The United States and Turkey are currently on a collision course, and although the two countries have been allies for nearly 70 years, this partnership has gradually deteriorated over the past few years, as Washington has asked whether it can count on Turkey, while it fears Ankara the US does not take its security concerns seriously, and in the past six months, relations have taken a dangerous turn.
Last July, Turkey acquired advanced Russian air defense systems, despite Washington's objections, and in October, it targeted Kurdish militias allied to the United States as part of an incursion into northern Syria. The United States responded to the developments with indignation and a wide range of punitive measures, as the administration of US President Donald Trump refused to deliver advanced F-35 fighter planes to Turkey, punished senior Turkish officials, and raised tariffs on Turkish steel exports, while Congress sought To impose strong sanctions on the Turkish defense industry, he called for an investigation into the financial affairs of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and he overwhelmingly passed a resolution - for the first time in both houses of Congress - that recognized the Armenian massacre in 1915, as genocide.
In turn, Turkey threatened to buy more Russian defense equipment, retaliate against increasing American tariffs, and expel American forces from two important military bases in Turkey. The latest threat has prompted the United States to explore the transfer of strategic assets from Turkey, and to expand defense cooperation with Greece and some of Ankara's competitors.
Less than a decade ago, the administration of former US President Barack Obama was looking to build a "model partnership" with Turkey.
Sources of tension
Although the two countries have a long list of grievances, the most pressing sources of tension are Turkey's purchase of military equipment from Russia and its invasion of northern Syria, and certainly the US desire to punish Ankara for these actions is understandable. Erdogan has consistently blamed the Obama administration for neglecting Turkish air defense needs and "refusing" to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey, allegations that helped him build domestic support for the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system, and enabled Trump to accuse his predecessor, Obama, of neglect.
Turkish claims appear to be inaccurate, as Washington and its allies deployed Patriot missiles, at their own expense, along Turkey's southern border, in 2013, although the threat of missile attacks from Syria was limited.
Moreover, US officials have been clear from the start that the Russian S-400 system contains sophisticated radar and artificial intelligence, which enables it over time to gather intelligence about F-35s.
The gap between Ankara and Washington over a wider Syria, and after they cooperated closely with a faction of Syrian Kurdish fighters, for years, in the fight against ISIS, US officials and soldiers were angry at seeing Trump giving Erdogan a green light by sweeping northern Syria. The Turkish incursion has turned thousands of local residents into refugees, and has strengthened the influence of Iran and Russia in Syria.
At this point, the remainder of the bilateral relationship largely depends on the volatile interpersonal relationship between the two presidents, both of whom are subject to emotional fluctuations and wrong decisions.
The best example of this is Trump's swing between expressing sympathy for Turkey's position and admiring its president, and threatening to "destroy and obliterate" the Turkish economy.
The Turkish president, in turn, seems to believe that Trump will protect Turkey from congressional anger and severe sanctions, as the US president has done so far, by refusing to implement congressional sanctions and sympathy for Turkish positions, but this could be a miscalculation.
On December 9 and 17, respectively, the House and Senate passed overwhelmingly a defense authorization bill that called on the White House administration to impose sanctions on Ankara, under the America's Anti-Foes Act, which aims to dissuade states from purchasing defense equipment from Russia because of its interference In the 2016 US elections. On December 11, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 18 to 4 in favor of a separate sanctions package, along the lines approved by the House of Representatives to punish Ankara.
To find a better way forward, the two presidents should task senior diplomats to explore practical solutions away from the glow of politics. The new US Deputy Secretary of State, Stephen Begon, the US Ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, and the Special Representative, James Jeffrey, who served as ambassador to Ankara, can all work with their Turkish counterparts who also want to maintain the relationship.
Opening such a dialogue will not prevent tougher options, and it is almost certain that Turkey will deploy the advanced Russian air defense system, and this measure must require a strong response from the United States. Washington must implement the US foreign trade law, but at least in the short term it can avoid taking the toughest legislative measures, such as denying export licenses to defense sales. The Trump administration should not waive the issue of non-delivery of F-35s if Turkey deploys the Russian system.
Separate discussions should continue with Ankara about the future of Syria, although the United States has lost significant influence on the ground, after its withdrawal and Russia's seizure of land previously controlled by the YPG, but it still has forces in Syria, and it must It should continue to support efforts to develop sustainable governance and security arrangements in the country.
Congress may have a more important role when it comes to Syria. Lawmakers need to think carefully about what they hope to achieve through sanctions related to Syria, and the purpose of the sanctions should be to deter bad behavior in the future, not just to express anger at past abuses.
Ankara has threatened to purchase more Russian defense equipment and expel US forces from two bases in Turkey.
Congress can allow sanctions if Turkey commits human rights violations, or enters Kurdish cities.
The US legislature must use the threat of future sanctions against Turkey to advance practical, achievable goals. For example, Congress can allow sanctions that will enter into force if Turkey, or the forces that support it, commit human rights abuses, enter Kurdish-majority cities, or send forces beyond the "safe area", agreed along the border between Syria and Turkey. Using sanctions in this way may lead to positive results, while linking them to difficult goals - such as the rapid Turkish withdrawal from Syria, as the current legislation requires - will only fuel the cycle of revenge. Alternatively, Washington could offer incentives for better behavior, such as reviving the Patriot missile sale offer and preserving human rights on the bilateral agenda.
National leaders do not stay in office forever. In the wake of Erdogan's massive losses in municipal elections last year and the creation of new parties, finally, led by his former allies, the Turks began for the first time, more than a decade ago, to imagine a future under the leadership of Different. Trump also faces elections in November, increasing the possibility of a new leadership on both sides, that could lead to a new beginning.
Turkey is a country with a Muslim majority and strategically located, and it has the second largest army in NATO, and as far as relations are charged at the present time, American interests will suffer if the relationship between the two countries collapses completely, or if Turkey becomes a real opponent of the United States, this is a result that the states must United to avoid.