Reports suggest that a deal to engage Turkey in the international coalition fighting ISIS has nearly been concluded. It will be seen as a major step forward for the Obama administration, whose failure to ensure the cooperation of the Turks thus far has hampered the response to the Islamist extremists’ advance.
Should Turkey help more directly in the fight against ISIS, and the US ensure that the territorial integrity of Turkey is not breached by the group, it may lead to a resurgence in positive ties between two countries that were once close allies.
After World War Two, America pumped considerable amounts of money into the Turkish military as a means of resisting the advances of communism. Indeed, throughout the Cold War Turkey remained a crucial ally for the US in a very vulnerable region, which the Soviets were keen to gain influence over. Aside from their opposition to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the Americans were unwavering in their support for the politicians in Istanbul.
Even after the Cold War ended relations remained positive. With several potentially combustible regional disputes on their doorstep, the Turks were content for the American military to retain its base at Incirlik and generally supported Washington’s Middle East policy throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.
Turkey has provided support for the American ‘War on Terror’, well aware that it cannot afford to take a soft stance on radical Islam given the religious and ethnic make-up of its people. That said, the recent lurch of Prime Minister-cum-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards a more conservative brand of Islamism, coupled with a retrenchment of democracy, has disappointed Washington.
Erdogan’s reticence to support US efforts against ISIS up to now, and his continuing refusal to make any concessions towards the Kurds, has led to questions being asked about his suitability as an ally. President Obama, meanwhile, infuriated many Turks in 2009 with his condemnation of the ‘Armenian Genocide’, the occurrence of which many in Turkey dispute.
It remains to be seen how effective Turkish collaboration in the war against ISIS will be, yet it must surely auger well for a renewal of strong ties with America, something quite critical for the security of the region. A respect of each other’s differences, and a strong focus on the historical justifications for the alliance, should stand both sides in good stead.