Türkiye Losing Patience with the US

By Conor Gallagher

Following the explosion in Istanbul on Nov. 13 that killed six people and wounded more than 80, the relationship between the US and its NATO partner Türkiye reached a new low – to the point Turkish strikes are now hitting American positions in Syria.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu said the US and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were behind the attack, rejected a condolence statement, and declared the PKK an arm of the CIA. The PKK and its Syrian wing, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has denied involvement.

Soylu said that the order for the Istanbul attack originated in the northeastern Syrian town of Manbij, where there is a US military presence.

Whether Ankara think the US helped plan the attack or is implicated because of their use of the PKK as a proxy force is really a moot point. It’s a pretty loud statement from Ankara that they’ve had enough.

For the past week, Türkiye has launched airstrikes on Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria with some coming close to hitting US forces. Some of the Kurdish military targets are also occupied by American soldiers.

Türkiye has talked of a ground offensive, but it remains to be seen if Erdogan goes through with it.

The US DOD issued a strong statement  saying that Türkiye’s actions are a distraction from the never-ending mission to defeat ISIS. (It makes no mention of reports that the US is transferring ISIS militants to places like Ukraine to fight Russia and Afghanistan to stir up trouble in central Asia.) US State Department spokespeople have also said with straight faces that the US “opposes any military action that destabilizes the situation in Syria.”

Regardless, recent reports indicate that the US is evacuating all “civilian staff”  to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. From Al Monitor:

In the past when Türkiye threatened to attack, coalition troops would make a show of force, flying large US flags on their vehicles as they drove through the imperiled towns. There have been no such displays this time.

The spokesperson did not respond to Al-Monitor’s query as to whether the United States was mediating between Türkiye and the SDF to prevent a Turkish ground offensive, saying the United States did not comment on private diplomatic conversations. Well-informed sources briefing Al-Monitor said Türkiye was spurning all mediation efforts and is on the warpath.

While it looks like the Americans helped stir up trouble and then (partially)  hit the road, it is ironically Russia (and Iran, which also has reservations) that is primarily holding Türkiye back from its invasion. Türkiye has reportedly given Moscow “more time” to broker an agreement that would see Kurdish forces cede territory from which they launch attacks on Türkiye. Rather than have Turkiye invade and create a “buffer zone” Russia is trying to get the YPG to hand over control of that territory to Damascus, which would also forward Moscow’s goal of an Assad-Erdogan reconciliation. Erdogan has recently said he is open to the possibility.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency is also reporting that the US-sponsored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have asked Russian officials for help in reaching a security agreement with the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Cradle reports:

Moscow has asked the SDF during recent talks to return control of Ain al-Arab, Manbij, and Tal Rifaat in Aleppo governorate to Damascus in order to defuse the crisis with Türkiye.

Previously, the SDF leader said he counted on Washington’s “moral duty” to prevent the Turkish ground offensive. Reports allege that divisions remain within the Kurdish militia concerning whether to ally with the Assad government, or wait for the US to protect them.

Turkish media is also reporting that PKK fighters received a huge shipment of weaponry from the US on Tuesday. Again from the Cradle:

“The United States sent 120 vehicles and armored vehicles, weapons, ammunition, and logistics to the [PKK]. The convoy passed through the Al-Waleed border crossing on the Syrian-Iraqi border and headed for the Tal-Baidar base south of Hasakah,” Yeni Safak reported early on 29 November.

The SDF is asking for more support from Washington. According to Reuters, the head of the SDF is demanding a “stronger” message from the US.

While the US wants to keep its presence in Syria to continue smuggling out oil and  as a base to train and arm its proxy fighters, by using the Kurds to destabilize the region Washington has come dangerously close to aligning Türkiye, Syria, Iraq, and Iran against the American presence.

Should Erdogan go through with the invasion, it would create some of the worst hostilities in northeastern Syria in years. Despite the US’ constant harassment of Türkiye for pursuing autonomous policies, he wants to maintain Türkiye’s position as a bridge between east and west during this new Cold War.

Even if Washington and Ankara can find a way to defuse tensions over the Kurdish issue, expect the rocky relationship to continue.

The problem is that Washington refuses to accept that Türkiye – a crucial NATO member no less – refuses to accept American hegemony and follow orders like the Europeans. Additionally, the US has been outdone by RUssia, which has built a stronger, more trustworthy relationship with Türkiye.

US efforts to use the Kurds to pressure Türkiye are just the latest in series of attempts to use the proverbial stick against Ankara. None are working and are instead driving Türkiye closer to Russia, which instead of threats, offers Türkiye something return.

