Turkey, one of the most critical security allies in NATO, has been demanding Patriot missiles from the United States. Turkey has argued the weapon is necessary to assist in operations to end the ongoing humanitarian crisis and conflict in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. Washington, D.C., however, still seems indecisive.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently answered questions about the issue after his visit to Azerbaijan. He confirmed that he requested the Patriot missiles in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump. “I can openly say that there are no Patriots the U.S. is going to give us right now. We made our offer: If you are willing to send us Patriots, we will take them. Yet, according to intelligence I received, there are no Patriots they could give. They have no such thing,” the president said.
After all, it is hard to understand the indecisiveness of Washington over the deployment of missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border within the context of the NATO umbrella. On one hand, Washington reiterates its support to Turkey over Russia and regime aggression in Syria and on the other hand, it makes sure that Turkey-Russia relations are marred by disagreements.
High-level sources in Ankara also state that military authorities in Washington drag their feet and that they influence the political authority negatively despite harsh reactions coming from the White House against Russia and the Bashar Assad regime’s attacks.
Even though Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the U.S. does not intend to deploy its military to the Turkey-Syria border again, evidently, it is very clear that the U.S. military authorities opt for this strategy, despite the fact that there are many politicians and foreign policy experts in Washington who believe U.S. power in Syria and Middle East is not a few.
Up until today, the U.S. armed forces and military, which continued to support the YPG/PKK terrorist organization throughout the Syrian war, have led Washington’s Syria policy under the name of the fight against Daesh in a stalemate. It was not a sustainable policy for Washington to confront a NATO ally for the sake of a terrorist organization. Thus, the U.S. withdrew largely from northern Syria as part of a deal reached with Turkey in October 2019.
Milley, while answering members of the House of Representatives with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in the U.S. Congress, said: “Our mission in Syria has not changed. Our mission is the fight against Daesh conducted in eastern Syria. We do not intend to deploy military to the Turkey-Syria border again,” while Esper underlined that the U.S.’ current mission is just in the country’s eastern oil fields and preventing the reemergence of Daesh. “It does not seem possible to send military to the border region,” he added.
Even though the current conditions and evident statements signal that the U.S. military wing does not want to seem in a combatant position in terms of tactics and operations in Syria, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Syria is still of key importance for big powers in the Middle East.
In this context, it would not be realistic to expect that the U.S. would stand neutral and indifferent in the face of the increasing Russian military presence in Syria and this power balance, especially vis-à-vis a possible Russia-Turkey escalation at NATO’s southern border.
If Washington continues to stay de facto neutral against such a possibility of a conflict, it will not be able to pursue the use of influence on Turkey through its relations with Russia. This stance would fail eventually, and this scenario would not only mean the diminishment of the U.S. presence in Syria but would also highlight it as an actor that favors Russia, providing the Assad regime a lifeline support once again.
Moreover, in a scenario where the solution of Turkey-Russia disagreements seems possible, Washington will lose again. Yet, it is worth remembering that the U.S. gives arms support to a terrorist organization under the pretext of a tactical partnership in northern Syria and has rejected its NATO ally’s de jure rights and demands for a missile defense system even though the system would help provide collective defense for all NATO members, in line with the organization's Article 5.
It will become useful for U.S. policymakers and Trump to consider these possible outcomes in order to prevent further grave mistakes in Ankara-Washington relations.