U.S.-Turkish Tensions Add to Regional Risk
U.S.-Turkish relations have never been easy to manage. But the current standoff between Washington and Ankara is striking, even by the standards of an historically difficult relationship. At the heart of the problem is the tension between geopolitics and behavior, between strategic interest and practical policy. In the era of Trump and Erdogan, it is also a matter of diplomatic – or not so diplomatic – style. A climate of mistrust and overheated nationalism prevails on all sides. Turkey and the U.S. remain NATO allies, with a strong stake in regional cooperation. Bilateral military-to-military engagement continues. The current estrangement is not necessarily permanent. Yet, for all the historical precedents, the current crisis in relations has some particularly disturbing and potentially durable elements. However long lasting, the tension between Washington and Ankara is not good news for regional stability.
The issues at stake are well known. Turkey objects to American support for Kurdish forces in Syria, with their close ties to the PKK, and chafes at American reluctance to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric exiled in Pennsylvania, who Ankara sees as the mastermind behind the July 2016 coup attempt. More fundamentally, there is a broadly shared and deepening mistrust of the U.S. among the Turkish public as well as politicians across the political spectrum. Washington is widely perceived as at best an unreliable partner, and at worst, an active opponent of Turkish ambitions.