Has Turkey turned from a US ally to an adversary?

Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in Northern Syria allowed the ethnic cleansing of Kurds, a US Defense Agency report says.

‘ONE CAN make a strong case for the indispensability of the role Syrian Kurds can play in Jerusalem’s new foreign policy.’ (photo credit: REUTERS)
‘ONE CAN make a strong case for the indispensability of the role Syrian Kurds can play in Jerusalem’s new foreign policy.’
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in Northern Syria facilitated the reconstitution of ISIS capabilities. The terrorist group not only intensified its activities in Syria and Iraq but also regained additional abilities to carry out attacks abroad, according to a recent report of the US Defense Intelligence Agency.
The document is written in extremely dry official language. “On October 9, Turkey launched air and ground operations against Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) positions in northeastern Syria that initiated a series of actions that affected the OIR mission against ISIS. These actions also influenced the US relationship with the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria, and control of territory in northeastern Syria. ISIS exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of US troops to reconstitute capabilities and resources within Syria and strengthen its ability to plan attacks abroad.”
What the report sheepishly calls “influence on the US relationship with the Kurds” in reality was widely regarded as Washington’s reluctance to support its key ally. The Kurds and their supporters, unlike DIA analysts, did not mince words, concisely expressing their opinion in a single word: betrayal. It’s hard to argue with this estimate, as Washington’s inaction left the Kurds one-on-one with Turkey, which did not hesitate to use the opportunity to launch a military operation akin to genocide in its violence.
One of the harshest estimates of the Turkish operation came from William Roebuck, a senior US diplomat and former deputy special envoy to the international coalition against ISIS. His leaked memo, titled “Standing by as Turks Cleanse Kurds in Northern Syria and Destabilize our D-ISIS Platform in the Northeast” was published by The New York Times and provoked heated discussions.
The memo’s content is very well in line with the title. Although Roebuck condemns the US for making little effort to deter Turkey, he unequivocally declares the Turkish authorities to be the main culprit. He believes that even if Washington had taken a bolder approach, it would not have prevented Turkish President Recep Erdogan from executing his plans. “It’s a tough call, and the answer is probably not. But we won’t know because we didn’t try,” he says in the report.
Operation Peace Spring, Roebuck states, is little more than ethnic cleansing spearheaded by radical Islamists from Turkish-backed proxies. Multiple cases of assassinations of civilians, including politicians and priests, by the hands of the terrorists, confirm this assessment. But the Turkish leadership remains unabashed. High-profile murders are exploited to terrorize local residents and force them to flee the areas set as the goal of the Turkish operation.
Roebuck, along with former special envoy to the international coalition Brett McGurk and a number of other high-ranking US military commanders and administration officials, became one of the most vocal critics of the Turkish incursion. As expected, he and the others found themselves on the “black list” of Turkish media, who are indiscriminate in labeling those who dare to speak against Turkey as “terrorist supporters.”
In addition to the online smear campaign against its critics, Ankara actively benefits from services provided by its allies – or those willing to become allies – for a certain price. Probably the highest-profile figure on this list is James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Turkey and US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Syria. Jeffrey’s statements about Turkey having “legitimate concerns” over security of its borders, and the YPG being the same as the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), which is considered a terrorist group by the Turkish authorities, parroted the rhetoric frequently used by Turkish officials and were a major red flag signaling that Jeffrey is Turkey’s man in Washington.
Simultaneous use of violent proxies on the ground and sophisticated lobbyists in the White House, together with an incoherent Washington position, allowed Ankara to extract maximum benefit from the US reluctance to act. This was largely achieved by a single man: Erdogan.
It was after speaking to the Turkish leader that Trump announced the (yet-to-be-executed) decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, giving Turkey a green light to begin the operation against the Kurds. Despite all the efforts made by Trump to present this step in a positive light and push the “bringing our soldiers home” narrative, another view prevailed: The US suffered a humiliating defeat – and one that was dealt by an ally: Turkey.
The story repeated itself during the latest meeting between the two leaders in Washington. Again, despite harsh statements by US officials in regard to shipments of Russian weapons systems to Turkey – including S-400 missiles and possibly Su-35 jets – the negotiations ended with Trump looking defeated simply because he hosted the leader of the state waging war against a key US ally in the Syrian crisis.
There can be only one conclusion: Erdogan’s Turkey never was, and never could be, an ally of the US. Any illusions that still exist here must be abandoned. Without this, Washington is destined to continue to lose to an ally that has long turned into an enemy.
The writer is a Syrian journalist with first-hand knowledge of the Syrian conflict gained from a vast network of personal acquaintances and sources on the ground. His primary focus is the involvement of foreign actors and its consequences on both regional and global levels. He currently resides in the United Kingdom.