Post-coup Turkey: More independent, less pro-Obama
At first glance, I thought Turkey was readjusting its foreign policy along the lines of the so-called Obama doctrine, which could be summarized as naive realism that hopes, rather than expects, to see good will from Iran and Russia. After all, it was Obama who brokered a nuclear deal with Iran at the expense of the Syrian people. Obama’s combative relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, oddly, produced a number of joint initiatives on Syria that may bring the war to an end, even if many of us are still doubtful about the chances. This is why Turkey normalizing its ties with Russia and Iran looked like an appropriate move to gain more leverage in the region. It would bring Turkey closer to Washington while making Russia and Iran happy. To solidify this perception, senior U.S. officials presented the latest Turkish offensive in Syria’s Jarablus as a show of unity between Turkey and the U.S., considering Ankara decided to act when U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Ankara last month. The main American media outlets, such as the Washington Post along with other major American publications, fed public opinion with stories of the U.S. military’s contribution into the operation. I also wrote a similar story with a similar sentiment because it was what American officials spoke, and Ankara was silent.
So indeed it was also to Ankara’s benefit to present the latest Jarablus operation, as part of the anti-DAESH coalition, since Turkey is in need of American military support, but also the American media’s soft power. As Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications for U.S. President Barack Obama Ben Rhodes made clear in his interview with the New York Times, American reporters are rather young, inexperienced and can be easily manipulated on foreign policy issues. High-ranking U.S. officials providing some sort of “access” to the administration’s opinions on the Jarablus operation engineered positive coverage on the Turkish operations. It was, again, a transactional act, Turkey was receiving American support and in return the U.S. was finally seizing the moment, after two years of diplomacy, Turkey’s powerful army was ready to move in. Obama didn’t want to send his “boys” to Syria, but was very angry at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for not bringing stability to Syria with his “large” military. Of course, Obama was thinking that public opinion, elections and the sort are too good for Turkey, as if Ankara hadn’t had four elections within two years. The greatest power on earth has a lot of things at stake. But a poor dictatorship in the Middle East led by an Islamist Sultan has nothing to lose, right? That was the thinking. It also resulted in American military support for a U.S.-designated terror organization, the PKK’s Syrian branch the People’s Protection Units (YPG), costing Turkey its national security and order. Now good, old liberal Obama is the godfather of a Soviet terror state in the Middle East.
Then the Wall Street Journal article came up. We all learned that Ankara didn’t coordinate its offensive in Jarablus with American officials, it just informed them. My colleague Tolga Tanış also revealed that the U.S. air force actually targeted Manbij, instead of Jarablus, in support of Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces, the kind of help that actually has no substantial effect on the battlefield. The U.S. also misled Turkey about the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG forces in Manbij. The U.S. promised Turkey that the forces who were going to kick DAESH out of Manbij would be overwhelmingly Arab components of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance led by the YPG. Instead, the YPG just put some Arab regiment patches on its Kurdish forces and kept it business as usual. Manbij was cleared of DAESH on Aug. 12, the YPG didn’t leave the city as promised and it kept operating in the area with the excuse of solidifying the defenses and removing the IEDs in the city. The YPG, with a new offensive, declared that its new target was Jarablus and began to seize more villages in the north. Turkey responded to this move by shelling YPG and DAESH targets in the area on Aug. 22. The U.S. was mainly silent and repeated its official talking point, that “Kurdish” forces would leave the western bank of the Euphrates soon. Finally, Turkey pushed YPG forces back on Aug. 25, and over the following days the north of River Sajur was cleansed of YPG militants.
Now the U.S.-Turkish clash on the YPG is happening again. It also showed something crystal clear, that Turkey wasn’t bringing its foreign policy in line with Washington. It was becoming more independent. Ankara is now very confident in taking its fate in its own hands and will act accordingly. It is better if everyone realizes this sooner rather than later.