U.S. indifference could encourage confrontational Turkey – analyst

The international community will have to find ways to come to terms with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the Turkish President secured another five years in power in the Jun. 24 elections, but with anti-U.S. feelings high in Turkey, the United States will have to walk a tightrope to avoid provoking confrontation with its NATO ally, according to Bipartisan Policy Center senior analyst Nicholas Danforth.

Erdoğan’s victory was helped along partly by economic use of his authority to exert “the minimum amount of manipulation needed to win,” and partly by his use of a narrative that pitted Turkey against “implacably hostile foes,” Danforth said in his article.

The United States takes a central place among these perceived foes by Turkey, where many see U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish militias and refusal to extradite Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist cleric blamed for plotting the 2016 coup attempt, as proof of its hostile intentions.

The post-election period may be an opportunity for countries including the United States to attempt to “reset” their relations with Erdoğan’s Turkey, and the Turkish president “appears willing to offer some selective concessions to Washington in order to make such a reset possible,” said Danforth.

These would have to include the release of Andrew Brunson, the U.S. pastor detained by Turkey in Oct. 2016 and held pending trial since, despite a lack of evidence to support the charges of links to outlawed organisations levelled against him.

They would also require the survival of the Manbij “roadmap,” a U.S.-Turkish deal to eject Syrian Kurdish militia from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), from the Manbij area in northern Syria where U.S. forces are stationed.

The YPG is seen by Turkey as a satellite of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, an outlawed group that has fought for Kurdish self-rule since 1984, though it has become an important ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

However, the United States apparent desire to withdraw from Syria could encourage Turkey to keep seeking confrontations, according to Danforth.

“Going forward though, the risk lies in Erdogan concluding that he had secured through pressure concessions that were actually the result of U.S. indifference. Ankara has often assumed a baseline level of U.S. hostility which makes, for example, Washington’s support for Syrian Kurdish fighters appear intentionally anti-Turkish rather than anti-ISIS,” he said.

“Were Ankara to see U.S. withdrawal from Syria as a consequence of Turkish policy, rather than a natural outgrowth of Washington’s instrumental use of the YPG, this could lead it to take a more confrontational approach to upcoming issues, such as the S-400s and Iran sanctions,” he added.

Turkey has defied NATO by agreeing to purchase S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, and has ruled itself out of sanctions called on Iran by the United States.