Consider the following contrast of Russian carrots with US sticks:

  • Türkiye began looking to purchase a missile defense system during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Ankara asked NATO multiple times to deploy early warning systems and Patriot missiles to Türkiye, but it never came to pass. In 2017 Russia sold Türkiye its S-400 missile defense systems, which are arguably superior to anything the West has. In response the US expelled Türkiye from its F-35 program and sanctioned the country’s defense industry organization and its leaders.
  • US proxy forces in Ukraine have reportedly tried to sabotage pipelines between Russia and Türkiye three times in recent months. Türkiye receives more than one-third of its gas needs from Russia, and Putin has pushed plans to make Türkiye a natural gas hub for Europe.
  • The US Treasury Department threatened secondary sanctions on Turkish financial institutions for processing the Russian Mir payment system forcing them to abandon it. Russian tourism to Türkiye is through the roof, giving a much-needed boost to the Turkish economy. Ugur Gurses, a former Turkish central banker, believes the Russians are using a nuclear power plant they’re constructing in Türkiye to  transfer funds by purchasing Turkish bonds instead of direct bank transfers in a boost to Türkiye’s foreign reserves.
  • The US abandoned its neutral stance on Türkiye’s relationship with both Greece and Cyprus. Washington is ramping up military aid to Greece, turning a port near the Turkish border into a naval base, and sending weaponry to Cyprus after ending a decades-old ban on arms sales. Turkish drones recorded Greece deploying US-donated armored vehicles on the islands of Lesbos and Samos, which is in violation of international law.
  • And finally, while Russia has repeatedly warned the Kurds about becoming a US proxy force, Washington has worked to play the PKK and YPG off against Türkiye. The US and Europe have supported Kurdish forces against Türkiye’s wishes and then they appeared caught off guard when Erdogan wouldn’t rubber stamp Sweden and Finland’s bids to join NATO, which requires unanimous approval from all 30 members.

On the last point, Sweden is now bending over backwards trying to get Türkiye to approve its bid. It’s gotten to the point the new government in Stockholm is being ridiculed at home. Ankara has indicated that no decision will be made before next year’s elections in Türkiye, currently set for June.

Erdogan is facing one of his most difficult elections ever as the Turkish economy struggles with inflation that climbed to a 24-year high of more than 85 percent in October.

US pressure on Türkiye is likely to continue in coming months in an effort to replace Erdogan with someone who is hopefully more willing to toe the NATO line. There’s also a good chance that Russia will step up its support of Erdogan in an effort to ensure his reelection.

The US and NATO seem to be preparing for Erdogan’s departure prematurely. AT the G20 summit in Bali, Biden convened an emergency meeting after the news of a missile striking Poland. Nikkei Asia noticed how all NATO and EU leaders in Bali were at the meeting – except Erdogan. Asked about it later, Erdogan told reporters:

They might have not had the chance to call us. They are inviting us to important dealings. No need to go to not-important ones.


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  1. The Rev Kev

    Just like it took the geniuses in DC to have two contradictory countries like China and Russia come together into a de-facto alliance, it looks like they are managed to do the same trick in this part of the world. They are now uniting Türkiye, Syria, Iraq and Iran with the support & backing of both Russia and China. That’s a helluva trick that. And if DC goes ahead with its all-stick-and-no-carrot approach, it may even cause those countries to go into a semi-formal alliance. When you read Conor’s list of US sticks, you can see how Ankara can only conclude that they are now being directly targeted by the neocons and almost certainly regime change – if they can. And for sure, the Turks do not want a repeat of what happened to the NS2 pipelines in the Baltic. True, the Turks do control the ships going in and out the Black Sea but the Turks also see how the US is using the Ukrainians to try to sabotage those Turkish pipelines on their behalf. The crazy thing is that because of its geographical location, Türkiye is a linchpin nation but instead of trying to make nice with them, are actually encouraging Türkiye’s enemies to attack it. All I can say is that countries like Russia and China are lucky in their enemies.

    1. russell1200

      The post ignores that Turkey has also been rather friendly with Ukraine and sold them a variety of drones: both loitering and kamikaze. It has also been solidifying its connections to Israel and Egypt: note exactly friends of Iran. For its part, Iran has all been set to go after brother Turks in Azerbaijan again.

      There is no de-facto alliance. Just the usual turmoil. That countries in the area are more willing to compartmentalized their disputes (like Israel making an oil deal with Lebanon – who it is still technically at war with) doesn’t make them friends.

