McGurk’s role in damaging Turkey-US relations
Turkish-U.S. relations in the last few years have had so many crises and instabilities that everybody started to ask what was going wrong. In particular, in regards to the Syria policy of the U.S., utter disinterest working with Turkey and open disregard of Turkey’s security raised many questions for observers of Turkish-American relations in Turkey. A few years after the beginning of the Syrian civil war, divergences between Turkey and the U.S. reached a point in which many started to talk about a total fallout in relations.
The U.S. had started to act as an unreliable ally. It was not specific for Turkey in the beginning. U.S. allies from different parts of the world were becoming more skeptical of U.S. commitment to the alliance. Every U.S. allied regional actor started to consider options, including increasing defense spending, a tendency for self-reliance, searching for alternative foreign policy paradigms and realignments.
However, in the Turkish case, this skepticism ran deeper and more intense as Turkey’s national security concerns were neglected, and some U.S. officials were inconsiderate in public. In the beginning, some called them road accidents. The U.S. was spending millions of dollars for public diplomacy campaigns, but some officials were doing their best to generate negative reaction to the U.S. in Turkey.
The fact that the U.S. was supporting a terrorist organization by creating an artificial distinction with its mother organization and training and equipping them to use against another terrorist organization caused sufficient damage that influenced Turkey’s perception of the U.S. for decades. Some officials seemed to be doing their best to consolidate this friction at the public level. Spreading pictures with People’s Protection Units (YPG) members, making American servicemen wear YPG armbands, tolerating the YPG’s crimes against humanity on other ethnic and political groups and allowing the group to hold rallies in cities generated major earthquakes in Turkish-American relations.
The two countries lived through one of the most difficult periods in their history. In multiple instances, high-level members of the U.S. administration, including then-Vice President Joe Biden and then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted that promises and assurances given to Turkey were not fulfilled.
Since the announcement by President Trump that the U.S. would withdraw from Syria in March, we started to see some people become nervous about implementing the decision, but somehow their excessive self-confidence made them believe that they could change the president’s idea and continue to adopt their agendas.
Following the Dec. 14 phone call between President Erdoğan and President Trump, they understood that it would be harder to reach their goals. The president was hard to manipulate; thus, their hopes to implement their own goals at the policy level failed. More importantly, the U.S. president made this decision after a phone call with Erdoğan. According to this group it was inconceivable because such a decision would necessitate coordination and cooperation between Turkey and the U.S., which could establish a working relationship between Turkey and the U.S.
Brett McGurk complained about this situation in his Washington Post op-ed. While criticizing President Trump for making the withdrawal decision and for trusting President Erdoğan, McGurk also called Turkey an unreliable partner in Syria.
Until last month McGurk was special envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, and Turkey has been one of the members of the international coalition to defeat Daesh. On the Global Coalition website, Turkey is commended for its contributions in the fight against Daesh: “The Republic of Turkey plays a major role in the Global Coalition: through hosting Coalition assets in its bases, participating in air operations and targeting terrorist elements in Syria; diminishing the financing and recruiting capabilities of Daesh; and delivering aid and providing shelter for displaced Syrians. As the co-chair of the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group, Turkey also actively supports and leads international initiatives in this field.” The envoy of the president of the leading nation of this coalition turned out to be against coordination and cooperation with Turkey. It is not as though Turkey did not already know.
Multiple times the Turkish government expressed discomfort with McGurk. However, with this article this situation became more obvious. It was not new news for Turkey, but it makes it clearer. Now, we can go back and read the history of relations in regards to Syria one more time, since we know what one of the actors was trying to do.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on January 21, 2019.