EXPERTS DISCUSS U.S.-TURKEY SECURITY COOPERATION ON SYRIA

On February 27, THO hosted a panel of experts to explore U.S.-Turkey cooperation on Syria and take a broader look at the U.S.’s role in the Middle East under the new presidential administration.

In a moderated discussion with Ms. Joyce Karam (Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat), Colonel Richard Outzen (Senior Military Advisor at the U.S. State Department), the Honorable Robert Wexler (President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and a former Congressman), and Mr. Bassam Barabandi (Political Advisor to the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition) discussed pressing considerations for U.S. strategy toward the Middle East and opportunities for, and challenges to, U.S.-Turkey cooperation in the region, particularly with regard to the Syrian crisis.

A new Middle East strategy for the U.S.

The panel began by addressing the review of the U.S.’s ISIS strategy that President Trump requested from the Pentagon.

“The 30-day review, we should remember, is not just about Iraq and Syria. It’s important to remember that it’s a ‘defeat ISIS’ or ‘counter ISIS’ review, which [means] ways to accelerate the campaign,” Col. Outzen told the audience.

“And it’s not just looking at the military strategies,” Col. Outzen continued, emphasizing the concept of using “DIME” – diplomacy, information, military, and economics – as a comprehensive toolbox to counter ISIS.

Col. Richard Outzen address the 30-day review of U.S. strategy against ISIS

27 Feb 17

“The 30-day review, we should remember, is not just about Iraq and Syria. It’s important to remember that it’s a ‘defeat ISIS’ or ‘counter ISIS’ review, which [means] ways to accelerate the campaign,” Col. Outzen told the audience.

“And it’s not just looking at the military strategies,” Col. Outzen continued, emphasizing the concept of using “DIME” – diplomacy, information, military, and economics – as a comprehensive toolbox to counter ISIS.

“I imagine the president will be presented with a number of military options,” former Congressman Wexler said, noting that these strategies are likely to be separate from related political decisions, including the U.S.’s approach to Russia with regard to Syria as well as more broadly.

According to Congressman Wexler, another important political question ahead of the Trump administration is how to “gain leverage with the Sunni Arab states to create a regional coalition of like-minded countries” in order to provide a counterbalance to Iran as well as effectively fight ISIS.

Frmr Congressman Wexler on the political decisions Trump faces in the Middle East

27 Feb 17

According to Congressman Wexler, another important political question ahead of the Trump administration is how to “gain leverage with the Sunni Arab states to create a regional coalition of like-minded countries” in order to provide a counterbalance to Iran as well as effectively fight ISIS.

“The problem of Syria today is not anymore Daesh or ISIS. The problem of Syria is that the more this conflict will continue, the more the whole Middle East will be destabilized,” said Mr. Barabandi, referring to dire security consequences not just for Syria but also neighboring countries and the broader region, including the Gulf states.

He said that his recommendation to the Trump administration would be to take an approach to the Middle East that will contribute to its stabilization, including by building a Sunni Arab coalition and by partnering with allies like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. He cautioned against U.S. reliance on Syrian Kurdish groups

Bassam Barabandi says American approach to Middle East should focus on stabilizing the region

27 Feb 17

“The problem of Syria today is not anymore Daesh or ISIS. The problem of Syria is that the more this conflict will continue, the more the whole Middle East will be destabilized,” said Mr. Barabandi, referring to dire security consequences not just for Syria but also neighboring countries and the broader region, including the Gulf states.

U.S.-Turkey cooperation in the Middle East

“We’ve had trouble coming up with a holistic approach to the Syrian situation that meets [the U.S. and Turkey’s] common definition of national interests on both sides and what we think is sustainable for the Syrian people in the long term,” Col. Outzen said with regard to the U.S. approach to the Syrian crisis.

“The wonderful thing about U.S.-Turkish defense cooperation...is that it has tremendous depth and reach both historically and geographically,” he told the audience. He noted that while the relationship is experiencing tensions over Syria, both Turkey and the U.S. work closely in Afghanistan, while Turkey’s opening to Africa and contribution to various peacekeeping missions worldwide offers additional opportunities for cooperation between Ankara and Washington.

Col. Outzen discusses possibilities for the U.S.-Turkey relationship under President Trump

27 Feb 17

“The wonderful thing about U.S.-Turkish defense cooperation...is that it has tremendous depth and reach both historically and geographically,” he told the audience

Col. Outzen addresses gap in Turkish and American approaches to Syria

27 Feb 17

“We’ve had trouble coming up with a holistic approach to the Syrian situation that meets [the U.S. and Turkey’s] common definition of national interests on both sides and what we think is sustainable for the Syrian people in the long term,” Col. Outzen said with regard to the U.S. approach to the Syrian crisis.

Congressman Wexler not only noted that improved Russia-Turkey relations could provide leverage to the U.S. vis-à-vis Russia’s interests in the Middle East but also emphasized that Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel is a positive development for U.S.-Turkey relations. He mentioned that he was able to help found the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish-Americans because he had support from his Jewish constituents due to Turkey’s close relations with Israel at the time.

Frmr Congressman Wexler on considerations for the U.S. approach to Russia in the Middle East

27 Feb 17

Congressman Wexler not only noted that improved Russia-Turkey relations could provide leverage to the U.S. vis-à-vis Russia’s interests in the Middle East but also emphasized that Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel is a positive development for U.S.-Turkey relations

Frmr Congressman Wexler discusses Turkey-Israel reset

27 Feb 17

He mentioned that he was able to help found the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish-Americans because he had support from his Jewish constituents due to Turkey’s close relations with Israel at the time.

Considerations for safe zones in Syria

All three speakers emphasized that if the U.S. decides to pursue opportunities to set up safe zones in Syria, it first needs a firm political agreement between regional actors – including Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime – regarding the consequences of violating the safe zones. Most importantly, the U.S. needs to decide how the safe zones will be enforced – including whose boots will be on the ground to do it.

Mr. Barabandi argued that with proper U.S. training and coordination, Syrian Sunni Arab forces could be the boots on the ground, emphasizing that U.S. forces would not be necessary. 

Bassam Barabandi discusses boots on the ground for safe zones in Syria

27 Feb 17

Mr. Barabandi argued that with proper U.S. training and coordination, Syrian Sunni Arab forces could be the boots on the ground, emphasizing that U.S. forces would not be necessary.