ANKARA — The U.S.–Turkey relationship has always been difficult, but never so vulnerable. Diverging priorities and, it is time to say, contravening strategies in Syria have brought the two allies to the breaking point. The core of the disagreement has been the difference between the American and Turkish perceptions of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed branch the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
U.S., Turkey to lose much in relations breakdown – analyst
Cooler heads are needed in relations between the United States and Turkey, as breaking ties altogether would have “sustained consequences” for both sides, said Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, head of the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara office.
It would be very difficult for Washington or Ankara to find a substitute should differences over matters such as Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria become irreconcilable, he said.
“The United States does not have any other partner in Turkey’s neighbourhood with the same capacity — and the PYD (the Kurdish militant group that controls territory in northern Syria) can certainly not grow into one,” Ünlühisarcıklı said.
“While Turkey likes to have alternatives, Russia can never be a substitute for the United States as Russia has neither the capacity for nor an interest in such a role. As a matter of fact, Turkey and Russia have conflicting positions on most foreign policy issues, from the Balkans and the Caucasus to the Middle East and Central Asia.”
Both sides should agree to disagree on Syria and not consider this as a reason to break the relationship, Ünlühisarcıklı said. State officials at all levels should then avoid emotional and provocative statements and silently work together to avoid an unexpected collision in Syria in the short run and develop a new strategic framework for the cooperation in the longer run, he said.
“Finally, those who care for the relationship in both countries should finally stand up against those who advocate for breaking the relationship.”
The problem with U.S.-Turkish relations is there is no longer a strategic framework, nor any owners on either side, he said. Turkey’s government is also in survival mode and anti-Americanism is popular with the electorate, Ünlühisarcıklı added.
For the United States, although the Kurds in Syria fit in with the broader strategic vision of having enduring coalitions in key countries, as laid down in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, Washington doesn’t have another partner in the region with the same capacity as Turkey, and the Kurds certainly can’t grow into one, he said.