Over the course of 72 hours, one group of United States officials declared the intention to establish a 30,000-strong border security force in northern Syria from militants loyal to the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate before another group hastily backtracked. Turkey, just like the rest of the world, is adapting to taking action by ignoring the endless confusion emanating from Washington. There is total lack of clarity when it comes to who stands for what in the U.S. administration.
In theory, the international community should turn to U.S. President Donald Trump for guidance on U.S. policy. Does this mean it is correct to view Trump's tweets as representing American policy, or ignore them, as many U.S. lawmakers seem to do.
The U.S.'s bankrupt Syria policy dates back to the administration of President Barack Obama, when the CIA and Pentagon were arming rival factions in Syria. It took Trump's genius to take such a bankrupt policy formula and turn it into complete pandemonium.
Ironically, the people who seem to exert the largest influence over the U.S.'s Middle East – and specifically Syria – policy seem to be unelected officials like Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS (Daesh) Brett McGurk and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford who survived the post-election overhaul.
The contradictory statements from U.S. officials in recent days have made several things clear.
Firstly, there is an unprecedented power struggle behind the smokescreen of poor coordination among the various U.S. agencies. It is no longer a domestic problem now that this type of dysfunction has started to take its toll on Washington's relations with the international community. Nor is it fair to blame the whole thing on Trump and his leadership style. Instead, we must acknowledge that there is a type of civil war inside the U.S. government. U.S. Congress has a historic responsibility to start asking questions and take necessary steps to ensure that this civil war does not result in total collapse.
Secondly, actions still speak louder than words. The fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backtracked on the coalition's comments on the border security force is a welcome development, but Washington's partnership with the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK's Syrian affiliate, is still unacceptable. Tillerson says that the United States takes Ankara's concerns seriously. Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to act like it means it.
Thirdly, it is about time the U.S. started to take its own promises seriously. Just as the fight against Daesh concluded and Turkey expected the U.S. to fulfill its promise to take back the weapons it gave to the YPG, there came the announcement of the border force.
However, all these considerations are beside the point. Ankara does not have the luxury of waiting for Washington to get its act together. The U.S. and its leadership may have become a laughingstock, but this is no laughing matter.
America looks unpredictable, irrational and ultimately untrustworthy. It seems to make the same mistakes again and again due to a lack of coordination, not to mention strategic vision. Unless words translate into concrete policy, it might be best to simply ignore them.
Ankara has no choice but to focus on its own policy goals and find ways to accomplish them. Whether the United States wants to transform the YPG into a regular army or some type of border patrol, the important thing is that Turkish officials focus on what is important – to establish whether there are armed PKK militants in northern Syria and to take military action without delay in order to prevent them from targeting Turkish citizens with weapons provided with U.S. taxpayer money.