The diplomats in Washington are making the mistake of conflating Turkey with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, thinking short-term appeasement of the president will discourage further violence in northern Syria, analyst Michael Rubin wrote on Thursday.
“For NATO leaders, diplomats, and those in Washington prone to accept and amplify Turkish talking points, Erdogan’s concerns were legitimate,” said Rubin, in relation to Turkey’s recent airstrikes and threats for a ground invasion against Kurdish armed groups in northern Syria.
Ankara has been blaming the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria for a bomb attack in Istanbul last month and has been using it as a legitimate reason to initiate a new round of military incursion into its neighbour.
The Turkish government’s plans for a ground invasion into northern Syria have once again created tensions on US-Turkish relations, as the SDF forms the backbone of the US-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS).
However, Turkey is in fact using the Istanbul bomb both as a reason to conduct a preplanned operation to eradicate Kurdish self-governance across northern and eastern Syria, and to incite the Turkish public against the United States, according to Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
“While there are legitimate arguments for close U.S.-Turkish ties, it is a mistake to both conflate Turkey with Erdoğan and to assume principle rather than politics shapes the Turkish position toward the PKK,” he said.
“Diplomats might appease the Turkish government in the mistaken belief they can appease Erdoğan. They err in the belief that short-term appeasement will discourage further violence,” Rubin continued, by explaining the Turkish president’s dishonest policy around the Kurdish issue.
According to Rubin, Americans who have never interacted with the Syrian Kurdish leadership or have never visited the region, are more likely to make such mistakes. “The tragedy is that such academic malpractice can lead to very real consequence with the furtherance of conflict and the murder of even more innocents,” he concluded.
In addition to Rubin, James Jeffrey, the current chair of the Middle East program at the Wilson Center and a former US ambassador to Iraq, Turkey, and Albania, special envoy to Syria, and deputy national security advisor also shared his views this week on recent tensions between the NATO allies.
But different than the suggestions of Rubin, Jeffrey seems to give more credit to Turkish talking points and to be more understanding to Turkey’s remonstration against the US policies in Syria.
While Washington introduced its collaboration with the SDF as tactical and temporary, it “could not articulate an endgame for the mini-state it had helped create—because it arguably did not have one,” Jeffrey said in relation to the SDF-led administration in northeast Syria.
Ankara still does not know Washington’s long-term intentions in the northeast, according to Jeffrey, who also argues that Moscow has conflict interests regarding a potential Turkish ground invasion into the Kurdish-controlled Syrian town of Kobane.
Moscow seems to be trying to persuade the SDF that a withdrawal can stop a Turkish incursion, but the Russians might also choose to green-light, “which would most directly affect U.S. ties with both Turkey and the Kurds”, according to Jeffrey.
The former diplomat’s solution for the recent tensions is a real offer that could be put on the table by the US officials.
“The SDF could withdraw from Manbij and Kobane, as it had previously agreed to do in various forms, and extend its pledge not to attack Turkey from northeast Syria to not attacking from anywhere in Syria, in return for a Turkish promise not to move against Manbij or the northeast,” he said.