Collapse of U.S-Turkey relations a two-way street - analyst

It is easy for Americans to see the disintegration of relations with Turkey as entirely the fault of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an analyst said, but in reality the falling-out has been mutual, and largely motivated by different attitudes to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its allies.

“Turkey has (repeatedly) entertained the notion of partnering with America, but ultimately seen America take steps that undermine Turkey’s interests and security,” said Svante Cornell, director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy.

“From Ankara’s vantage point, the main consequence of America’s (2003 Iraq) invasion was that the PKK, sensing an opportunity, broke a long-standing ceasefire and began operations on Turkish soil again. America, preoccupied with Iraq, did little to mitigate this, and even went as far as apprehending Turkish special forces officers in northern Iraq, generating fury across the Turkish political spectrum.”

In the Syrian civil war, the United States and Turkey’s interests were initially aligned until the former began concentrating solely on eliminating Islamic State (ISIS), Cornell said.

“This, in turn, pushed the United States into the arms of the Syrian Kurds, who had the only fighting force willing and capable of fighting ISIS in Syria,” he said. “Meanwhile, Americans were growing increasingly suspicious of Turkish covert support for jihadi factions in the war.”

Erdoğan’s high-profile split with the Gülen movement, blamed for the 2016 coup attempt, pushed him closer to left-nationalist and Eurasianist forces, which were also strongly anti-American, Cornell said.

“His new friends also happened to fervently buy in to the notion that America’s aims in Iraq and Syria included the promotion of Kurdish nationalism, and that this policy in the long term envisaged the breakup of Turkey itself. Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that Erdoğan himself bought into this conspiracism.”

Following the failed July 2016 coup attempt, he – as well as most ordinary Turks – became even more convinced that it was part of a big American plan.

American actions are viewed against the background of the events of the past three decades, and through the prism of the leadership’s particular penchant for conspiracy. American officials are aware that Erdoğan blames Washington for involvement in the failed July 2016 coup against him, and are equally cognisant of the vehemence with which Turkey opposes America’s intimacy with the Syrian Kurdish forces. Erdoğan has lately even come to speak obliquely of America as the force behind ISIS, echoing Russian propaganda to that effect. Erdoğan’s reaction should have been quite predictable: To Turks it all follows a clear pattern of America working over three decades to establish a Kurdish vassal entity in the Middle East that undermines the security and integrity of Turkey itself.