OUR NATO ALLY TURKEY NEEDS A SAFE ZONE

OUR NATO ALLY TURKEY NEEDS A SAFE ZONE

While the operations conducted by Turkey in Northern Syria against the terrorist elements faces criticism among the international community, Matthew Bryza former White House Officer whom is familiar with the region, expressed his support to Turkey.

Bryza evaluated the latest developments between two countries for the Turkish Perspective readers.

BY TAMER IŞITIR - UTKU KOLAĞASIOĞLU / THE TURKISH PERSPECTIVE - NOVEMBER 2019 ISSUE 76

How does the American public view the military operation carried out by Turkey in Syria?

Generally, Americans who are following developments in Turkey and the Middle East do not understand or trust that the goals of the operation are really the ones that President Erdoğan has set out. In general; in the United States, congress, academy and the general public that follows these sorts of issues there is a misperception that Turkey's real objective is to take control of a lot of territory in Syria and harm all of the Kurdish population of Syria. In fact, there are even many people who are worried or claim that Turkey would carry out ethnic cleansing in some sort of atrocities against the Kurdish population of Northern Syria. What these people don't understand is that Turkey's military operation in Syria is limited. They don't understand that creating a 20 mile wide or 32 kilometer wide safe zone is also in the interests of the United States and is the only real objective Turkey has along with pushing a terrorist organization (YPG) away from Turkey's border with Syria. So most Americans mix up YPG with all Kurds in Syria and they don't understand that really the YPG and the PKK are one and the same organization, and of course an organization that the United States government recognizes as terrorists. I think that the policies of the United States and Turkey are misaligned right now. The two countries are not on the same track, neither in terms of their governments and the populations at large. The good news for US-Turkey relations though is that President Trump very much wants a positive relationship with President Erdoğan.

How should the contradicting statements of Donald Trump about Turkey and Erdoğan be evaluated?

President Trump seems to have a personal like of President Erdoğan. He respects and likes President Erdoğan. Also President Trump does not seem to want to impose sanctions on Turkey. He does not wish to punish Turkey and in fact believes it's in the US' national interests to have a strong relationship with Turkey as possible, not only in security but also in economics and especially trade. That's why President Trump has instructed his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to find a way to increase the volume of trade between US and Turkey to USD 100 billion. The contradictory statements however, come in as President Trump reacts to his political opponents in the US political parties, both Democrats and Republicans, whom because of the misunderstandings about Turkey's military operation in Syria, which I refer to in the last question, are highly critical of President Trump for apparently saying it's okay with him if Turkey launched that sort of a military operation. He received a great criticism from the Republicans and Democrats and that is now pushed by people in both parties to pass a new round of sanctions against Turkey. And the leader of the US Senate Mitch McConnell wrote an opinion article in the Washington Post condemning President Trump for “green lighting” Turkey's military operation in Syria. So President Trump has come out with threatening statements about Turkey in an attempt to protect himself and his reputation against the criticism that he has been “too soft” on Turkey. President Trump needs to be careful to do that because he needs Republicans in the senate to prevent him from being removed from office if the lower house of the US Congress, the House of Representatives, does vote to impeach him or to accuse him of having committed crimes. I think as each day passes it's increased in likely that the House of Representatives will vote to accuse the President of having committed crimes in which case there could be a trial in the Senate and President Trump is convicted. He could be removed from office and he needs the Republican majority in the Senate to protect him. So he has to sound tough towards Turkey even if he doesn't want to be.

 

FOR MANY YEARS, I SUPPORTED IDEA OF SAFE ZONE

How do you interpret Turkey's aim of creating a safe zone as a resolution in Northern Syria?

I, for many years, supported the idea of precisely such a safe zone. I think that it is against the interests of the United States and our allies for there to be an independent political entity in Northern Syria, especially one run by YPG/PYD and such terrorist organizations. Speaking as an American, our NATO ally Turkey needs a safe zone without terrorists in it attacking the Turkish border as it happened in the previous years. I also think that the United States and Turkey should be work ing together to establish a safe zone. I think that it's probably good for the US and Turkey, even Russia believe it or not, help to rid the YPG from that safe zone. But of course the fact that Russia is doing that with Turkey rather than the United States I think is a big strategic setback and makes US look like an unreliable ally and a country that is withdrawing its forces from the Middle East. I think for the long run it is bad for the stability of the region.

In what ways will Baghdadi's death affect the dynamics in the region?

In terms of day to day operations of so-called Islamic State (ISIS/DAESH), Al-Baghdadi's death will not have a major impact because for several years now he already has not been really leading the organization. So the same operational leaders who are alive before Al-Baghdadi's death will still be in charge. But I think his death will have a profound impact on ISIS' ability to recruit new members and sustain morale. Because he really is not only the head figure but also the inspiration for the entire movement of the so-called Islamic State. He is a great symbol of that movement. So I think that the organization of the Islamic State will suffer a deep ideological and emotional injury that could debilitate it and that outcome is great for the dynamics of the region. I think that all people that are on the side of peace and favor the human rights and democracy should be quite happy. That at least for now the threat of the Islamic State is reduced. That being said, over time the Islamic State can rebuild itself and grow strong again. As I said, it has other leaders and its ideology is not dead. So the struggle against this ideology must continue.

THE US HAS NOT A CLEAR STRATEGY

Where is USA's Middle East policy heading towards?

It's totally unclear. At the moment I don't really believe there is a US policy towards the Middle East. I think there is a general concept that the US needs to work as closely as possible with Israel and with Saudi Arabia. I think that President son-in-law Jared Kushner has been given the job of trying to establish a new peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israeli government and has been relying and hoping that Saudi Arabia can provide some quite support for Israel and create stability. I think in the mind of Trump administration stability means containing Iran, especially in Syria but not only. Saudi Arabia has been on the lead of containing Iran thanks to the horrible war in Yemen. But I think this concept of a peace agreement is not a strategy, it's not an overall foreign policy. It is contradictory in that the US seems to support Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE imposing a blockade on Qatar. So there is not a clear strategy. In Syria clearly the US under president Trump wants to leave militarily and when it leaves militarily it will have no real impact on the next phase in Syria (the constitutional commission and a new political future for Syria). President Trump has said that the US hasn't even any interest of being a part of the future actions in Syria. And that is very difficult for me to understand if that's the view of a US president. Because that shows there is no policy at all towards the Middle East. Under George W. Bush and really all US presidents, there was always a desire to try to stabilize various countries by increasing economic prosperity and increasing political freedom. The US didn't always do a great job in pursuing those goals and sometimes used the wrong tool like invading Iraq. But trying to strengthen the values of political and economic freedom had always been part of US foreign policy and gave the US some credibility. With the way President Trump however reacted to the murder of Jamal Al-Khashoggi here in Istanbul, the US cannot claim to be pursuing those goals at all and therefore loses much credibility. It is Turkey that allowed the world to understand that the Saudi Arabian government was guilty of committing this heinous crime. And as President Trump who has tried to sweep the whole issue under the carpet, not embrace the evidence and hoped that the whole issue to go away. I think that's, again because for President Trump, Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin-Salman are so central to his vision of what the US is doing in the Middle East, which is simply working with Saudi Arabia and pursuing a Middle East peace agreement. And I think President Trump is deeply mistaken if he thinks by letting this crime go unpunished could make things better in Saudi Arabia. To me, that only will make things worse.

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