In The National Interest, Mohammed Ayoob explains why the United States can’t afford to alienate both Turkey and Iran at the same time. While tensions with Iran have been high for decades, worsening relations with Turkey make the Middle East a very complicated and dangerous place for American foreign policy. Without the help of one or the other of these two Middle Eastern states, America could have trouble achieving its goals in the region. Ayoob writes (abridged):
Turkey and Iran continue to be the pivotal states in the volatile region around and much of the security dynamics of Middle East continues to revolve around these two countries regardless of the nature of their regimes. No stable security order in the region can be built without the participation of Ankara and Tehran. This is a lesson that Washington has still to learn.
It is essential, therefore, that American relations with Iran and Turkey remain relatively harmonious if the United States is to achieve its strategic objectives in the region, which includes preventing the growing influence that rival powers have in the Middle East. This applies especially to very visible increase in Russian influence, which cannot be checked without the cooperation of Tehran and Ankara. Unfortunately, Washington has done exactly the opposite by alienating Tehran for the last four decades and Ankara during the past several years.
Turkey and Russia already appear to be on the same page with regard to Syria now that Ankara has reconciled itself to Assad remaining in power and Russia has signaled its support for Turkey’s position on YPG and the Kurdish enclave. Turkey, Iran and Russia have been meeting to decide the future of Syria. The fourth summit of the three powers on Syria was held in Sochi in February and consultations continue to devise a solution to Syria acceptable to the three countries to the exclusion of the United States.
These trends in America’s dealings with Iran and Turkey depict the common theme that the United States is doing irretrievable damage to its relations with the two most important regional powers in the Middle East. In other words, these developments indicate that there may be a major strategic shift in the offing in the Middle East with Moscow as its major beneficiary. This does not bode well for Washington’s overriding objective of constructing a stable and legitimate structure of security in the Middle East with American as its principal external guarantor. Such a structure of security cannot be established without the participation of Ankara and Tehran and the United States may be doing itself a great disservice by alienating them simultaneously.
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