  2. Lex

    Thanks for the excellent summary of events and issues, Connor. The US is entering deeply problematic areas of imperial overstretch. I can’t determine whether it realizes this and is hoping that something breaks its way or if there’s so much hubris that it cannot even see the short, medium and long term problems the current trend-lines indicate. Maybe a bit of both. Probably a firm belief that it’s actually the US stretching Russia to the breaking point, but it doesn’t look that way. Maybe the blob assumes that the worst case is a regional conflict in Western Asia and any chaos is good chaos. Though as this piece points out, it appears that all this is doing is pushing Russia, Turkey, Iran, Syria and maybe even Iraq to work more closely together. Good luck to them.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Simpsons are always relevant

      The clip above is a good representation of how the G7 elites see the “little peoples.” I don’t think Western foreign policy elites care except that they expect total obedience.

      Blinken went on anti-China Africa tour a year ago and came back lamenting how African countries expect something in return for doing what the US says. In the case of Turkey, they see a random Muslim country tolerated in the club, not the Anatolian heartland of two major empires (or one, depending on how you see it) and where Constantine put his capital.

      Obama dismissed Russia as a regional power. This is true, but Obama dismissed Russia despite referring to Russia’s activity in Ukraine and Syria (Damascus and no tsars had and dalliance going back to Catherine).

      Was it Honorius? One of the last Western Caesars was famous for not fulfilling an expansion of citizenship to the Germans that destroyed Attila’s army. What did the first Caesars do? Expand the citizenship. Increase the size of the Senate. I think you have the same crisis today. We are simply contemptuous of “little peoples” we simply refuse to deal with them.

      Not that Erdogan is playing for everything he can get. He is, but that should be expected. It’s what any semi-reasonable person would do.

      1. agent ranger smith

        It is too bad that a Russian spokesman at the time didn’t think to say something like ” It is true that we are a regional power. We are a power in the Europe region. We are a power in the Middle East region. We are a power in the Central Asia region. We are a power in the Northeast Asia region. We are a power in the Arctic region. Quite the regional power are we.”

        And see what Obama would have said to that.

  3. voislav

    This is playing into Erdogan’s hand, creating a foreign threat to shore up declining support due to poor economy. I suspect that the reason ground invasion is on hold is to wait until closer to elections. That way he can get the patriotic boost for dealing a decisive blow to PKK, while avoiding blowback due to casualties.

  4. DJG, Reality Czar

    I’m not trying to pick a fight with Conor Gallagher, but something about the U.S. of A. helping out the PKK doesn’t pass the smell test. The PKK is radically democratic (d lowercase). These are not natural allies, not even “enemy of my enemy is my friend” style.

    I note this: “Turkish media is also reporting that PKK fighters received a huge shipment of weaponry from the US on Tuesday.”

    I have been following the Kurds in Rojava, in particular, for a while. The excellent Italian graphic novelist Zercalcare has two documentary/graphic novels on the region based on his travel and reporting from there. Kobane Calling (one of the cities now being bombed again by the Turks). And released in October, No Sleep to Shengal, about the Ezidis and ISIS persecution of them.

    Admittedly, he’s a fan of the YPG and YPJ (the women’s forces).

    But it would be the most remarkable marriage of convenience if the U.S. of A. is subsidizing the PKK. And to what end?

    According to Zerocalcare, the Iraqi Kurdish region is not-so-subtly infiltrated and aligned with Turchia.

    So I will remain skeptical of Ankara and its knee-jerk reaction about the PKK.

    The question that remains is the U.S. presence and the theft of petroleum. What purpose does this serve beside plain ole U.S. bullying?

    1. David

      That was my reaction too. The US has formally designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation for more than twenty years now, and has also accused it, apparently with justification, of links to drug-smuggling. For its part the PKK has apparently been forging links with Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, and with the YPG. Since the Turks consider the YPG and the PKK to be essentially the same organisation, the comment above may actually refer to arms deliveries to the YPG, if, indeed, it has any substance at all. Remember that we’re dealing with a part of the world where nothing that appears in the regular media is ever believed, and everyone is convinced that foreigners (usually the British and Americans ) are behind everything. I’ve spoken to people who are quite convinced that US Special Forces trained and equipped, and even directed ISIS, because they were told so by this bloke they met in a café who claimed to have spoken to someone who spoke to someone who’s sure they actually saw it. But as you say, there’s not much logic to it.

