Not a US ally anymore?
Turkey - led by President Hussein Obama's best friend forever - is refusing to collaborate with the United States against the Islamic State terror organization (Hat Tip: Joshua I). But Obama is loyal to Recep Tayyip Erdogan - unlike his attitude toward the United States' real allies. Instead of punishing Turkey for its obstinence, within 24 hours of Turkey's refusal to join, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Ankara meeting with Erdogan.
After a two-and-a-half hour meeting, the pair emerged to announce that they had decided to cooperate “against all terrorist movements in the region,” rather than just against IS.
The announcement, which was brief and contained almost no details, was a signal that Turkey and America will not permit an open rift over Turkey’s reluctance to join the US-led coalition. Instead, Turkey and the US will continue to help the Syrian opposition and to share intelligence. Neither of these developments should come as a surprise.
The compromise is considerably less than the US had hoped for at the beginning of the week.
Thursday’s conference of Arab nations and the United States in Jeddah marked the point when it became clear that Turkey - even though it is the only NATO member in the region - would not be a full member of the coalition. For some observers the realization brought home claims made earlier this week by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that Turkey and Qatar were neither definite friends nor enemies, but ‘frenemies’.
The Turkish delegation seems to have had the package of US military measures unveiled to them in Jeddah. But when Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, phoned home for further instructions, he was told not to sign.
Sabah, a newspaper close to the Erdogan government outlined what it says is the “partial support” that Turkey will give the US-led coalition; humanitarian assistance, intelligence, and border security.
On the face of it, this package adds little or nothing particularly new. Work is already well underway in all three areas. Turkey is a refuge for around one million Syrian refugees and it now recognises that it needs to prepare its borders against possible incursions from IS-occupied areas. Turkish forces are also doing what they can to make the highly porous frontier between Syria and Turkey and between Turkey and Iraq more secure, although with a border stretching more than 820 km with Syria and 350-km border with Iraq this is an extremely difficult task.
Quite apart from a sense of comradery with Sunni activists in Syria and Iraq, Turkey’s hands are also tied by another issue that hung over the talks.
As long as 49 Turkish hostages, diplomats, family and staff from the consulate-general, are being held in Mosul by IS, Turkey cannot take strong moves against the militants without endangering the lives of the captives.
While this consideration was not been openly stated, it was brought up immediately by Turkish officials, who began discussing the problem immediately after their country failed to sign the Jeddah communiqué on Thursday.In a Saturday editorial, the Wall Street Journal said that Turkey is not a US ally and that the US ought to move its airbase out of Incirlik. Incirlik is less than 100 miles from Turkey's border with Syria.
It is possible that Turkey is clandestinely providing more support to the anti-IS alliance than it openly admits. Indeed, there are claims that US drones from Incirlik air-base are taking part in strikes on Iraq, but there has so far been no confirmation of this and if Kerry has extracted assistance of this sort, there was no hint of it today. Instead, for the time being, the US and Turkey seem mainly to have agreed to paper over the cracks in a difficult relationship.
US daily The Wall Street Journal has claimed in its editorial on Saturday that it is the "unavoidable conclusion" that the US needs to find a better regional ally to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIL) than Turkey, suggesting that the air base Turkey is currently hosting should be moved somewhere else.
Recalling Turkey's reluctance in joining the anti-ISIL coalition, the editorial said not only will Ankara take no military action, it will also forbid the US from using the US air base in İncirlik—located fewer than 100 miles from the Syrian border—to conduct air strikes against the terrorists.
"That will complicate the Pentagon's logistical and reconnaissance challenges, especially for a campaign that's supposed to take years," it added.
The newspaper said the US military will no doubt find work-arounds for its air campaign, just as it did in 2003 when Turkey also refused requests to let the US launch attacks on Iraq from its soil in order to depose Saddam Hussein. It said Turkey shares a 910-km border with Syria and Iraq, meaning it could have made a more-than-symbolic contribution to a campaign against ISIL.
The daily described it as a "reality" that the Turkish government, a member of NATO, long ago stopped acting like an ally of the US or a friend of the West. The editorial quoted former US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, who said this week that the Turkish government "frankly worked" with the al-Nusrah Front—the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria—along with other terrorist groups. It claimed that Ankara also looked the other way as foreign radical groups used Turkey as a transit point on their way to Syria and Iraq.
The WSJ noted that İncirlik air base has been a home for US forces for nearly 60 years, but perhaps it's time to consider replacing it with a new US air base in Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.Don't expect Obama to listen to that advice. What could go wrong?