Two things can be true: (1) President Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. forces in northwestern Syria was a good decision; (2) Turkey is an ally in name only and no friend of America.
I don’t believe the first statement is true. However, the pullback is a done deal. We can argue about its merit, and I expect to keep doing so, but arguing won’t change the outcome.
By contrast, public sentiment about Turkey is still up for grabs. I think it’s important that such sentiment not be influenced favorably by Trump’s decision to accommodate Turkey’s thug president.
Caroline Glick agrees with Trump’s decision to pull back our troops. But she is clear-eyed about Turkey:
Throughout the years of US-Kurdish cooperation, many have made the case that the Kurds are a better ally to the US than Turkey. The case is compelling not merely because the Kurds have fought well.
Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has stood against the US and its interests far more often than it has stood with it. Across a spectrum of issues, from Israel to human rights, Hamas and ISIS to Turkish aggression against Cyprus, Greece, and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, to upholding US economic sanctions against Iran and beyond, for nearly 20 years, Erdoğan’s Turkey has distinguished itself as a strategic threat to America’s core interests and policies and those of its closest allies in the Middle East.
Matthew Continetti agrees. Based on Turkey’s track record, key parts of which Glick cites, he writes: “When it comes to the Middle East, Erdogan is less a partner of the U.S. than an antagonist.”
Turkey is, of course, a member of NATO. Technically, that makes it an ally. However, Turkey’s NATO membership doesn’t make it a reliable ally or a friend. It is neither.
Nor does NATO membership provide carte blanche for aggression. Turkey’s invasion of northwestern Syria is not a NATO action. NATO didn’t approve it and some NATO members have expressed strong disapproval.
The many members of NATO include Croatia, Albania, and Montenegro. If one or more of these Balkan nations invaded a portion of Serbia, a non-member, NATO status would not, I hope, shield the invading country from criticism or cause us to sugarcoat our view of that nation.
I doubt that NATO status counts for much with President Trump. (Did the Turks help us at Normandy? Hint: No, they were on the Germans’ side until two months after the Normandy invasion). Affinity and/or respect for strongmen leaders — an affinity shared by President Obama, who bonded almost immediately with the thuggish Erdogan — probably had more to do with our troop pullback than did Turkey’s membership in NATO.