Washington (GPA) – While Trump and Erdogan probably aren’t actually “big fans” of each other, the US and Turkey do still need each other.
If there is one major takeaway from this week’s meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Erdogan, it seems not much has changed or is going to change. While obviously there have been some pretty big incidents between the two NATO partners in the news lately, the blase attitude on display by both leaders today shows that these two plan to maintain the traditional Turkey-US relationship.
So let’s tackle some of the major issues from today one at a time:
Last month Trump started a firestorm in Washington, resulting in denouncements by both Democrats and Republicans when he decided to move US forces in Syria away from the Turkish border. This drove neoconservatives in both parties insane as they felt, at the time, that this marked the end of Washington’s illegal occupation of and dirty war on Syria.
This move by Trump had been proposed before but prior resistance in Congress did stop him but after he finally gave in to Erdogan’s request to clear out northern Syria of the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and take over the responsibilities of occupying the area. While the US media hadn’t liked to talk about this situation before Trump’s deal with Turkey it had become clear to most Syria watchers that the US had no real reason left to occupy northern Syria besides a vague open-ended ‘promise’ to protect ‘our Kurdish allies.’
This connection between the SDF and the US has caused problems between Turkey and Washington since the beginning of the Syrian war when Barack Obama initially began backing the group, known at the time as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a much more openly Kurdish-separatist group fairly openly tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a terror group in the US and Turkey.
Trump, simply by being the lazy man he is, found a solution to this by opening the way for the Turks to launch Operation Peace Spring into northern Syria, which they will also end up likely occupying long-term to resettle refugees as they’ve done in places like Afrin. That said, Trump hasn’t fully ended the US presence in Syria and has promised to remain to “protect the oil” in Deir Ezzor.
Either way, Syria remains destabilized with a NATO partner illegally occupying a large swathe of the country, and when it comes to the return of the Islamic State that western media has warned about, Turkey is apparently in charge of that. The fighting in northern Syria will likely continue due to actors like the SDF and Turkish-backed rebels of the Syrian National Army (SNA) have no reason to abide by any state to state negotiated ceasefires and both the SDF and SNA have projects motivating them. The SNA wants to fill northern Syria with pro-Turkey neo-Ottoman educated Arabs while the SDF, which formerly was aiming for full statehood, is now looking to at least secure some autonomy granted by the real Syrian government in Damascus. In the meantime, while all that shakes out, Trump now agrees with Erdogan that Turkey’s occupation of northern Syria is “holding very well.”
As stated above, when Trump initially made his decision to allow Erdogan to launch his operation into Syria, he received a negative response from both sides of the aisle in Congress. The initial response of dissenting House and Senate members was to deploy the new favorite of the American empire: Sanctions.
In an effort basically spearheaded by Senator Lindsey Graham, a neocon who most likely lost countless hours of sleep when he heard there might be slightly fewer US troops in Syria, a rush was made to punish Ankara. Trump also ended up kind of encouraging these sanctions thanks to the backlash and threatened to bring Turkey’s economy to its knees if they didn’t conduct Operation Peace Spring to his standards and also froze negotiations on multi-billion dollar trade talks.
As of Wednesday most of this seems to have changed and word is out now that Trump has sent a letter to Erdogan looking to find a workaround for sanctions and reopen negotiations for $100 billion in trade since the “ceasefire” is holding.
Another recent attack on the Turkish government was the move by the US House of Representatives’ decision to vote to recognize the Armenian genocide. This resolution was overwhelmingly passed by the House, in a move that angered not just Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) but also the more secular Turkish nationalists who also continue to deny the events that took place in Turkey after World War 1.
Now obviously Trump was never going to sign any bill about the Armenian genocide if it had reached his desk and although the House and Senate initially sad they could likely override a veto, this issue seems dead in the water now too. In fact, Lindsey Graham comes back up in this story again after being invited to a meeting with Presidents Trump and Erdogan on Wednesday to allay his concerns about Turkey’s occupation of Syria. Several hours later Graham, showing how spineless he truly is, flipped position on Turkey again and decided to block a Senate version of the resolution to recognize the genocide from coming to the floor.
While it may seem like ages ago now, prior to this whole Syria mess, there was still tons of bad blood between the US and Turkey mostly centered around Ankara’s choice of arms suppliers. This all started to unravel last year, right as the US (and partners’) F-35 stealth fighter project was coming to completion and pilots from countries like Turkey were beginning to arrive at US airfields for training.
Coincidentally, also at this time, Turkey was in the market for new anti-air missile defense systems and that’s where Russia comes in. Russia, in the midst of several conflicts as well as selling weapons to nations where the efficiency of Russian military equipment like the S-300 missile defense system was being watched by world leaders. Prior to Turkey’s latest incursion into Syria, this was the main reason that Turkey was suddenly starting to have their loyalty to NATO come into question.
Once Erdogan made the decision to purchase the Russian S-400 systems the US did refuse delivery of the F-35 over alleged security concerns but the latest rumors in Washington is that Trump would still like to find a way to sell the $89 million a unit plane to the Turks. While this still may never happen, it is a sign, like the previously mentioned points of tension between Ankara and Washington that even though things seem tense, they primarily stay the same.
The US will probably never get Turkey to return their S-400s. Erdogan will probably never get to see the return of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen he blames for the 2016 coup attempt. Although both nations will bring these things up whenever it’s convenient, they will simply be political footballs meant to rile up one party or the others base. The liberals may act like Erdogan is a dictator now but this latest conference between Trump and Erdogan truly shows it’s still just business as usual in Washington.