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U.S. picked wrong ally in fight against Islamic State

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When Turkey finally agreed to join U.S.-led efforts to fight Islamic State, Ankara was supposed to make the battle against the extremist group more effective. Yet within days, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, bombed not just Islamic State forces but also, with even greater fervor, the one group showing some success in keeping them at bay: the Kurds.

The United States miscalculated by bringing in Erdogan. Turkey's embattled and volatile leader looks far less interested in combating Islamic State than in reclaiming his power at home. Erdogan's personal agenda, however, cannot be allowed to alienate U.S. partners and prolong the conflict.

Washington's first priority here should be to preserve its constructive alliances with Kurdish groups in the fight against Islamic State. It must also prevent Turkey from further undermining the key strategic goal of defeating the jihadists.

So U.S. officials should be taking a far stronger stance against Erdogan's attacks on the Kurds. One complicating factor is that both Ankara and Washington have labeled the target of Turkish operations - the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - a terrorist organization. But there are related Kurdish organizations that U.S. leaders can and should approach, publicly reassure and privately work with to maintain their cooperation against Islamic State.

First, the Syrian Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Union Party, though ideologically related to the PKK, is considered a separate organization and not designated as a terrorist group under U.S. law. Its leader, Saleh Muslim, should be invited to Washington expeditiously for high-level consultations with government officials. These meetings could publicly demonstrate Washington's continued commitment to the Syrian Kurds.

Second, Turkey's pro-Kurdish political party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, is increasingly popular because it represents the aspirations of the vast majority of Turkey's Kurds to reach a peaceful solution to the long civil conflict, as well as many Turks who want a more democratic, liberal Turkey. The party's success in the June general elections was tremendous; it won seats in parliament for the first time. Yet the government has recently opened an investigation into the party's leader, Selahattin Demirtas, that many critics say is politically motivated. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey should meet with Demirtas and express Washington's continued support for concluding a peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Third, the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq remains the most important of all the Kurdish factions. It might also be least likely to abandon the anti-Islamic State coalition over Turkish actions because of its close economic ties to Ankara and ideological opposition to the PKK. But if the regional government were to abandon the coalition, U.S. forces could lose access to critical operational, planning and intelligence facilities. So U.S. officials would do well to reassure Kurdish leaders of Washington's commitment to their safety. They should also agree on a joint approach to pressure Erdogan to end his campaign against the PKK.

Another priority for U.S. officials should be to remove Erdogan's motivation for attacking the Kurdistan Workers Party: political survival.

In June, Turkish voters handed Erdogan a significant defeat. His Justice and Development Party, after 12 years of single-party rule, failed to secure even a simple majority in parliament. Ever since, Erdogan had been searching for an excuse to call early elections and cajole the voters who deserted him to return to the fold. War offered the perfect opportunity.

Turkey, Erdogan told the nation, is under siege, its enemies legion. He has positioned himself as the only leader capable of protecting his people. He has also presented himself as an important and respected player on the world stage after striking a deal with the United States and getting North Atlantic Treaty Organization support for his war.

By denying Erdogan's campaign any imprimatur of international legitimacy, the United States could begin to cut down on the political benefit he is seeking to accrue. This could mean U.S. officials openly questioning Turkey's attack on the PKK and highlighting how it jeopardizes the mission against Islamic State - and therefore Turkish lives - rather than suggesting that the two are merely "coincidental." The United States should be prepared to go a step further and speak frankly about the many concerns that have arisen in the U.S.-Turkish relationship during Erdogan's administration.

Washington has continually overlooked Erdogan's growing list of political and strategic sins -including jailing journalists at home and supporting extremists in Syria - in the hope that, when it really needed him, he would rise to the occasion. There has been no greater need for Turkey than in the fight against Islamic State. Yet after displaying reluctance to join the fight for 10 months, Erdogan has placed his own ambitions ahead of his country's and his allies' interests.

There is no good reason for U.S. officials to continue biting their tongues regarding Erdogan's dictatorial tendencies and his rejection of Turkey's traditional Western orientation.

It might have been a miscalculation to bring Erdogan into this conflict. But if the United States could stick by its Kurdish partners and chastise Erdogan's recklessness, he might realize that he is the one who has finally overplayed his hand.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
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Turkey, a NATO member, is allowing ISIS to ship it's oil through Turkey so it can reach global markets via Turkish ports.

Turkey, a NATO member, is also keeping it's border with ISIS open so ISIS can continue to be reinforced with crazies from all over the world.

Why are there no sanctions on Turkey. I thought that harboring and supporting terrorists was against US law.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

U.S. picked wrong ally in fight against Islamic State

Well that's pretty much par for the course. Al Qaeda were originally American allies recruited to get the Russkies out of Afghanistan.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

U.S. picked wrong ally in fight against Islamic State

Cash box allies are only interested in the cash box. The US taxpayer's cash box.