      1. Lex

        I’m not disagreeing, but designating a group as terrorist doe not traditionally preclude the US from interacting with that group. US intelligence has pretty openly operated with known terrorist networks in Syria for years. I believe Jake Sullivan even once said that we’re on Al Qaeda’s side in Syria.

        1. David

          Yes, but there would have to be a pretty big reason to go against US policy and break US law, and I just can’t see what that would be.

          1. Karl

            I thought the deep state considered US policy and US law as advisory only. Surely there are workarounds?

      2. Soredemos

        Michael Hudson had made essentially the same claim before, saying ISIS was a kind of American Foreign Legion.

        Personally I think it’s basically bunk. ISIS started and grew largely because of American ineptitude, and then we absolutely stood back and allowed to them to flourish for a while as a way to attempt to pressure Iraq, as well as a few specific instances in Syria. But using them occasionally is a far cry from creating or directing them.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Yet somehow in all those photos of weapons captured by Syrian Arab Army from the Moderate Rebels (a subsidiary of ISIS), there were so many US made weapons, ammunition and other equipment (like Israeli medikits). If not US, then somebody else from The West was doing a lot more than “allowing them to flourish”.

          And let’s not forget how USAF was called ISIS Air Force at the time by many, due to it hitting mostly SAA positions instead of the terrorists rebels – and often exactly when that was the last hope of the said “opposition troops”.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Agreed. I remember still all those technicals that ISIS had and how one bore the signage of a hapless Texas plumber which made people wonder how it came from America to the hands of ISIS. That plumber copped a lot of abuse over that one. But there is another factor. If there is one target that the USAF loves it is an enemy convoy moving down a highway in the middle of a desert with no potential collateral damage. And that is precisely how those ISIS forces moved down through Iraq. But the US military totally ignored them. Strange that.

            As for the “ISIS Air Force”, you are correct. When Coalition air forces attacked Syrian positions at Deir ez-Zor in 2016, it was provably so that ISIS forces could finally seize that city from their defenders. And I regret that Aussie and Danish Air Force aircraft also took part in that attack. To this day, I wonder if they knew who they were attacking or whether the US gave them a false targeting package. I note that several weeks after this attack, the Danish Air Force pulled out of this Coalition and went back home so maybe the later?

          2. Keith Newman

            I seem to remember the US provided many millions of dollars of weapons to “the moderate rebels” who barely existed. The weapons actually went to ISIS. A lot of info re ISIS was revealed by US sources over the years including in congressional testimony. I remember concluding from it at the time that ISIS was a de facto US proxy. There was so much info supporting this conclusion I’m a little surprised there’s any doubt about it now.

        2. David

          We know a great deal about ISIS, about how and why it started, what its ideology was, how it functioned, how it attracted recruits, how it fought, and how it was eventually largely defeated. We also know that much of its equipment was of US origin because it was captured from Iraqi Army stocks. All this has been exhaustively documented in books in several languages that Mr Hudson might profitably study. The US role in all this was minimal, except in the sense that they tried to support what they saw as the “moderate” anti-Assad forces. These people did exist, especially at the beginning when there were genuine popular uprisings that were brutally repressed: they were Sunni army officers, and I met some of them a few years later. They were pretty ineffectual though, and inevitably weapons found their way into the hands of those who were most committed to using them. Not that there was any lack of weapons in the region to begin with.

          1. James

            David – you should read ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’ by Mark Curtis. Neither the US nor the UK are interested in supporting moderate Arabs.

        3. skippy

          You might not be aware but conservatives back in the day funded the radicalization of young men through bespoke schools for them in the region – its ground zero for all this going all the way back to getting the commies out of Afghanistan. Its not like its a new play or anything considering the SOP of destabilizing nations or regions for easy looting or poking others in the eye to drain GDP away from them for the worst sort of dept there is – war/military debt.

          I mean these games go way back, War is a Racket and further back.

          Some forget or are ignorant that post USSR abandoning Afghanistan all the promises made to the “Freedom Fighters” now known as the Taliban were reneged on e.g. rebuilding the nation. Instead they got a phone number to some nice Banks in the U.S. and could apply for a loan ….

    2. agent ranger smith

      Denying oil and oil money to the Syrian Arab Republic government serves the purely spite-based USgov’s desire for revenge against the Syrian Arab Republic for having defeated the Jihadi effort to replace the Syrian Arab Republic with an Islamic Emirate and or an “Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and Syria”. The goal is to prevent Syrian reconstruction to make Syria pay for having defeated the US and its Gulf Jihadi-backing allies.

      In my personal opinion.

