In Syria, American allies the Kurds are fighting and winning against forces supported by American allies the Turks. While the US has been calling on both sides to stand down, it has refused, so far, to side with Turkey. That potentially puts the two NATO allies on a collision course in Syria.
The US and Turkey have found themselves at odds over the choice of allies in the war.
Turkey has been supporting and assisting Daesh and other Islamist rebels, while the US has been opposing and, at least on paper, combatting them. The US has also been a supporter of the Kurd militias fighting Daesh, at least until now.
The two NATO allies have tried to keep the lid on their differences, but these have been boiling to the surface recently. Ankara has lashed out at Washington for supporting the Kurds, whom it calls terrorists.
Turkey’s relationship with the Kurds living in Syria and Iraq has been strained as well.
One of Turkey’s main goals is to prevent the formation of a Kurdish entity on its borders that, Ankara is afraid, may feed secessionist sentiment of the Turkish Kurds.
The US has been trying to perform a difficult balancing act between the two sides, calling on both to de-escalate.
One casualty will be the bruised relationship with Turkey. If it comes to direct combat between the Turks and the Kurds, the US will likely assume neutrality. But in practical terms that will mean encouragement for the Kurds. The Turks will not let this pass. They can’t challenge American openly, but they will find ways to make their displeasure known.
Longer term, NATO exit may be an option for the Turks. The insults and put-downs they have been collecting from Europe and the US may be reaching a critical mass.
The Turks may decide they are better off on their own. Beyond any local implications, the Turkish-Kurdish stand-off puts the US in an uncomfortable position with its NATO allies.
The small Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had banked on NATO membership as a carte blanche for gratuitos Russia-baiting, expecting US protection in case of a conflict.
With the US abandoning Turkey in its fight with the Kurds, they may be seeing a writing on the wall.