No day passes by when Turkish papers do not report about US activities in extending support to the PYD/YPG. Despite United States’ explanations that the relationship between it and the PYD/YPG is one of convenience intended to defeat ISIS rather than a long-term relationship through which this organization might carve up territory for a future Kurdish state from Iraq and Syria, indications are that what we have is a long term relationship with possible intentions to change the map of the region. Throughout the week, Turkish newspapers were full with pictures of American soldiers and YPG irregulars in front of a map in which Turkey’s Hatay region was shown as part of Syria. If the point is raised with the Americans, I am sure that they will blame the PYD, arguing that the meeting was in a YPG furnished room with a natural, non-political map.
In fighting terrorist incursions, increasingly, the Turkish forces are capturing American made weapons, leading credence to Turkey’s allegations that the PKK-YPG distinction is not meaningful. For all practical purposes, YPG is an integral part of a movement that conducts acts of terrorism against Turkey, hoping eventually to wrest territory from it. While such dreams are unrealistic and unachievable, the fight against the PKK saps both energy and resources that could be devoted to more useful activities, including in foreign policy. Some Turkish observers, bent on conspiratorial explanations, suggest that the Americans and the Israelis are interested in creating a Kurdish state at territorial loggerheads with all neighbors, whose existence will depend on their support. Such analysis may be far-fetched, clearly, however, attention on Kurdish developments tends to reduce attention on Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. More realistically, Turkey is concerned that what may have started as a relationship of convenience, appears to gradually acquire a more permanent character since the conflict with ISIS may last a long time and after the mission is accomplished (if ever) it may prove difficult for the Americans with strong ties to the YPG/PYD leave their partners.
Turkey’s problems with the US is not confined to the latter’s close relations to the PYD/YPG. For many years, all NATO countries led by the US had subscribed to a 2/3 balance in air power between Turkey and Greece. This rule is no longer observed as Greece has developed greater air power by getting American and French support while Turkey has been withheld even temporary measures such as refurbishing its current F-16 fleet and adding new F-16s to its air force. Presumably, the American administration is willing to offer them but is uncertain about whether Congress would be willing to refrain from posting objections. The possibility that the Turkish request might get bogged down because of congressional objections points to a major problem in American policymaking: whether the Biden or, for that matter, any other American administration may trusted to implement any foreign policy commitment it has made.
In recent years, the nature of American policymaking has changed. In earlier years, foreign policy was developed by the Administration in consultation with Congress. The support for policy was not along partisan lines; rather, the president worked to build a bi-partisan majority that he could count on to support his foreign policy during his tenure. In forging his bi-partisan coalition, the President relied on a major behavioral feature of the US Congress, i.e. making compromises. A description of any aspect of American politics by using such terms as bi-partisanship and compromise appears to be truly outdated today. What we find instead is a highly polarized relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The party that is rival to that of the president thinks it to be virtuous not to allow the president to do anything that they find against their own preferences. This is tantamount to having two centers of policy making. The competitive relationship between the two branches of government has also produced another problem. In the face of stalemates between them, the space for government agencies to proceed with their own agendas has opened up. These proceed with their own preferences, often ignoring those of the administration, which they fear is likely to be inconsistent and subject to change.
It may be tempting to think that the problematical American foreign policy toward Turkey is Turkey’s own doing. It has purchased S-400 missiles from Russia, it is accused of violating embargoes against Russia and Iran, it has extended support to Hamas, so far it has failed to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid etc. I will not challenge those criticisms but will still argue that American unpredictability and therefore lack of reliability is a broader phenomenon as the US’s wavering support for Ukraine shows. Therefore, even if Turkey were to make fundamental shifts in its external policy to accommodate American preferences, it is not certain that the US would deliver on its promises given the malaise that currently characterizes American policymaking. It is indeed difficult these days to believe what the Americans say.