From Israel to Turkey to Afghanistan, Pakistan and on and on, there are no allies, only cash hungry dictators with smiles and salutes and pallets of cash strewn about the world.

The U.S. picked wrong ally in the fight against Islamic State? Mr. Misztal certainly knows his low hanging fruit.

Mr. Wooster says it better and more briefly.

More clearly, however, there is no Islamic State or ISIS, there are only gangsters birthed and fed by AWOL Bush and now left to maraud at will from their suckling at the teat of the American taxpayer. These are the only few who greeted Bush and Cheney as liberators, liberators of three trillion in cold hard cash.

The Party of Personal Responsibility is now ratcheting up their final solution, global war forever with another cash box dictator as their Trump card.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Washington has continually overlooked Erdogan’s growing list of political and strategic sins -including jailing journalists at home and supporting extremists in Syria

Funny article. It describes Erdogan as a black sheep, while "jailing journalists at home and supporting extremists in Syria" was a norm for other US allies (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) for a long time. Hypocrisy at new low.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The crook Erdogan supports ISIS and that is why he has focussed Turkey's attacks almost exclusively on the Kurds. The aim is to provoke a Kurdish backlash in Turkey, giving him an excuse to ban the pro-Kurdish HDP party which won a large number of seats in the recent election. Once that is done he will call new elections, change the constitution and have himself made supreme leader for the rest of his life.

I'm surprised at how little coverage this gets in the media. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are all openly helping and funding ISIS, yet the media tell us those countries are fighting ISIS. It's nothing but lies.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Is it not amazing how America and the West make billionaires out of dictators with their own agenda, and never ever see a penny trickle down to the people?

I am ashamed of my country. Why have we done so much wrong when we could do so much right?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why are there no sanctions on Turkey. I thought that harboring and supporting terrorists was against US law.

Probably because Turkey isn't America and they don't need to seek US permission to do anything.

That said, I DO think that Turkey are being idiotic by attacking the Kurds as well as IS. IS need to be destroyed, but by attacking the Kurds Erdogan is going to decimate allied forces (the Kurds are the only ones having any effect on IS on the ground) and could lead to the Kurds pulling out. He really needs to wind his neck in, understand that the campaign actually needs the Kurds and arm them, or at least allow them to go about their business - attacking IS.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has a history of blunders ... this is just another chapter of it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Modern "Cold War", after all.

America pays and arms group X to disrupt country Y's interests (China, Russia)

And country Y pays group Z to disrupt America's interests.

...nobody really believes these dirt farmers living in caves are getting all this money/equipment on their own right?

Not saying I like or agree with it...but War by proxy seems to be the thing to do...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

MyTimeisYourTime,

Why have we done so much wrong when we could do so much right?

Greed. Pure and simple.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Bertie: Power hungry greed in actuality.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

U.S. picked wrong ally in fight against Islamic State? Who really believes that the US is in a 'fight against the Islamic State'? The evidence is overwhelming that the ISIS/IS was set up to 'Balkanise' (break up) the large Muslim and Arab countries surrounding Israel, as per the 'Yinon Plan'. Search: 'Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was ''a wilful decision'' and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo'; 'Former French Foreign Minister: The War against Syria was Planned Two years before 'The Arab Spring'; 'Iraqi Army Downs 2 UK Planes Carrying Arms for ISIL'; 'Iraq's Popular Forces Release Photo of Downed US Chopper Carrying Arms for ISIL'; 'Iraq Arrests US, Israeli Military Advisors in Mosul'; 'UUS Airdrops Weapons to ISIS as Iraqi Army Makes Gains'; 'We're going to take out 7 countries in 5 years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan & Iran' (told to 4 General (Retd.) Wesley Clark, ex-Supreme Allied Commander Europe, by a 3 serving General on the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon, in 2001!!!). And a book Japanese people should familiarise themselves with: 'Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor' by Robert B. Stinnett, about how Japan was intentionally suckered into attacking Pearl Harbor, to give an excuse for the US to enter the war, Prior to the attack, only 16% of the American people were in favour of entering WWII; the day after the attack, a million Americans signed up under arms. FDR's 'cunning plan' had worked.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

BertieWoosterAUG. 10, 2015 - 08:48AM JST Well that's pretty much par for the course. Al Qaeda were originally American allies recruited to get the Russkies out of Afghanistan.

The U.S. was not allied with al Qaeda in the Soviet-Afghan War because there was no al Qaeda at that time. We we're supplying the mujahideen, which were anything but a coherent and unified force who immediately went to war amongst themselves after the Soviets left with what became the Taliban the "winners." Bin Laden was a minor, peripheral non-military participant during the Soviet-Afghan War. Al Qaeda was formed at a meeting in Saudi Arabia, a year after the Soviets had begun their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1987.

