Turkey and the United States issued a joint statement on Monday to announce that they "endorsed a road map to [ensure security and stability in Manbij] and underlined their mutual commitment to its implementation." According to sources who spoke to Daily Sabah on the condition of anonymity, U.S. officials pledged to withdraw all militants affiliated with the PKK terrorist organization from the city within 90 days.
The occupation of Manbij, a predominantly Arab city on the Western bank of the Euphrates river, by PKK militants in 2016 has been one of several flashpoints between Turkey and the United States. The U.S., for all apparent purposes, seems to be finally taking steps to correct its past mistakes in northern Syria, but the relationship is still far from total recovery.
Turkish officials have heard such pledges before, but now believe their American counterparts are untrustworthy. In fact, there is an unprecedented level of mistrust in Turkey for the United States. Washington's failure to keep its promises to Ankara, coupled with the popular view that the various parts of the U.S. government are fighting each other on policy, has created confusion among policymakers and the general population.
To be clear, this is how far diplomats can take us. It is now Washington's responsibility to deliver on its promises to Ankara and prove that the bilateral talks on Syria and other issues are not being held simply to mollify Turkey's concerns. In other words, implementation is key –not just for Turkey but also to show that President Donald Trump has the last say in formulating U.S. foreign policy, not a nameless Pentagon official.
In recent years, U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) pet project in Syria has cost billions of taxpayer dollars, emboldened a designated terrorist organization and alienated a key NATO ally while jeopardizing the credibility the U.S. has built in the Middle East over decades.
It is high time the U.S. military is told in no uncertain terms that they are not in charge of Washington's Syria policy. Foreign policy decisions are simply too important and too complex to be delegated to CENTCOM or the Pentagon. In the past, it was possible for the White House to blame the "deep state" for failing to deliver on its promises. However, now it has become apparent that the Trump administration takes the initiative when it feels like it. Unfortunately, it feels like it is only for nefarious purposes to spite the world, as when it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal or moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Whether or not the U.S. keeps its promises, however, Turks have already established that they are willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the PKK. Since 2016, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have successfully carried out cross-border operations to deal a heavy blow to Daesh and the PKK alike. Going forward, there is no doubt that Turkey will strike again if it deems that the PKK militants in Syria or Iraq pose a threat. Under the circumstances, the U.S. has no choice but to come to terms with the Turkish perspective if it wants to regain an inkling of credibility in the region.
The removal of the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij will clear the path for a meaningful and open dialogue between Turkey and the United States. Once the agreed-on Manbij deal is implemented, the two countries will be able to have serious discussions about every other problem poisoning the ties between them.