Turkey has shown its willingness to cooperate with the U.S. and other Western countries in the struggle with instability in Iraq and Syria
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Barack Obama held an hour and a half meeting within the framework of the NATO Summit in Wales. The fact that the meeting took longer than scheduled has given way to speculation, however nothing tangible has been leaked to the mass media. This is not surprising because such high level meetings are highly secret and it takes a couple of decades before the public becomes aware of their content.
The NATO Summit focused on two major issues: The conflict in Ukraine and the bloodshed in the Middle East. Ukraine is a problem involving a very well-known opponent to the NATO Alliance, the Russian Federation. The Middle East is an altogether very different and much more complex issue: There are virtually no state structures left in Syria, very few in Iraq and nobody knows the number of the armed movements and squadrons fighting each other, mostly terrorising and massacring the civilian populations.
Nobody knows for sure which states or organisms are supporting the fighting factions in Iraq and Syria behind the scenes. What is obvious is that the victim of the situation remains the civilian populations and the bloodshed is not going to disappear soon. In that sense, a lot of "between the lines" criticism has been targeted at Turkey and the steps it has taken since the beginning of the crisis. The Erdogan-Obama meeting was a very important step to assess the real situation in Turkey-U.S. relations.
First of all NATO has decided to get together 10 core countries, to organise the strategy to fight ISIS. Six more countries in the region were invited to join the task force afterwards. Turkey is definitely one of the leading countries. Turkish authorities have declared already that the U.S. Incirlik Military base will be used for humanitarian flights. U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel made a surprise visit to Ankara to meet the President, the Premier and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to urge active Turkish participation in NATO's strategy to overcome ISIS. This shows that Turkey remains at the very heart of the Atlantic Alliance, especially for problems in the region. In fact, what were the steps taken by Turkey before and after the Arab Spring? It tried to act as a go-between for conflicts in Israel and Syria. It wanted to support the infrastructure works in Gaza, it sent and organised humanitarian relief in Lebanon, it organised joint cabinet meetings with Syria and Iraq. Separately, it also implemented the foundations of a very large free trade area, encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and itself. Obviously none of these steps are remembered, because none of them has been crowned with success.
But once the conflict in Syria became untenable, Turkey has opted for an open-border policy, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands civilians. The official refugee number has reached 1.5 million, the real figure being certainly higher. No real support has come from the international community and it costs the Turkish budget nearly $1 billion per year, but neither the public nor the government want to stop helping these unfortunate migrants.
For a long time, the U.S. thought that the terrible neo-con policy of George W. Bush to intervene in Iraq could be offset by getting the U.S. military presence out of Iraq as soon as possible. That proved to be wrong. Now the Obama administration is trying to put up a new strategy to stop the bloodshed in the region. In that sense, Turkey is naturally asked to participate in this effort as a front NATO country, which it accepted without hesitating, despite the hazards it invokes for its stability. That shows blatantly how deep rooted, strong and vital the alliance between Turkey and the U.S. is.