U.S.-Turkey Relations Strained as PYD Complicates Alliances in Syria
Tensions between Turkey and the PYD have resulted in the disappearing of grey areas in diplomacy and have forced all countries to take clear stands on the Syria issue. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and partially Germany are one side of the issue, whereas Russia, Iran, Assad regime and Democratic Union Party (PYD) take side together. By taking a stand with PYD, the U.S. gives the impression that it is partnering with its traditional adversaries, Iran and Russia, against its traditional allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This impression could limit the U.S.’s long-term operational power in the region, resulting in a takeover of leverage by Russia and Assad.
In the wake of the hot conflicts between the PYD and Turkish Security Forces, Turkey demonstrated its insistence to keep the YPG east of the Euphrates River and to protect Azez, the heart of the “moderate Syrian opposition” with its hard power, yet it has been disappointed with the lack of U.S. support. This is essentially true considering the U.S. and Turkey had agreed on creating a safe zone in this area in support of the Syrian opposition. Turkish disappointment in U.S. policy surfaced with Turkish leadership’s call to the U.S. to decide between Turkey and “PYD-YPG terrorists.” The U.S. response to Turkey’s call was calling upon “both sides” to calm the conflict. Turkey took the largest risk of all U.S. allies by downing the Russian jet that violated NATO’s airspace, and in the Turkish administration’s perspective, the U.S. let Turkey down by not standing with its NATO ally over the YPG issue.
Similar to the case of Turkey-YPG tension, the U.S. failed to react to the Shia-militia advances into Sunni-populated areas. Aleppo is under siege by Iran-supported militants and Russian airstrikes. The Shia-militia involvement prompted Saudi Arabia to take more tangible actions, and they have announced plans to send air forces to Incirlik Base in Turkey, after announcing plans to cooperate militarily with other Muslim nations against ISIS. Furthermore, Germany is afraid of another wave of refugees from Aleppo, and Merkel declared open support for Turkey’s safe-zone proposal in Syria to help mitigate the flow of refugees. However, none of these indications of support are strong enough to protect Aleppo from Assad and the Russian airstrikes.
It is safe to assume that the U.S. administration understands Aleppo’s takeover by regime forces is inevitable if the U.S. remains unresponsive. It is clear that this power struggle is not a priority in the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Consequently, fighting ISIS on the ground through proxies while not sending American troops is the ideal situation for the U.S. The U.S. aims to do this with air support to the YPG, despite Turkish disapproval. However, this new priority of fighting ISIS with YPG while ignoring Shia-Russia operations will distance the U.S. from its allies even more. This distancing will certainly lead to a limiting of U.S. operational elasticity and will evoke new alliances in the region, as recently seen with Saudi-Turkey cooperation.
Moving forward, the new U.S. strategy in the Middle East seems to promote staying out of power struggles of allies and adversaries, and only interfering with issues that directly concern the U.S. interests. This is a strategic choice by the U.S. administration, and will lead individual U.S. allies to take more initiative while weakening the U.S. foreign policy makers’ hand in future decision making.