It seems that an unknown dynamic is creating anxiety between Turkey and the US. First, the US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, declared that the US government had suggested the implementation of tactics, techniques and procedures in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorism such as those which paved the way for the killing of Osama bin Laden. Then Ambassador Ricciardone noted that the Turkish government had rejected these proposals.
In all its details, Ricciardone's statement was somehow a serious challenge to the Turkish government, which has come under fire from the public for being weak against the PKK. After a short time, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded that Turkey is conducting its counterterrorism strategy on the basis of international law, thereby insinuating that the US methods are somehow illegal.
More recently, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who commands US troops in Europe, said that the US was unsure about the origin of Syrian shells that recently killed five Turkish citizens in Akçakale. Hertling even argued that opposition forces may have fired them to provoke further Turkish involvement in the Syrian conflict, and even indicated the possibility of PKK involvement in the incident. (Hertling is a high-ranking officer who would normally speak only in terms of confirmed intelligence.) Ankara's official position is completely different, as the Turkish government has declared that it has definitively established the origin of the shells.
The verbal war is not being waged from the American side only. Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel stated that he has observed no noteworthy intelligence sharing with the US in Turkey's struggle with the PKK.
So what is the meaning of these competing views of high-profile technocrats and bureaucrats? Despite the endless honeymoon between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Erdoğan, the bureaucrats' public confirmations prove that the Turkish-American alliance is not working efficiently. It seems that the alliance is facing the risk of becoming the private debating club of Obama and Erdoğan, who meanwhile have failed to transform their personal closeness into concrete strategic cooperation. Moreover, their personal closeness has given a false image of Turkish-American harmony. Things are not going well, and if no serious overhaul takes place, the traditional Turkish-American alliance may face structural risks resulting in longstanding ruptures.
Of course, the complex nature of Turkish-American relations cannot be explained in the simple terms of personal relations between the US president and the Turkish prime minister. Rather, the ongoing problems should be explained in terms of observable structural dynamics.
(i) The Turkish-American alliance lacks essentials. It has no clearly defined priority list, but is more like a conjectural cooperation program.
(ii) The issue of Israel is a serious problem. Given Turkey's stance on Israel, efficient intelligence cooperation is hardly possible.
(iii) The US is not clear on the recent activism in Turkish foreign policy. Though Washington was happy with Erdoğan's early secularism, things are different today. There are serious differences on many issues, such as the rise of Islamism in the Middle East. Turkey is acting very independently, and this makes the US uneasy.
(iv) Turkey's US-based armament strategy has failed. (I am not sure who should be blamed for this.) Turkey lacks important defense systems for deployment against other regional actors, such as present-day Syria. The US has been very lazy about exporting necessary equipment, such as Super Cobras, not to mention high-tech non-human aerial products, like Predators. It is becoming a “must” for Turkey to engage with Russia and China to overcome these difficulties.
(v) The Turkish-American alliance lacks a social and economic basis. After almost 50 years, the alliance has not produced a serious trade volume. The agents of the alliance are still bureaucrats, politicians and intellectuals.
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