US-Turkey Relations Gradually Warming Up

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Turkey’s foreign policy emanates from and is shaped by its geostrategic position, which has helped that country to play antagonistic and regional world powers against one another. That policy is not President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invention. It was implemented by Ottoman sultans as well as by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan has further refined that policy, and, to his credit, he has been exercising that policy rather skillfully, if at extreme risk.

Once upon a time, the destiny of Armenia and Armenians was one of the pawns of that balancing act, particularly after the plight of the Ottoman Armenians became an object of international negotiations in 1878. By the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish war, the Tsarist forces had advanced to the outskirts of Istanbul, and a treaty was signed at San Stefano. Article 16 of this treaty guaranteed reforms in the Armenian provinces by the sultan, who would be accountable to Moscow.

The Treaty of Berlin, which followed that of San Stefano the same year, literally bartered the issue of reforms for the island of Cyprus. The sultan ceded the latter to Great Britain in exchange for a better deal, which was embodied in Article 61 of the new treaty.

Even today, much of Armenia’s fortunes are dependent on which way Turkey’s foreign policy swings. Armenia benefits from the US when US-Turkey relations are strained. Conversely, Armenia becomes a beneficiary when Armenia’s strategic ally, Russia, is at odds with Ankara. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide, long stalled in Congress, was fast-tracked when Turkey pushed the envelope too far. The reason the executive branch of the US government, meaning President Donald Trump, did not follow suit, was because the US was reluctant to give away the entire stock of its leverage on Turkey. And indeed, President Trump maintained his personal friendship with Erdogan despite all the mischief of the latter, to be used for the initial steps of warming relations between the two countries.

The great powers become involved in the Middle East by decapitating stable rulers and as a result created mayhem to justify accusations that the peoples there are composed of medieval clans and thus incapable of self-rule.

Turkey is one country which has benefited from that managed chaos. Having joined NATO, Ankara has used the alliance to promote and achieve its selfish goals. In the process, Turkey strained its relations with the other NATO member states. Its incursions in Cyprus, Iraq and Libya were tolerated because Ankara in each case was able to convince its allies to accept that it was acting on behalf of the alliance, or, conversely, crying wolf that its interests as a NATO member were being threatened.

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Turkey stretched that line too far when it invaded Syria and invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic treaty, which states that a member state can claim that it took action because its territory was threatened. This time around, it was caught red-handed because the action was a brazen aggression against a neighboring country. When Ankara invoked Article 4, it received some consoling words, and nothing more. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, blamed Russia and Syria for having slaughtered Turkish forces, but made clear that no military assistance was forthcoming.

Before reaching that point, Turkey had cooperated with Russia and Iran, undermining US interests. During that time, while the US was effectively fighting ISIS forces and supporting Kurds in Syria (the YPG), Turkey weighed in on the other side of the equation.

At present, the war in Syria is at a standstill, with Idlib surrounded by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russia and Iran, while Turkey’s proxy forces are there mixed in with thousands of refugees. The US had withdrawn its forces from northern Syria, throwing its Kurdish allies under the bus while allowing Mr. Trump to state that the “Kurds were fighting for their own land.”

Turkish-Russian relations soured after the slaughter of Turkish soldiers as well as the failure of the Astana agreement to ensure a ceasefire.

Washington would not have disassociated itself from Turkish adventures had it not been for the Israeli element. Mr. Erdogan miscalculated his actions by continuing his anti-Israeli rhetoric. This issue is not covered by news outlets or commentators, with arguments begin made under the euphemism of “US interests in the region.”

Although Turkey and Russia share many interests and their mutual trade is moving towards the benchmark of $100 billion, politically they are working at cross-purposes. Despite its substantial trade with Russia, Turkey needs US support for its faltering currency and banking system. Its relationship with Russia has hit a snag also in Libya, where Russia is supporting General Haftar, who has vowed to topple the government of general accord, supported by Turkey. Ankara was expecting Russia to discontinue its support for Haftar, but to no avail. Therefore, the short-lived honeymoon between the two powers has outlived its usefulness.

While Ankara needs the US, the latter’s policy is turning out to need Ankara. Indeed, the US has developed an obsessive policy of containing Iran, which threatens so-called “US interests in the region.” There are three options under consideration: attack Iran militarily, engage its proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, or delegate the mission to Turkey. The latter may flirt with the idea, but as its policies have demonstrated, it will not go beyond a certain point to accommodate an ally. But if that option gains prominence, the US may take the bait.

It has already been softening its position on the Russian-made S400 missiles. If Ankara mothballs the missiles, Washington may look the other way and reinvite Ankara to the program of fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets, from which Ankara was evicted when it finalized its arms deal with Russia.

Turkey shipped two planeloads of medical equipment to the US. Originally these supplies were to have been sold, but at the last minute they were turned into Ankara’s gift to the US in the fight against the coronavirus. What is more significant is that the cargo is accompanied by a letter from President Erdogan to President Trump indicating that “an atmosphere of cooperation has been created by the pandemic.”

It has become clear that the mood is changing in Ankara as well as in Washington. Mr. Erdogan pushed his luck as far as he could. As arrogant as he is, he is not insane enough to try to go beyond the “red lines.” Now he has found the limit of Washington’s tolerance. Incidentally, Mr. Erdogan has toned down his rhetoric against Israel, realizing full well the significance of US-Israeli relations.

On the one hand, his relations are becoming strained with Russia, and maybe down the road with Iran as well, in deference to the US. On the other hand, Washington and Ankara have been exploring and finalizing areas in which they need each other.

Turkey’s pendulum is definitely swinging towards the West, and towards the US in particular.

Indications are coming to light that we will have to wait for another US president who will have the political will to use the term genocide.

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