Turkish Foreign Relations Analysis Forecast

Trump may turn down Erdogan concerning the YPG in Syria and here’s why

U.S. President Trump is seen with his former CENTOM Commander General Votel (R). (Photo: CENTCOM site)

One of the key requests that Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan is likely to make to U.S. President Donald Trump is to drop his support for the SDF military and their backbone, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); the latter was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. as well. But according to well-informed official sources on the matter, Trump, who agreed to pull the said forces back to a depth of 32 km (20 miles) from a 120 km section of the Turkish-Syrian border may turn this offer down or at least play with time while continuing to provide military support to these forces.
Trump’s justification for keeping U.S. troops in Syria has been the protection of the oil fields from being seized again by the ISIS if they revive. By coincidence or not, most of the oil regions where support to the SDF forces will continue are the Kurdish-populated areas in Syria. Sources told YetkinReport that the main reason for keeping the troops there might have to do with a new “proxy war” concept developed by the U.S. Special Forces and Central Command (CENTCOM) and adopted by the Department of Defence, Pentagon, in 2018.The concept which is described as an “operational approach” rather than a doctrine, is called “By-With-Through” by its major developer, Joesph Votel, the ex-commander of CENTCOM.

The By-With-Through concept

In an article Votel penned together with Strategy Analyst Colonel Eero Keravuori issued in the April 2018 issue of the Joint Force Quarterly magazine, the general, now retired, described the concept as “a way of conducting military activities and operations with less direct combat employment of the U.S. forces.” The article has a foreword, a quote from former Secretary of Defence James Mattis: “Our approach is by, with and through our Allies, so that they own these spaces and the U.S. does not; which might have further agitated Ankara’s concerns that a Kurdish state is being cultivated next to its borders.

Votel gives examples from Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria on making local partners fight against “common enemies”, under the U.S.’s command and assistance, “By-With-Through” (BWT). He also wrote that the “significant difference” of the Syria case was that their partner was not the host nation, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government but the SDF, which is considered as outlawed by Damascus and named “non-state actor” by the U.S.

Sources talking to YetkinReport on condition on anonymity underlined that this significant difference makes Syria a “test case” for the BWT approach with non-state actors.

In an interview published on the same issue of the magazine, Votel says that the core of the SDF was the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the Syria branch of the PKK. The organisation was established with a Marxist-Leninist program in 1978 and some 50 thousand people have been killed in its armed campaign against Turkey since 1984.

The possible cost of supporting PKK

It was actually the U.S. government which has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization in the 1990s as a sign of solidarity with its NATO ally Turkey, and it was the CIA which helped the Turkish intelligence MIT in the arrest of the PKK’s founding leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. Öcalan had had his headquarters in Syria from 1979 to 1998 when he was expelled upon Turkish pressure on Damascus.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been a motto which failed its followers many times throughout history. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has supplied training, command and arms to Mujahideen against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, which resulted in the emergence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. ISIS has been a by-product of the invasion of Iraq. ISIS is an enemy for all, including Turkey but the U.S. partner against ISIS in Syria is also an enemy for Turkey in a neighbourhood with Russia gaining strength.

Both Votel and Mattis have gone but Pentagon’s stance seems firm on BWT approach and keeping on the PKK affiliates at its disposal. Trump has his own concerns about keeping his place strong but can think twice considering the possible consequences of the Pentagon persistence on the SDF.

Turkish Foreign Relations Analysis Forecast

House votes widen U.S.-Turkey crack

As Turkey celebrated Republic Day on October 29, the U.S. House of Representatives took two important decisions to put more pressure on Ankara. One of them envisions military-economic sanctions to end the Syrian operation; the Republicans and the Democrats cooperated so it could pass with a staggering 403 votes against 16. The other decision has nothing to do with current issues. A bill that envisions the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide allegation, which had been proposed on April 11 this year, was now approved by 405 votes against 11. If the Senate approves these drafts, they’ll be submitted to Trump for approval.
This brings about an intriguing situation. Had the House of Representatives, most of which is formed by Democrats only issued sanctions in response to the Syrian operation, we could have assumed that they were doing so to corner Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan (who seems to be the main target of the sanctions) and also Trump through him. However, it looks as though the House brought up the Armenian draft resolution, which Turkey used to face every year around April 24, right at this moment just to hurt Turkey.
Therefore we could list the reasons for the House votes as follows:
1- A reaction to Turkey’s military operation in Syria and to the fact that it was targeting the YPG (the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party/PKK) which they viewed as “Kurdish allies” who “saved the Christians from ISIS persecution”;
2- A reaction to Erdoğan who’s collaborating with the Russians despite the U.S. objections and who American politicians no longer view as a “moderate” Islamist;
3- Using their votes to demonstrate the rise in reactive stances against Trump and attacking him also by using the Turkish card as they think that Trump has been defending Turkey.
The U.S. domestic politics have been so blinded by their struggle for power and some disagreements with Turkey, that they don’t refrain from jeopardizing state-to-state relations or from potentially severing a 70-year Western alliance tie.

What could the possible outcomes be?

