By Claude Salhani-Trend:
Ankara and Washington are no longer the staunch allies they once were. All throughout the Cold War Washington, and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shared the same threats emanating from the Eastern Bloc. But the changing times and changing threats, along with the changing geopolitical map of the region has set Washington and Ankara on separate ways.
The principal cause of these differences has been the civil war in Syria, and how to react to events as they evolve on the ground.
The civil war in Syria has widened the gap between Washington's national interests and those of Ankara. Each side perceives the war in Syria from a very different perspective.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees the regime in neighboring Syria as a serious threat to Turkey's security, and is intent on removing Bashar Assad from power. Turkey has been helping the Islamic State by allowing its fighters coming from Europe and heading to Syria and Iraq safe passage through Turkey. And Ankara has allowed the Islamists to open recruiting centers in Turkish border towns near the Syrian frontier.
While President Barack Obama is no great fan of the Syrian president, Obama sees the Islamic State as a far greater threat to the security and interests of the United States. Obama has authorized limited U.S. military intervention against the Islamist terrorist group, but has stopped short of a full commitment in this renewed war on terrorism. Obama remains undecided if the removal of Bashar Assad would be positive or a negative development.
The gap in the world view as seen from Washington is very different from that seen from the Turkish capital. The differences of policies have placed great strain on the once cordial rapport the two leaders enjoyed in the past.
"Once amicable partners who held regular phone chats, now differ so starkly on the Syrian war that they avoid regular contact," writes Soner Cagaptay, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
He goes on to say that on January 7, Erdogan vented his frustration with Washington's limited air war against ISIS by telling Obama: "If you are doing something, do it properly. If you are going to do it with us, you need to value what we say."
Indeed, the two have reached a decisive fork in the political road that the NATO allies have travelled together since the end of WWII. It now seems that difficult decisions may have to be made as each sides remains steadfast on their positions. Says Cagaptay, "Ankara must decide how much U.S. leadership it can stomach and Washington must decide how much it values Turkey as a partner."
The Washington Institute analyst ask the following question; "To what extent these opposing U.S. and Turkish goals could undermine bilateral ties?
Indeed, Ankara no longer feels it should give Washington a blank check, following whatever policies the White House would decide, as it has often done in the past. In the past few years there has been a growing move from the new political elite that came to power with Erdogan's Justice and Development Party to establish Ankara as a new regional center of influence in the greater Middle East. No doubt some of this attitude can be traced to the European Union's continued rebuttal at Turkey's repeated attempts at gaining admittance to the EU.
Assad's Alouite regime in Damascus currently represents the greatest threat to Turkey, who also has a small Alaouite minority spread out along the Turkish-Syrian border areas. Turkey's Alouite community has remained uninvolved in the Syrian civil war, but although unlikely to happen, things may change suddenly in the Middle East.
However, Erdogan is no fool and he knows fully well that his alliance with ISIS is only temporary, and that eventually it is inevitable that the Islamists will turn against Turkey. Turkey has the largest military in the Middle East but it knows that if it comes to a full-fledged military confrontation with IS, Turkey will need Washington's assistance.
Erdogan, in transitioning from the prime ministry to the presidency, is also looking at what sort of legacy he leaves behind. Not losing face is perhaps as important for his legacy as anything else. And for Obama, he just needs to sit out his remaining time in the White House. History will take care of the rest. In playing out this game of political "chicken," and to see who will be the first to blink, the end result could be detrimental to both United States and to Turkey.
Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency and a political analyst. You can follow Claude on Twitter @ClaudeSalhani.