Columns, Opinion

Worldview: Turbulence in Turkey and the rise of a triple alliance

Over the course of the past few weeks, Turkey has made itself the center of the world’s attention as Ankara juggles between the rapid depreciation of its currency, the lira. The country also prepares to take the brunt of an impending Syrian military offensive — and potential humanitarian crisis — in the Idlib region which abuts Turkey’s Southwestern border with Syria. Moreover, political instability that manifested itself in the unsuccessful 2016 coup against Turkey’s autocratic president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the subsequent crackdown of political adversaries and solidification of Erdogan’s grasp over the country’s political apparatus has made Turkey the subject of intense international scrutiny for the past couple of years.

Due the combination of increasingly bolder moves by Erdogan to assert his control over Turkey and its people and the ascension of a more stubborn and hawkish regime in the United States, Turkish-American relations have sunk to a new low over the course of these last two years. The rapid deterioration of this historically tense, yet firm, alliance has given rise to speculation about in which direction Erdogan will steer his country — will Turkey remain a NATO and U.S. partner, or will it change course and align itself more closely with the U.S.’s foes in Russia and Iran?

Perhaps a decade ago, such a question would be shot down as preposterous and unworthy of debate. After all, why would Turkey choose to ally itself with its two biggest historical rivals? The threats that Russia posed to Turkey, however, have subsided since the end of the Cold War, and Iran’s Islamist regime shares many of Erdogan’s political intentions. Turkish relations with Iran can nowadays be described as downright friendly. In 2010, Turkey, in partnership with Brazil, agreed to help provide Iran with enriched uranium so as to help Iran evade further sanctions. In recent years, Iran and Turkey have often found themselves on the same side of proverbial table, sharing positions on the 2017 Qatar crisis and declaring support for the other during their respective internal crises.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Americans have been slowly rescinding their support for Erdogan’s increasingly dictatorial regime, which has sparked the ire of the self-proclaimed Reis (which means leader or captain) of Turkey. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Erdogan highlighted the offenses of the Trump Administration and concluded with the following warning: “At a time when evil continues to lurk around the world, unilateral actions against Turkey by the United States, our ally of decades, will only serve to undermine American interests and security.”

Knowing full well that reconciliation has never and will never be a strength of the Trump Administration, it is safe to presume that relations with Turkey are unlikely to be restored in the immediate future. As Turkey prepares for an impending financial collapse and mass exodus of refugees from Idlib into Turkish territory, it will likely look eastward toward Russia and Iran for assistance rather than toward Washington.

As of such, it appears that the triple alliance of Iran, Russia and Turkey has taken upon itself to resolve the crisis in their favor, as evidenced by the trio’s peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, which have been held intermittently since January 2017, as well as the summit held in Tehran this past week regarding the impending Idlib crisis.

By no means is this makeshift alliance devoid of fissures, but the trio’s shared distaste for the United States seems to serve as a cohesive force. Maxim Suchkov writes that, “In Syria, America has come to be seen as the threat to Iran, the spoiler for Russia and an irritant for Turkey.” While it is dubious that such a long-term alliance between Turkey, Russia and Iran can become anything more substantial given the conflating aspirations of the three dictatorships, their alliance of convenience will no doubt provide headaches for the United States for years to come.

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