Türkİye, Politics, World, Middle East

Deployment in Libya, possible opening to strengthen Turkey-US ties?

With its active military, political moves in Syria, Iraq, E. Med, finally Libya, Turkey establishes itself as ‘regional power’

Ali Murat Alhas  | 10.01.2020 - Update : 11.01.2020
Deployment in Libya, possible opening to strengthen Turkey-US ties?


Having struck game-changer maritime and security deals with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya in November 2019, the Turkish parliament ratified a motion authorizing the government to send troops to Libya on Jan. 3 in a bid to protect the rights of both countries.

Immediately after the ratification of the motion, Turkey started intensely working at the diplomatic front with senior officials discussing the case of war-weary Libya with countries including Russia, France, Germany, Italy, Algeria, and Tunisia. Notably, on Wednesday, both President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin called for a cease-fire.

Matthew Bryza, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former director on the National Security Council staff in the George W. Bush administration during 9/11, told Anadolu Agency that Turkish move in the direction of Libya could be an opening for the U.S. and Turkey which have recently been at odds due to disagreement on various international policies.

He said Ankara administration established itself as a regional power with its military moves in northern Syria, Iraq, Libya, and drilling activities in search of rich hydrocarbon sources in the Mediterranean.

“That said, sure there are many people in Washington in the think tank community around the country who believe that the U.S. should be the one that sets the basic policy of NATO and other countries should fall in line behind it. Therefore, these people are uncomfortable that Turkey is pursuing an increasingly independent policy,” he said.

These people were “mistaken” in their understanding, he said, adding: “It is much more in the U.S. interests to be working together with NATO ally Turkey than with General Haftar’s supporters in the form of Russia and the other side of Russian mercenaries.”

Arguing that the U.S. did not have a clear stance in Libya conflict and even a single phone conversation of President Donald Trump could radically change country’s stance, the senior fellow at the Atlantic Council said the many senior officials in Washington would prefer the U.S. to at least remain neutral and press for a cease-fire with a slight lean towards the GNA.

On the other hand, Bryza said Khalifa Haftar resided in the U.S. for over two decades after attempting to oust then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and therefore has a lot of “supporters in Washington”.

Given that Washington was split in views whether or not to support the GNA or Haftar’s forces, and country’s officials were “overly, unjustly and unwisely” critical of Turkey, Turkish support to the GNA might not serve as a positive element under the current poor relations.

“But, at the end of the day, the U.S. president is in charge of all the U.S. diplomacy and military forces. If he decides Washington now supports the GNA, then Turkey and the U.S. working together would be helpful not only to the GNA but Ankara and Washington's partnership, which I believe, urgently must be restored,” he said, adding that Trump’s phone talk with Erdogan once led to former’s pullout of troops near Turkish-Syrian borders.

S-400 missile system, sanctions

The sanction threats of the U.S. administration on the Turkish government came after the latter’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Despite that Turkey sought to buy the American Patriot defense system initially, the U.S. was not willing to sell the system; therefore, Turkey struck a deal with Moscow to acquire its S-400.

While the U.S. argues that the S-400 system was not compatible with NATO and carries the potential of information leak towards Russian intelligence, Turkey announced it would not integrate the system into NATO network and therefore it would not pose any risks.

Bryza said Trump has been “resisting” the Congress in implementing sanctions under the law titled Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), but he was legally bound to impose at least five of the 12 sanctions on the list.

“I think he is likely to choose the least harmful sanctions on the list. I think he admires and likes President Erdogan, he appreciates Turkey’s strategic importance to the U.S.,” he said, and added that Trump would adopt this policy as he would not want to risk another dispute with the Congress as he is already busy with the impeachment process.

US view of PKK, its Syrian offshoot of YPG

While Turkey views YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group that has killed over 40,000 people in Turkey -- including infants, women, teachers, state officials as well as the troops -- the Washington administration viewed YPG as a force fighting Daesh/ISIS elements in northern Syria.

Turkey’s military operations seeking to eradicate YPG/PKK terror group’s presence in the region led to another crisis in Turkish and American political relations.
Bryza said there was no dispute in the U.S. regarding the designation of the PKK as a terror group, and a former U.S. secretary of defense confirmed this. However, he also said that another previous secretary of defense also admitted that the YPG was part of the PKK.

"What we are seeing is that the Congress and U.S. military is in support of the militia that fought on behalf of the U.S. to defeat ISIS in Syria and lost thousands of its members," he said, adding the U.S. administration "misunderstood the YPG to somehow the leading force protecting all of Syria's Kurds."

"I don't know if that ignorance is based on genuine ignorance or it is ignorance of convenience, meaning trying to come up with an excuse to continue working with the YPG that was fighting in line against ISIS rather than having U.S. troops doing so," he said.

Stating that the Pentagon would continue backing the YPG due to emotional concerns as it believes the YPG deserves support due to its "sacrifices" in its fight to Daesh/ISIS, Bryza said it was "unwise and unprofessional" of U.S. soldiers to be emotionally attached in a conflict as it would harm American interest.

Impacts of global shift from bipolar to multi-polar system

Asked about the impact of today's multi-polar shift from the Cold War period's bipolar political system where the global powers could impose its will on developing countries, Bryza said the growing multi-polarity gave Turkey avenues to assert its rights and conduct a foreign policy less dependent on the U.S.

"We’ve seen this for the last decade or so in Africa where Turkey has used a combination of business investment and Turkish airlines to expand its strategic presence in Africa dramatically," he said and noted that Turkey established a military presence in the Middle East and Libya.

Furthermore, the reflection of the multi-polar system on Turkey-U.S. relations was clear in the Astana process, according to Bryza, where Russia, Turkey, and Iran collaborate to find mutual ground in conflict-ridden Syria, providing an alternative to UN's Geneva process.

As for the impact of the multi-polar system on the U.S., he added that Washington was second to none in today’s political climate with its superior military and financial power.

“Without question, the U.S. remains by far the world’s most powerful country with the largest economy. The US military is unmatched, and American culture is highly attractive to people all around the world, also the dollar is so powerful,” he said.

However, he warned that Trump administration’s overuse of sanction threats on allies including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, and the EU might change this trend as they might look for alternative powerhouses instead of the U.S.

"The U.S. remains unmatched power of the world but if it continues behaving as it has under Trump, it is going to lose much of that power," he said adding the U.S. should change its policies to adapt to the multi-polar political system, and it should get back to the solidarity of all NATO allies.

Standoff between Iraq, US

"I’m not sure either Washington or Tehran are looking for a mediator right now in their standoff following the U.S. assassination of Qasem Soleimani. For now, each side is posturing," Bryza responded to a question on whether Turkey could serve as a mediator between Washington and Tehran.

"But what I think Turkey can do very usefully is to provide guidance for the U.S. to help the U.S. leadership better understand Iran, specifically as well as the Middle East in general," he said.

He added that Turkey offered this kind of advice before "the second Iraqi war", and the U.S. "setbacks and failures" were the result of not "paying attention to that Turkish advice."

Referring to the Iraqi parliament's decision to expel U.S. troops following the killing of senior Iranian Commander Qasem Soleimani, he said it was not "likely" that Trump administration would pull out its troops from the region as it believes it needs a military presence to confront Daesh/ISIS terrorists.

"In addition, the U.S. invested so much blood and treasure in Iraq, trying to stabilize Iraq, and help it emerge as a democratic, safe and prosperous country, that it will be seen as a tremendous loss of strategic success and diplomatic prestige if the U.S. was simply to leave Iraq,” he said.

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