The West has had a long and complicated relationship with Turkey. A member nation of the North Atlantic Treaty, Turkey is regarded as part of the elite “Western clique.” (I totally made that term up; basically, it’s a bunch of capitalist, democratic nations, mainly in Europe or North America, that share resources and good vibes. Think of the nations of the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.) Although Turkey was never accepted as a member of the EU, America opened its arms and welcomed Turkey as a member of NATO (and gave it a present of Jupiter missiles, but that’s another story).
When we look at the current crisis in the Middle East, we see that our efforts to maintain a good relationship with Turkey have paid off, to some extent. For many years, Turkey has taken action against the Kurdish insurgents within Turkish borders, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to be exact, a group that Turkey, along with most of the Western world, considers to be a terrorist state. Since 1984, the PKK had led an insurgency against the Turkish government in order to gain independence and create a separate Kurdish state. Turkey shares its animosity against the PKK with Iraqi Kurds.
But Kurds aside, now comes the real problem: the ISIS problem. As ISIS makes its way through Iraq and Syria, butchering and plundering, the only ones left to face the terrorist group head-on are the Kurdish people, the very insurgents against whom Turkey has battled since the 1980s. At this point, we come to the small town of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobane. This small, seemingly insignificant village is the last bulwark keeping ISIS from reaching the Turkish border, and guess what? Turkey has not lifted a single finger to push ISIS back. In fact, according to key ISIS militants themselves, as well as Western intelligence, Turkey is even funding ISIS and is allowing the smuggling of oil across its borders in order to fund ISIS. (Despite all that, however, Vice President Biden was recently forced to apologize to the Turkish government after he made similar accusations against Turkey and several Arab nations.)
To chuck wood into the fire, Turkey won’t even allow the United States to open an air base in Turkey. In essence, Turkey wants absolutely nothing to do with the Western campaign against ISIS. The most Turkey has done to curb the danger is label ISIS a terror organization (because that will be so effective in stopping it).
The question is: Why is Turkey so keen to work against the Kurds and help ISIS instead? ISIS is a threat to Turkey’s national interests and safety. One might compare the threat of ISIS to that of the terrorist Kurdish PKK, but ISIS, by contrast, is actively trying to conquer entire regions as opposed to the relatively tame goal of gaining independence. Has Turkey arrived at the pointless notion of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Do the Turks believe that the threat of Kurdish independence is greather than the threat of ISIS? Who is the real enemy here?
Turkey is open to helping other Syrian rebel groups fight ISIS, but the rebel groups of their choosing are far from bankable or trustworthy allies. It is almost as though Turkey is putting up one large charade in order to please its Western allies while also handling its little Kurdish problems by dealing with the devil, ISIS, directly.
Turkey is sacrificing good relations with the EU (whatever shred of a chance it had in joining the EU, by the way, will be effectively gone if Turkey keeps this up) and NATO in order to prepare for the short term. No matter how bad the PKK is, though, ISIS is an element of its own, an element with the stated goal of taking over Southern Turkey. And this threat of conquering land does not compare to the moral and ethical issues of holding hands with terrorists.
We cannot win against terrorism if our own allies enable the actions of these terror groups (and this is why the “war on terror” is such a confusing and convoluted affair, but that’s another story). With our long-standing relationship with Turkey and our immediate interests in the region, we are caught between a rock (maintaining a relationship with Turkey) and a hard place (letting ISIS invade the region). Our only real course of action is to put up with Turkish behavior and let the Turks suffer from the consequences of their relationship with ISIS in the long run. Until then, we should do our necessary duty whenever the situation permits, whether that be air strikes on ISIS positions or direct assaults.
Turkey has no obligation to help the Kurds, the United States, or anyone else for that matter. But as a civilized nation in the 21st century, it has absolutely no business helping a terror organization. Turkey is no ally, Turkey is no friend, and Turkey has proven its allegiances. They are not with us.
Ghosh is a member of the class of 2018.