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Erdogan Slams US On Syria Again, Days After Biden Visit: Is Turkey Really A Member Of The Anti-Islamic State Coalition?

al-monitor.com – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Nov. 26 that he is “against impertinence, recklessness and endless demands” coming from “12,000 kilometers away” (7,456 miles), his latest not-so-veiled rebuke of US policy toward Syria.

Erdogan’s outburst came four days after US Vice President Joe Biden departed Turkey. Biden, the latest in a seemingly endless stream of senior US official visitors to Ankara, spoke of the “depth” of the US-Turkish relationship and how the United States “needs” Turkey. The US vice president praised Turkey’s turnaround, for now, in its ties with Iraq, as reported this week by Semih Idiz, and Turkey’s handling of close to 1.6 million Syrian refugees (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees puts the number at approximately 1.1 million).

Despite the predictable deadening public platitudes, Biden’s visit, like those of other senior US officials, was a flop for the anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition. Erdogan prefers to hold his support against IS as ransom for a US-backed buffer or no-fly zone inside Syria. Not that the Turkish president, or others hawking such a plan, present any “day after” strategies for Syria; explain how a buffer zone or “doubling down” on the Syrian opposition would do anything more than prolong the war and wreck what remains of the Syrian state; lay out how the United States can avoid another Libya or another Iraq (that is, a failed state or a prolonged occupation) if it pursues regime change in Syria; identify where a post-transition stabilization force may come from given the limitations of Syrian rebel forces; or explain why the jihadists would not gain the upper hand in a divided post-Assad Syria with such a weak and fragmented opposition.

Turkey’s unwillingness to combat IS and other terrorist groups stands in contrast with US allies Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain, as well as Iran, all of whom have concerns about US policy but are nonetheless engaged in combat operations against terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

Erdogan appears to be the odd man out in the coalition, compared with the actions of the other regional powers, and his policies and statements should raise broader questions about the direction of Turkish foreign policy, including what it means for Turkey’s membership bid in the EU and its role in NATO. Idiz writes that Erdogan appears to be turning his back on Turkey’s EU membership bid. On Nov. 28, the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey, Erdogan offered the following about Western countries: “Believe me, they don’t like us,” AFP reported him as saying. “They look like friends, but they want us dead– they like seeing our children die. How long will we stand that fact?”

The United States might soon tire of the all-pain, no-gain appeals to Turkey and simply ask Erdogan to pick a side in the US war against terrorists, making clear, as US President Barack Obama recently said, that the United States is not planning to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at this time. Turkey is a critical US ally that must play a constructive role in Syria and the region, but the trends are becoming alarming. The United States, for its part, does not “need” Turkish bases to train anti-IS or anti-Assad rebels, does not “need” Turkish troops in Syria, and certainly does not “need” a buffer or no-fly zone, unless Washington is longing for a quagmire. What the coalition “needs” is for Turkey to crack down, hard, on the terrorist transit, trade and financial networks operating through Turkey into Syria, which have contributed to the rise of these groups over the past three years.

Turkey’s intensified efforts at border security and counterterrorism cooperation would be a major contribution to the coalition. It does not seem to be an unreasonable ask, even if Ankara disagrees with the US approach to Assad.

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