TURKEY: Erdoğan on a collision course with the West

The summer peak of the crisis between Turkey and the United States, two NATO allies in theory, has been replaced by cautious pessimism. Few Turks today remember the days of massive Turkish protests against President Donald Trump and his administration, often exhibited in childish ways such as groups gathering to burn fake U.S. dollars or smashing iPhones in front of cameras. This is, however, an extremely fragile tranquility.

By BURAK BEKDIL
SOURCE: GATESTONE INSTITUTE

On February 25, after keeping the position vacant since October 2017, Washington nominated David Satterfield, a career diplomat, as new ambassador to Ankara, an appointment that still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. In Ankara, a complex puzzle awaits Ambassador Satterfield.

There are no signs that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may rethink — or even recalibrate — his assertive neo-Ottoman foreign policy calculus. As the country awaits its critical local elections on March 31, his popularity is augmented by supportive masses who want to “Make Turkey great again.” A surprise defeat at the ballot box could be the beginning of the end of Erdoğan’s 17-year-old rule.

One of Erdoğan’s regional policy priorities, as U.S. troops in neighboring northern Syria prepare to leave, is to prevent Turkey’s south from witnessing the emergence of “a Kurdish belt”. The U.S. troop pullout could expose Syrian Kurds, U.S. allies in the multinational fight against Islamic State, to the risk of a Turkish military incursion.

While the U.S. supports the idea of a buffer zone in northern Syria to keep Kurdish militants and Turkish troops at a safe distance from each other, Erdoğan insists on sole Turkish control over the planned 20-mile-deep strip. The Turkish strongman also rejects a plan by the United States for a multinational force to police the area.

Part of the Turkish-American puzzle is about a rigid plan by Erdoğan to make Turkey the first NATO ally to deploy the Russian-made S-400 air and anti-missile defense system. Turkish authorities, including Erdoğan, have repeatedly refused requests by Turkey’s Western allies to drop the Russian deal and go for a Western-made defense architecture. Most recently, on February 20, Turkey’s Undersecretary for Defense Industries in charge of military procurements, Ismail Demir, said that the S-400 system would become operational in October.

The S-400 issue is potentially another source of crisis between Washington and Ankara. Demir’s remarks looked very much like an official Turkish reply to Vice President Mike Pence who just days ago had repeated warnings to Turkey not to proceed with the S-400 purchase.

Pence, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, told attendees “we will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries. We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East”. Pence’s “we will not stand idly by” warning also involves another Turkish plan to purchase military gear, this time from the West. CONTINUE READING THE INTERESTING ARTICLE HERE