Turkey and the U.S. have had a long history of alliance, partnership and cooperation but the relations between the two NATO allies have come under increasing strain recently. If you ask when those tensions first started, the answer will be the summer of 2013, when the two countries couldn't agree on how to deal with the growing violence in Turkey's neighboring country Syria.
On May 11, 2013, two car bombs exploded in Reyhanlı, a Turkish town five kilometers away from the Syrian border and neighbor to Idlib. Fifty-two people were killed and at least 140 were injured. That was a shocking and very sad day for Turkey, and it was the first attack against Turkey, the roots of which were in Syria. According to Turkish officials, the deadly bombing was committed by Damascus. Nasır Eskiocak, who admitted his links with the Syrian regime and that he had agreed on getting $5 million for such an attack, got a life sentence earlier this year in Turkey.
A few days later, when the wounds of Reyhanlı were still fresh, the then-Prime Minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid an official visit to Washington. On May 16, 2013, the former U.S. President Obama and Erdoğan met in White House. Promising to help Turkey shoulder the burden of the war in the neighboring country, Obama reiterated in a joint press conference that Bashar Assad needed to go, as this was the only way to resolve the crisis. It was the last moment of trust for the two leaders who had got along very well until then.
Today, we see that Obama was being poisoned by some among his senior military leaders and the intelligence community with negative words against Turkey. After this meeting, we started to read some articles written by Assad propagandists in the West such as Seymour M. Hersh, claiming that the Assad regime didn't and wasn't going to use chemical weapons in Syria. Hersh and others were lying like a rug that it was the job of Islamist rebel opposition groups such as the al-Nusra front who were supported by Erdoğan. They were claiming without shame that Turkey was cheating to force Obama to make good on his famous red line threat on chemical weapons.
Such claims were spread by the mouthpieces of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which was nested it the state apparatus of Turkey and finally attempted a military coup in the country in the summer of 2016. Now we know that the Gülenists worked as a parallel state structure, deceived and manipulated the Turkish government in line with their own interests for years. What if Assad propagandists were not the only ones and the Gülenists, who were and are still so powerful in the U.S., deceived Washington and set the two NATO allies against each other as well?
Another recent dispute between Turkey and the U.S. is over Ankara's defense system purchases. Washington has recently threatened Turkey for the purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile defense system, saying such an action would be against their policy. But again, the root of the problems go back to war-torn Syria.
For a long while, Ankara has been seeking to seal a missile defense system deal, which will not only secure the purchase of a system but also bring the transfer of technology and know-how, as Turkey wants to build its own anti-ballistic defense system in the future. However no manufacturers in the West were open to discussing this, except the Chinese and the Russians. Turkey's need for such a defense system became more apparent because of the war in Syria. The U.S., Germany and the Netherlands all deployed Patriots as part of a broader NATO mission in early 2013 amid growing fears that the Syrian regime could use chemical weapons. Turkey asked its fellow NATO partners for help in protecting its territory amid an escalating civil war in the neighboring country. However, in August 2015, the U.S. and the others said they would withdraw its Patriot missile batteries stationed on Turkey's Syria border claiming that there was no longer a threat from Syria to Turkey. According to the NATO allies of Turkey, the nature of the threat to Turkey from Syria had changed from one stemming mainly from the Assad regime to that posed by extremists. The decision came less than a month after Turkey opened its bases to U.S. fighter jets launching airstrikes against Daesh.
The threat in the war-torn region didn't shift in focus but new threats were emerging, especially for Turkey. In the fight to dislodge Daesh from Syria, the U.S. elected to arm and support, the People's Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the outlawed PKK's Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). That was a move that made Turkey feel though it was stabbed in the back by the most trusted ally since the PKK was classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and EU, just like Turkey.
Unsurprisingly, the PKK became bolder after the huge support it got from the West, and decided to end the cease-fire in Turkey, resumed the fight and attempted to carry it to the next level with the help of weapons and ammunition provided to them by the U.S.-led Western coalition in order to be used in the fight against Daesh. Daesh was also starting to carry out terror attacks in Turkey. Turkey was then pressing a two-pronged "anti-terror" offensive against Daesh on the Syria border and the PKK in northern Iraq and southeast of Turkey following a wave of attacks inside the country. Despite Turkish officials' warnings that it was not a good time to withdraw the Patriot batteries, which would weaken Turkey's air defense against the threats from the south, Washington did it anyway in October. On Oct 4 and 5, Russian warplanes violated Turkish airspace during Moscow's bombing campaign in Syria aimed at bolstering the regime of Bashar Assad.
Left alone by the U.S.-led NATO allies on false accusations amidst all the threats coming from Syria, Turkey decided in 2016 to work with Russia to de-escalate violence across the border. In that way, it cleansed all the Daesh elements on its border, and minimized the PKK threat. But today, the fight between Assad and the opposition groups have come back to Idlib, the Syrian province neighboring Reyhanlı. There is no need to list the potential threats toward Turkey unless a non-military solution is reached. Amidst this war of words over false flags, chemical weapons, extremists and millions of civilians trapped in Idlib today, what will the U.S. do? Is it going to be deceived once again? That will, undoubtedly, determine the future of U.S. and Turkey relations.