U.S. should not cut Turkey loose – ex-envoy

The United States should not jettison its alliance with Turkey, as it has with Pakistan, because the country stands as a buffer between the Middle East and Europe, and between the Middle East and Russia, writes former ambassador to the country, James Jeffrey and Michael Singh, Managing Director at the Washington Institute.

“Losing Turkey as a Western ally would mean bringing the Mideast to Europe’s threshold, and the potential frontier of Russian influence into the heart of the Middle East,” Jeffrey and Singh said in Foreign Policy. “Turkey is also the state best positioned to balance against Iran, whose ambitions and influence are growing along with its partnership with Russia. The dependency is mutual; without the United States, Turkey would be left to Tehran and Moscow’s tender mercies.”

Washington and Ankara need to refocus on shared strategic threats, such as the Russia-Iran alliance, while compromising on their disagreements. Greater flexibility is therefore possible in the U.S. approach to the Syrian Kurds, he said.

The United States needs to agree to pull Kurdish armed groups in the enclave of Manbij back to their homeland east of the Euphrates and turn Manbij over to local officials under U.S. and Turkish security guarantees in order to bolster its relations with Turkey, they said.

“A U.S. effort to counter Iran in the Middle East, and to prevail in what the Trump administration has described as a global strategic competition with Russia and China, will require allies,” Jeffrey and Singh said. “Whatever its tactical flirtations, Turkey remains opposed to Iranian expansionism and wary of Russia for reasons of history and geography.

“For China, Turkey is an attractive candidate for westward Belt and Road Initiative expansion toward Europe, yet Ankara and Beijing have their own thorny differences. If the United States and Turkey part ways, Tehran, Moscow, and Beijing will not be the culprits but will certainly be the beneficiaries.”

Jeffrey served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey between 2008 and 2010.