According to American sources, it could have been more difficult for the sanction proposal to pass through Senate under different circumstances; the majority were Republicans and Trump had a certain influence on Senator Lindsey Graham. But there’s no guarantee on the Armenian issue; negative reactions towards Turkey (but really to Erdoğan) could manifest themselves there. This means:
1- It would be challenging for Turkey to maintain its decades-long diplomatic strategy of sidetracking Armenian bills by pulling Ambassadors or compromising on other issues. That’s why both Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu immediately and strongly retorted;
2- Under the spell of the Armenian bill, the Senate might lean more towards accepting sanctions. However, the Senate (as Graham said) may well wish to create and vote a new bill and send it back to the Representatives for correction;
3- If one or more of the bills pass at the Senate, (and there is always the two-thirds majority possibility) they’ll be submitted to President Trump, who will have to decide within ten days.
In this case, both Erdoğan and Turkey will be at Trump’s mercy.
But let’s say either the Senate of Trump reject the drafts, the big picture will still show us us that some of the cracks in the Turkey-U.S. relations are growing and getting more difficult to repair. It’s worth noting that the only different voice on the government floor in Ankara, when asked to buy a Russian-made Su-35s was National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar’s; he said no, as “We are F-35 partners”.

Is there a way out?

The relations between Turkey and the U.S are beginning to mold into the soldier-to-soldier style that they had back in the Cold War. But this time, there are contradictions between within the soldier fronts too.
The October 16 agreement between U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Erdoğan regarding Turkish military presence in Syria, and the Turkish permission to use the air space during the operation against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not seemingly help the relations run a little smoother. Yet the American media, with the effect of the YPG/PKK propaganda, is questioning why Turkey, who was supposed to have control over the Idlib region, has not noticed al-Baghdadi’s presence (who lives some five kilometers away from the Turkish border with his family) and acted accordingly. This situation must have also affected the unprecedented voting result at the House. The wrong assumption on the part of President Erdoğan and his AKP government that they could handle relations with the U.S. simply on a president-to-president basis is also one of the triggers of this situation. Neglecting the relations with Congress brought things to this point. Repairing relations will take time.
In the face of the current crisis, the harshness of the reactions from the United States indicates that there is also a certain log jam. When international relations get tangled up, it’s either sweet talk or sharp sword; one must avoid using the sword and not halt the talks. State-to-state relations between the U.S. and Turkey has been based on mutual strategic interests and too valuable to risk due to daily politics and discrepancies in the government-to-government relations. The way out of today’s crisis is through dialogue and diplomacy.

Turkish Foreign Relations Analysis Forecast

Erdoğan couldn’t say “One minute!” to the Saudi Crown Prince

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said he regret that he missed the opportunity to “complete” what the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had started by opening up the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during the leaders’ conference of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires on Nov 30-Dec 1.
In a press conference after the Summit Erdoğan said he “couldn’t believe” the answer of the Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to Trudeau when he said it was wrong to accuse his country without any solid evidence. “We have submitted many documents to all security services of the countries who are interested in” Erdoğan said; “apparently it took 7.5 minutes for the murderers to strangle Khassoggi to death. His dead body couldn’t be found yet. This is a test case for the world.”
Khashoggi was killed in the Istanbul consulate of Saudi Arabia on Oct 2 where he went for bureaucratic proceedings on an appointment given 5 days earlier. A team of 18 Saudi officials, including the security adviser of the Crown prince, a ranking Saudi intelligence officer and a chief coroner were in Istanbul right before the murder and left the city right after it. Evidence collected by Turkish intelligence MİT, including recordings during the murder had triggered investigations of a number of security services including the CIA and the MI6.
Following the visit of the CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey where she met with MIT Director Hakan Fidan, American media wrote based on intelligence sources that it could be Salman who gave the order to kill the critical journalist who was writing for the Washington Post as well. Turkish Foreign Ministry lead by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, as well as MİT work efficiently to unveil the case and made Saudis admit that Khasogghi was killed; Erdoğan repeatedly said that Turkey would never let the case go unaccounted. Actually it was Erdoğan’s persistence which triggered a number of political stances taken by Western countries to force Saudis to come up with solid evidence on the case, despite backing of the U.S. President Donald Trump; Germany, France, Britain and Canada were among them.
The G20 Summit was indeed a golden opportunity for Erdoğan to face off against the Crown Prince before all G20 leaders from Trump to, Russian President Vladimir Putin, from Emmanuel Macron of France to Xi Jinping of China and make the headlines the next day.
But it could be understood from his words to especially Turkish journalists escorting him during the visit that Erdoğan did not raise the issue until the end of the first session and it was Trudeau asking Salman the crucial question. “It should be up to us to complete the issue [after Salman’s answer to Trudeau]” Erdoğan said; “But the Chairman of the session [President of Argentine Mauricio Macri] gave the floor to Macron and said the debate would continue after the lunch.”
It seems, Erdoğan who had intervened to the moderator David Ingatius of the World Economic Forum panel discussion in Davos on Jan 29, 2009 with his famous “One minute!” remark and point finger to –then Israeli President Shimon Peres to say “When it comes to kill people you know well how to do it”, could not do the same to the Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Nov 30 in Buenos Aires. It seems Erdoğan missed the chance to raise the issue at the first place and then missed the chance to follow up when Trudeau did so.
Why Erdoğan couldn’t make the “One minute!” remark to the Saudi Crown Prince that he did to Israeli Prime Minister nearly ten years ago? We do not know that. Partly because none of the journalist Erdoğan hand-picked to escort him during the trip had asked him during the press conference; some of them did not even report what the President had frankly told them.