Normalization in Turkish-American Relations

It is familiar that Turkish-American relations follow a up-and-down process throughout the history. In addition to this, it is an opinion shared by many experts that the recent crises create irrecoverable damage in bilateral relations. These opinions are not unjust. In that, while there are many problems ongoing, underlying problem is that the US’s Middle East policy is not coincide with Turkey’s national security interests.

It must be remembered that since the establishment of the Turkish-American alliance, the most important portion of this alliance has been the partnership in the Middle East region. Nowadays, this region, passing through a long and shocking turbulence and the failure to produce common policies while experiencing tough security problems in both countries have deeply affected the relationship. Nevertheless, some recent developments have increased the need for both allies and in response to this need, some steps are being taken to normalize the bilateral relations.

Without normalization Turkey’s expectation is very clear. US’s, in accordance with the law of alliance, the interests of Turkey are also expected to follow overseeing a Middle East policy. This does not mean that all interests are coherent, yet to say the least give support to terrorist organizations is clearly seen as a threat to Turkey is not an acceptable situation.

The reason for the crisis between the two countries as it relates to Turkey’s existential security problems, Ankara’s approach is very cautious about the normalization process. For a long time the US administration on the one hand Turkey’s willingness to take into account to appear on the steps of the sensitivity in Syria, but continually resorting to delaying tactics on the other hand is another reason for this caution. The same situation is monitored in the decision to withdraw troops from Syria. Following this decision, which take kindly to Turkey’s meet, there are a number of explanations that reconstitute the process. Consequently, the normalization process we have mentioned still carries uncertainties.

It is not easy for these uncertainties to be removed in the short term. The emergence of the political solution process in Syria requires that all regional and global actors sift their positions. The political solution should not be expected to be short and easy. In addition to this, in the medium and long term of normalization of Turkish-American relations there are a number of data to discuss the extent to which it can be successful.

The most decisive issue at this point is the change of US strategy in the Middle East. Although Trump appears to be a populist and incoherent leader, there is a certain internal consistency in the Middle East policy since he took office. To put it another way, the basic characteristics of the Trump administration’s Middle East strategy enable us to make a significant analysis of the future of Turkish-American relations.

Firstly, the most important motivation in Trump’s foreign policy preferences is the economy. That’s why Trump, does not have an interfering approach. Of course, it does not mean that the United States insulates itself from the regional policies. This approach is a strategy for the solution of regional problems to use American soldiers as little as possible and to reduce military spending.

Trump, tends to abandon his follower Barack Obama’s strategy of actively supporting local actors in conflict areas particularly in his second term – more specifically, the strategy of proxy war. In the first period of Obama, the strategy of ”leading from behind” in the form of transferring responsibility for regional security and stability to its allies in the region, is even more attractive to Trump.

Trump’s commitment to pull troops from Syria and in the fight against DAESH is expected Turkey’s contribution to be confirmed in this case. Even though the process of withdrawing troops is not yet clear, abandoning this decision at least a distant possibility for now. This development, despite the risks, Turkey’s security will reflect positively in the long term.

Secondly, Trump considers the Middle East as a market for his country’s military industry. It is desired to created demand for American products initially weapons in response to the cooperation with the countries of the region which defines as allies. The most apparent example of this understanding is the signing of the arms sale agreements in Saudi Arabia during Trump’s first visit abroad after taking office.

If this situation be evaluated in reverse, Trump would turn out to be suspicious of alliance relations that do not make him profitable. In this connection, the policies of the US in Syria have moved Ankara away from Washington and brought it closer to Moscow. Air defense systems which is Turkey’s one of the urgent defense needs have prefer to purchase from Russia. If it look from Trump’s perspective, it is possible to say: the strategy which is followed in Syria has caused market losses to the US military industry, these losses be written in favor of Russia.

Thirdly, these countries need an enemy or threat so that the US can persuade its allies to buy weapons from them. At this stage, policies to isolate Iran from the international community draws the attention. The US administration constructs Iran as a common threat that brings  the Middle East allies together and even lead the Arab countries to cooperate with Israel.

In accordance with this policy, the United States continues to sell arms to states that are concerned about Iran’s spread in the region and unifies these states on their own ranks through the opposition of Iran. Beside, this strategy does not resemblance to a short-term strategy. The proposal of the Middle East Strategic Alliance named the Arab NATO, shows that even though the chances of success are low, the US wants to move this policy to a corporate level through a defense and security structure.

Though Turkey does not see Iran as an open threat in the region, is concerned about the growing Iranian military activity in the region. In fact one of the important goals of the strategy followed by Turkey in Syria is to balance the Iranian activity in this country. The US administration will desire to consolidate Turkey’s sensitivity. Thus, as Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State said, the next duty of the United States after the defeat of DAESH is to clear the Iranian existences in Syria. After the withdrawal of troops from Syria The American administration, may enter into an expectation from Turkey just like balancing the Iranian activity in Syria. In addition, the US may demand Turkey’s support for sanctions against Iran. These developments can bring some risks for Turkey.

These three key strategies which are significant in the US Middle East policy, serves several foreign policy interests. In this respect, Israel’s security, energy supply security, Russia’s balancing etc. interests could be calculable. But the important matter here, the United States is pursuing a strategy  to achieve these goals, that wants to pay negative costs to its allies. Consequently, although there are arbitrariness arising from Trump’s management style, the US Middle East policy has a certain internal consistency.

The future of normalization in Turkish-American relations should be evaluated in this respect. In the short term, bilateral relations have many risks and uncertainties. Although the US withdraws from Syria, it wants to conduct the process in such a way that the PYD/YPG is least harmful. When withdrawing the soldiers, subject to Russia with Turkey, it aims to limit Iran by opening more space to Russia. Many aspects like this create significant problems for Turkey. Nevertheless, having looked in the long run, the risks and uncertainties arising from Turkish-American relations are not less.

The Washington administration wants to take Ankara alongside in the new Middle East strategy but this process could harm the achievements of Turkey in the Middle East. In that this American strategy has the potential that could force Turkey to be a party polarization in the Middle East. Turkey, is willing to play a balancing role instead of being a party to the on-going polarization in the Middle East. To normalize relations with the United States and maintain cooperation with Russia is equally important and valuable for Turkey. Conserve the relationship and dialogue with all actors in the Middle East is important for Turkey. For this reason, Turkey is the position to conduct a highly sensitive diplomacy while normalizing the relationship with the US.

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Dr. Öğr. Üyesi Emre OZAN
Dr. Öğr. Üyesi Emre OZAN
ANKASAM Türk Dış Politikası ve Uluslararası Güvenlik Danışmanı

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