The Turks are collaborating with US adversaries to issue a setback to US success in Syria
Turkey’s “Olive Branch” incursion against Kurdish positions in Northern Syria this week looked bad for Washington. It’s worse than it looks: Turkey cemented a new set of strategic and economic relationships after defying the United States, its erstwhile main ally. Ankara now has financial backing from China and Qatar and the strategic acquiescence of Russia and Iran. Most of all, it has the financial backing to pursue its regional ambitions.The US needs to reexamine its relationship with both Turkey and Qatar. Neither should continue to be under the US umbrella if they are going to act against the US in this manner. The Turkish economy appears to be levitating on air rather than substantive gains. It could be a strategic weak point to be exploited,
Turkey reportedly killed several hundred Kurdish and allied Arab fighters this week, reducing an American-supported force that had done most of the fighting against ISIS in Syria. US-Turkish relations are at an all-time nadir, but Turkey’s financial markets remain unruffled. Washington has hard words for Turkey, but no sticks and stones.
With the attack on the American-allied Kurdish YPG militia in the northern town of Afrin last week, Turkey undertook a major military action in open defiance of Washington, and the markets didn’t notice. On the contrary, Turkish stocks rallied right through the offensive. Money is Erdogan’s scarcest strategic resource, and the continued flow of capital into Turkish markets is an important gauge of Turkey’s power.
On Jan. 24, Donald Trump used the harshest language that a US president has ever directed against a NATO ally, expressing “concern about destructive and false rhetoric coming from Turkey, and about United States citizens and local employees detained under the prolonged State of Emergency in Turkey,” and warning Turkey “to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees.” Turkish stocks were unchanged.
In the background to the Syrian incursion, Turkey flaunted its ties to its most important sources of money, namely Qatar and China. Qatar is the largest foreign investor in Turkey with more than $20 billion in commitments, with another $19 billion in the pipeline for 2018. Meanwhile Turkey has become the guarantor of the Qatari royal family’s security, with a new military base in the tiny country. Turkey backed Qatar during last year’s Gulf States boycott, airlifting food after Saudi Arabia closed its border.
Qatar meanwhile has started to buy large quantities of Chinese arms, especially missiles that could be directed against Saudi Arabia, and has brought People’s Liberation Army personnel to train its armed forces, a relationship put on display at a December military parade in the Qatari capital of Doha. That is noteworthy given the presence of America’s largest air force installation in the region, the Al Udeid Air Base, the principal US hub for US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.