As the global fight against ISIS continues, no relationship has become more important to our country than the strong and critical relationship forged between the United States and Turkey.
With the future of the Middle East evolving on a daily basis, Turkish-U.S. relations are critical to regional security and the management of regional crises. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have become salient issues of international security; the rising tensions in Iran and Saudi Arabia have added additional complexity to the situation as more regional instability presents itself. Above and beyond these already convoluted dynamics, we cannot forget about Russia’s strengthening relationship with Armenia, with Armenia hosting two Russian bases there as part of Russia’s growing influence in the region. In this context we are able to understand why the U.S. and Turkey’s relationship may be the most critical relationship we have with any ally in the 21st century.
Often forgotten is that Turkey has long been an important U.S. ally in the region on matters ranging from counterterrorism to NATO operations. In fact, since 2011 Turkey and the U.S. have co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) to help combat the rise of extremism. Turkey has also worked in conjunction with the U.S. to establish the first-ever public-private global fund to support local efforts to counter violent extremism and has taken a leading role at its Center of Excellence Defense Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) in Ankara to teach fellow NATO allies and select non-member states on how to address various terrorism-related issues. More recently, Turkey has stood out as one of the few players in the region welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees since the Syrian Civil War erupted — proving relief for people of all races, religions, and ethnicities.
For over fifty years, Turkey and the United Stated have enjoyed a bilateral relationship sharing mutual values of democracy, diversity, tolerance, social mobility, and the separation of religious and civic life. No time in our history has our relationship with our ally been as pivotal as it is today with the fight against terrorism and ISIS. This fact was best demonstrated in August 2015, when Turkey and the United States finalized an agreement to work cooperatively to combat Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq, including providing access to Incirlik Airbase for United States aircraft undertaking airstrikes against targets in Syria.
Beyond international security, Turkey has also become an indispensable U.S. trade partner, constituting a large and growing market for United States exports. In 2015, Turkey was identified as Europe’s third-fastest growing economy, and its simultaneous increasing energy demand make it an appealing market for continued U.S. investment, especially with America’s growing strength and influence in the gas sector and Turkey’s rising natural gas needs.
As both countries continue to work together, it is vital that we establish a long-term plan for stability in the region, particularly as it relates to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Turkey and the U.S. have already taken positive first steps in this direction. In March 2015, the Pentagon selected the first 400 Syrians who will take part in a joint training program on Turkish soil to help train moderate Syrian rebels fight the forces attempting to tear their country apart. The program, to which the U.S. Congress has pledged $500 million, expects to have 3,000 trained Syrians by the end of 2015 and a total of 5,000 by April 2016.
This is a strong start and that’s why greater U.S.-Turkey cooperation and coordination is crucial. Turkey is truly an indispensable ally in the region. In order to defeat ISIS and ensure regional stability, Turkey and the United States must stand side-by-side and face terrorism head-on.