Next week, the U.S. administration is expected to announce its new National Security Strategy. Members of President Donald Trump's administration have already started providing some previews of the document. It is now more or less clear what to expect from this new strategy. According to those who have been briefed on it, the new strategy has four main principles – protect the U.S. homeland, advance American prosperity and economic security, have a stronger and more capable military and advance U.S. influence.
According to these reports, in one briefing, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster presented these points and emphasized U.S. commitments to its allies and alliances. McMaster used to be known as a staunch supporter of allies and alliances. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic monthly, he tried to make Trump endorse NATO's Article V on mutual defense during Trump's visit to NATO headquarters. He failed the first time, but as The New York Times recently reported, he succeeded during Trump's press conference with the Romanian president shortly after that. According to Frum, McMaster's announcement of parts of this new strategy during a meeting with his British counterpart also symbolized his focus on alliances, which he reportedly reiterated in his speech. Paradoxically, however, despite his emphasis on allies and alliances in his speech, at some point of his speech he started to criticize the Turkish government, saying: "Radical Islamist ideology is a grave threat to all civilized people," and then put forth Turkey and Qatar as its main supporters today. Furthermore, he accused Turkey of drifting away from the West.
It is hard to make sense of McMaster's statements, and experts in town have tried to make sense since they circulate on social media. The first reaction of many was disbelief. Are you sure he said that? Are you sure it was not somebody else? These were some of the questions. For some, it did not sound quite like McMaster. Others tried hard to explain it. After emphasizing the significance of alliances, it is hard to understand why he would attack a NATO ally that hosts U.S. bases, assists NATO efforts in Afghanistan, partners with the U.S. in the fight against Daesh and that Trump called a strategic partner and another country that Secretary of Defense James Mattis called a strategic security partner in the fight against Daesh. Following this statement, Anadolu Agency of Turkey succeeded to get two different explanations from the administration. In the first statement on the day after McMaster's speech, a spokesperson for the NSC reiterated the strategic partnership between two countries by saying that the U.S. is "committed to its strategic partnership with Turkey to bring stability to the region and defeat terrorism in all its forms… We appreciate Turkey's efforts to increase its border security, stem the flow of foreign fighters through its territory and fight on the ground to clear Daesh from key towns in Syria."
Yesterday McMaster himself made a statement emphasizing that "Like President Donald Trump, I am also among those who firmly believe in a strong alliance between Turkey and the U.S.," McMaster also stated that the administration supports "Turkey's efforts to bolster border security, halt foreign fighters, and fight Daesh" and underlined that the U.S. "will also increase efforts with Turkey and other partners to stop extremist actors that abuse financial infrastructure across the region. And the United States will continue to stand with Turkey, as we have for decades, against the terrorist threat from the PKK."
The statement and the reactions in its aftermath demonstrated one more time that the state of relations are in a critical condition. The existing problems between two countries can help to aggravate and manipulate these statements. This vulnerability poses a significant threat for the future of bilateral ties. Although there is a statement from McMaster about the strategic partnership between two countries, it may be appropriate to raise two issues in regards to his earlier comments.
Firstly, in regards to Turkey's relations with the West, which was stated previously by McMaster it should be understood that it is not an identity problem on the part of Turkey but a political crisis stem from the decisions of policy makers in the West. Divergences in Syria, military aid to the PKK's Syrian affiliate People's Protection Units (YPG), the Fetullah Gülen case and the visa issue are a few of the problems that contribute to the deterioration of relations between the two countries. Furthermore, the uncorrected and unexplained statements and actions of some of the officials in the U.S. also so far deteriorated the condition of bilateral relations. For a few years now, statements, tweets and pictures of U.S. officials have done significant public diplomacy damage to bilateral relations. The Turkish public has grown more skeptical of U.S. policies as these officials and institutions failed to consider Turkey's sensitivities, security and interests. With Trump's decision about Jerusalem, the rift in terms of their perspectives for the future of the region increased. This decision also contributes to the isolation of the U.S., as many of its allies objected to this decision. Following the first statement of McMaster's, many started to believe that there now almost seems to be a pattern of losing alliances.
It is interesting that McMaster in his first statement at one point during his presentation reportedly said: "In many ways, we vacated a lot of competitive space in recent years and created opportunities for these revisionist powers." It is not only vacating the space but also taking actions that will abandon U.S. allies, being not sensitive to their concerns and failing to understand the regional realities that contributed for other powers to way in. The deterioration of relations between Turkey and the U.S. can be a showcase for how the U.S. is losing its influence around the world.