To the larger question, Turkey has always been a crappy "ally." In this regard, Turkey's current policies seem no too different from those of Pakistan over the last 20 years - milk the West and the U.S. in particular for as much material support as you can get while providing just enough intelligence (rarely any active support) to keep the U.S. on the hook. As with various C. and S. Asian "allies," the cultural divide is too large for Turkey to be an ally the way the U.K or even France can be when the situation calls for it.

Turkey is, however, playing a dangerous game with their security that could lead to wider spread terrorist acts inside Turkey committed by ISIS and/or the PKK.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Jeff Huffman

U.S. has done little recently to assist Turkey or address its concerns. The U.S. has refused to intervene in the Syrian civil war, the single-most critical issue for Turkey, despite private and subsequent public pleas from President Erdogan. Nor has it done enough to help Turkey bear the burden of Syrian refugees. And it has so far done little to include Turkey in negotiations of a U.S.-EU free trade agreement, despite Turkish concerns about the negative impact such a deal could have on its economy. Yet, other than Israel, Turkey remains the only relatively stable country and democratic U.S. ally in the region.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

sfjp330AUG. 11, 2015 - 03:29AM JST @Jeff Huffman U.S. has done little recently to assist Turkey or address its concerns.

And these would be? Further brutalizing Turkey's Kurdish minority? Helping the Turks to further limit their already limited freedom of speech? These are purely internal matters and not the domain of NATO.

The U.S. has refused to intervene in the Syrian civil war,

What you have the U.S. do? More bombing? Augmenting special forces and trainers with combat troops? While the previous administration might like to have mixed it up there, I don't want the U.S. to be involved directly with Syria's civil war. We're already trying to pick through a truly unsavory stew of independence groups, none of whom would make a suitable "partner" of any kind once they "win."

Nor has it done enough to help Turkey bear the burden of Syrian refugees

Turkey has received the greatest number so far. Though tiny Jordan has taken in over 600 million and is already full of Palestinians and Iraqi refugees. We've spent $4billion in the region addressing this, far more than any other nation. The Gulf States have done next to nothing to help and ISIS has it's roots in Saudi Arabia.

http://speisa.com/modules/articles/index.php/item.1219/the-wealthy-saudi-arabia-and-the-other-gulf-states-receive-zero-syrian-refugees.html

And it has so far done little to include Turkey in negotiations of a U.S.-EU free trade agreement,

Turkey isn't a member of the EU and is unlikely at this point to become one as Turkey is not culturally a European state.

Yet, other than Israel, Turkey remains the only relatively stable country and democratic U.S. ally in the region.

Israel is another ally of questionable value to the U.S. and treats Palestinians monstrously.

While the previous administration is entirely responsible for what the region has devolved into, the U.S. can't fix any of that mess. As callous as it may seem, we need to leave the region. It was only ever of any importance to us because of oil. With current world supplies such as they are, our one reason for being there is gone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Jeff Huffman AUG. 11, 2015 - 04:24AM JST And these would be? Further brutalizing Turkey's Kurdish minority? Helping the Turks to further limit their already limited freedom of speech? These are purely internal matters and not the domain of NATO.

The alternative is for Turkey to fall victim to some of its unresolved social tensions, potentially destabilizing the country and setting back its political and economic progress as well as its aspirations for regional influence. Next year and a half will decide not just Erdogan’s political fate but Turkey’s future direction. Turkey has little political capital left to expend on influencing events in the Middle East. Unless Turkey is able to hold on to both the political and economic dynamism of the past decade, it is unlikely to regain its regional standing. In other words, just as America’s need for a reliable partner in the Middle East has peaked, Turkey’s ability to exert political influence in the area is deteriorating.

Turkey’s democracy and the strength of it are important not only for the country itself, not only as a NATO ally, but also because as a majority Islamic population, Turkey’s democracy is looked at by other countries around the world and in the region who are inspired to be able to be Islamic and democratic at the same time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

sfjp330AUG. 11, 2015 - 05:32AM JST The alternative is for Turkey to fall victim to some of its unresolved social tensions, potentially destabilizing the country and setting back its political and economic progress as well as its aspirations for regional influence.

Which is where Turkey has found itself stuck for the last 20+ years. They were a non-presence during the "good" Gulf War and just can't quite bring itself to fully secularize. Until they do this, they will be hampered and remain something of an also ran/not quite nation.

Turkey’s democracy is looked at by other countries around the world and in the region who are inspired to be able to be Islamic and democratic at the same time.

That's the problem - Islam and democracy are incompatible. The Mullahs and such will never take a backseat to liberal government. Without a liberal government and the rule of secular law, your economy can thrive only so much.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Party of Personal Responsibility is now ratcheting up their final solution, global war forever with another cash box dictator as their Trump card.

But you forgot to mention Obama and his bungling in the ME as well. The man who was supposedly to do right, made a very political blunder from ISIS, Syria and Iran. Why are you not holding him accountable as well?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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