  5. KerSer

    Since Turkey’s position regarding the demilitarization of Greek islands is presented here uncritically once again, I’d like to refer back to my comment on a previous article discussing Turkish-American relations :

    Briefly, regarding Greek islands such as Lesbos and Samos, Article 51 of the UN Charter provides for the right to self-defense. Greece considers that Turkey’s agressivity towards Greece (and Cyprus !) justifies a military presence on these islands, especially when one considers that Turkey’s Fourth Army (with an important number of landing craft) is stationed less than 100 nautical miles away from Lesbos.

    I invite anyone who is interested to take a look at the following document, which presents the more or less official Greek position regarding Greco-Turkish relations. The demilitarization question is presented in chapter 3 (page 21):

    1. ddt

      Also not mentioned is that Turkiye isn’t a signatory of said treaties or, as the article states “international law” that Greece is flouting.

  6. Soredemos

    This is petty, but what is the logic behind the NC style guide for the name not just being Turkey? Because NC doesn’t also use, for instance, Ellada or Nihon when talking about Greece and Japan.

    1. Yves Smith

      Yes it is and I suggest you use a search engine.

      That is Türkiye’s official name. Greece and Japan have made no such stipulation.

      What’s in a name: Turkey formally requests name change to ‘Türkiye’

      Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has sent a letter to the United Nations formally requesting that his country be referred to as “Türkiye,” the state-run news agency reported. The move is seen as part of a push by Ankara to rebrand the country and dissociate its name from the bird by the same name and some associated negative connotations.

      Anadolu Agency said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, confirmed receipt of the letter late on Wednesday. The agency quoted Dujarric as saying that the name change had become effective “from the moment” the letter was received.


  7. Maxwell Johnston

    Bold prediction: at the end of the day, the Turks will allow Sweden to join NATO.

    Many years ago, on a business trip to Istanbul, my boss (who was a shrewd negotiator) dragged me along on his shopping trip to buy some carpets near the Grand Bazaar. After the usual preliminaries (cups of tea whilst the rug merchant’s flunkies rolled out carpet after carpet), my boss picked out a carpet he liked and asked how much it cost. To which the (bearded and plump) rug merchant answered: “Sir, the price is not as low as you might wish, but not as high as you might fear.” And the negotiations began, and the sale was completed (including overseas delivery to my boss’s abode).

    Erdogan has a lot of rug merchant in him, and he’s a survivor. He’s unlikely to alienate the Yankees too much.

    1. digi_owl

      Much of it comes down to sea power. Russia has two warm water ports on the Atlantic side, but need to negotiate hostile straits to get into the deep Atlantic proper. By contrast USA has a long shoreline facing directly to the deep Atlantic.

      Turkey controls one of those straits. Thus them being on Russia’s good side is a boon. And why, along with having a large army untouched by WW2, they were courted into NATO early on. They, along with Greece, also made for nifty missile bases during the cold war (how the Cuban crisis came to pass, as USSR played tit for tats).

      1. James

        Warm water ports matter, but I would argue the energy corridors (aka gas pipelines) to Europe matter even more.

    2. John k

      The question for Erdogan is, will the us be number 1 in the new world order or just a regional Atlantic power?
      In the latter case, the Asian powers will be more important to turkey, and alliance with Russia will be critical to turkey for many reasons. Granted the time element is important, too, but us seems badly over-extended to me.
      He says he’s waiting for June… there might be some resolution to the Ukraine issue by then… and another winter once again not far off, combined with no Russia gas all year for eu, might focus some minds.

    3. Irrational

      That is a very astute observation there. They key, though, is that the rug merchant expects a deal at the end. If you walk away after having negotiated, that’s bad faith. So how will this one end with a non-agreement capable US?

    4. fjallstrom

      I think you are right.

      The silly thing is Sweden doesn’t even have a military need to join NATO, in particular if Finland joins. Even assuming nefarious intentions from Russia, how can Russia attack Sweden without going through Finland, Norway or the Baltic states?

      Yes, I know, if you read Swedish papers, there is the long campaign to establish the treath of a possible assault from Kaliningrad on Gotland to get an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Baltic Sea. But it is merely possible, not plausible, as it is also a unsupportable aircraft carrier without occupying either the Baltics or Finland.

      Right now, there is in reality a political need for the new government to deliver something. Hence the newly elected conservative PM making Turkey his first foreign visit. Where he got roundly humiliated.

  8. skippy

    The problem with half this stuff boils down to who has abundant resources/natural capital. The rest is a hoedown ….

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