to use that airbase for something in the not too distant future.