Volume 9, Issue 1
Turkey Under the Trump Administration
AHI attended a series of panels on the issue of US-Turkish relations under the new administration hosted by The SETA Foundation titled, “Turkey and the Middle East Under the Trump.” The first panel, “Syria & Iraq’s Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations,” included Luke Coffey, director, Center for Foreign Policy, Heritage Foundation; Hasan Basri Yalcin, director of Strategy Programs, The SETA Foundation; and Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, president and co-founder, People Demand Change. The second panel, “The Trump Administration & Middle East Policy” included Nicholas Heras, fellow, Center for New American Security; Kilic B. Kanat, research director, The SETA Foundation; and Hassan Hassan, fellow, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
Syria & Iraq’s Impact on U.S.-Turkey Relations
Coffey focused on what the Trump administration might do about the friction points between Ankara and Washington. He believes President Trump will question the idea of U.S. support to some rebel groups, possibly even the Kurds. The rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is a reaction to U.S. policies, with Turkey seeking to hedge its bets on who will dominate Syria. Coffey likened a shared interest in Syria by Russia and Turkey to the same interest a customer and robber would have in a bank. He later stated the failed coup in Turkey has impacted the readiness of the Turkish military. Ghosh-Siminoff had a different view. He believes Turkey’s military has provided more stability and support to Syrian opposition forces than the United States has in northern Syria.
Yalcin spoke about the strained relations between the U.S and Turkey under the Obama administration and pointed to the American rejection of Turkish requests in Syria to be the center of this disagreement. He believes there is not much to be optimistic about in Trump’s rhetoric on the Middle East and highlighted three possible policy scenarios under the Trump administration. The first scenario involves U.S. intervention in Syria, which he believes to be Turkey’s preference. The second scenario involves a non-interventionist strategy by the U.S., which would create a balanced relationship between the U.S., Russia, and Turkey. The final scenario involves the continuation of Obama’s policies including cooperating with the Kurds at the expense of the Turkish government. Yalcin stated that this scenario would cause Turkey to swing toward Russia and Iran, the least preferable option in Turkey’s eyes.
The Trump Administration & Middle East Policy
Heras argued that a Trump administration would take the stance laid out by former National Security Adviser General Flynn in a November media interview. This strategic view would ultimately involve a Balkan-style type of intervention. He argued that a fragmented territorial control of Syria has become more solidified as the Syrian civil war has progressed. Kanat believes Trump’s policy in the Middle East will be like President George W. Bush’s strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump has built a similar cabinet in which the various heads of agencies have conflicting view points on a Middle East policy. Hassan stated the U.S. policy in the Middle East has had a boomerang effect for too long, preventing any sense of stability. No local partners want to assist because as soon as the U.S. views a situation to be over, it leaves the locals susceptible to revenge attacks by extremists. Hassan argued that the U.S. has a sphere of influence in Syria, but Trump must take the extra step of turning that into policy.
Atlantic Council Talks Next Chapter in U.S.-EU Relations
AHI attended the event, “European Growth and the Next Chapter in U.S.-EU Relations,” Jan. 26, 2017, hosted by The Atlantic Council. Panelists included: Ana Palacio, former foreign minister of Spain; The Honorable Boyden Gray, former U.S. Ambassador to the EU; George Alogoskoufis, former finance minister of Greece; and Shekhar Aiyar, deputy chief of the European Department of the IMF.
The moderator asked the panelists to provide concrete steps for the EU to take in strengthening its union as well as its relations with the United States. Former Minister Palacio emphasized the need for a stronger and more unified effort on security. She also proposed liberalizing the labor markets. Palacio pointed to the example of her home country, Spain, and how it rose from being bankrupt to growing at 3% annually. She warned it would not be easy to liberalize markets due to the entrenched culture within Europe, but argued its necessity to create growth. Gray reiterated the need for deregulation within the EU and pointed to the U.S. as a success story. The former ambassador also cited the example of Germany, which was considered ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the spring of 2006. By deregulating its markets, Germany became the ‘Superman of Europe’ by the end of 2006.
The former Greek finance minister took a more long-term approach to European growth. He argued the biggest problem in Europe was a rise in economic populism and nationalism. The resurgence of populism has economic underpinnings rooted in the rapid rise of globalization. Alogoskoufis argued the rise in nationalism is a result of governmental indifference to the losers of globalization. The EU cannot continue to ignore those who lose in globalization, or it will continue to play into the hands of populist politicians. Further economic integration, new European programs, and a new European objective were needed as long term plans to grow the EU and eliminate populist fervor. Aiyar agreed the competitiveness gaps within the EU needed to be closed and that there is not short term fix for such a plan. He agreed with Palacio and Gray on the need to liberalize retail services, labor markets, and professions as a new policy change.
Mediterranean Future 2030: Transatlantic Security Strategy
AHI attended The Atlantic Council’s “Mediterranean Futures 2030: Towards a Transatlantic Security Strategy,” Feb. 1, 2017, where The Atlantic Council released a report bearing the event’s name. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, former deputy secretary general of NATO, provided the Keynote Address. The subsequent conversation included: Ambassador H.E. Armando Varricchio, Italian ambassador to the United States; Amanda Sloat, former deputy assistant secretary for Southern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean, U.S. Department of State; and Lisa Aronsson, visiting fellow, The Atlantic Council, who is one of the co-authors of the report.
Ambassador Vershbow addressed the need for closer EU-NATO cooperation. He highlighted the current challenges to a stronger, safer and more stable Mediterranean, including illegal migration, terrorism, economic instability, and the rise of populism. The EU needs to generate far more resources and political will in order to establish peace and stability in the Mediterranean, he offered.
Aronsson proceeded to summarize the official report which can be found here: Mediterranean Futures 2030: Towards a Transatlantic Security Strategy.
Ambassador Varricchio warned against short term solutions to the issues of the Mediterranean. Investment in Africa and tackling the root causes of migration from the Arab world is necessary in order to create stability in the region, he said. Varricchio viewed the southern flank of NATO as being absolutely vital in the Alliance’s geostrategic strategy. To build a stronger NATO, more investment is needed along the Mediterranean, according to the Ambassador.
Sloat discussed the growing recognition of the role of the Eastern Mediterranean during the last five years. She emphasized the important role of Southern Europe in the future and called for more action on behalf of the EU to disseminate the refugee population currently centralized in Greece and Italy. Sloat also pointed to the handful of conflicts that Turkey has with its neighbors, including Cyprus. She stated there is cause for concern about how things will shape out domestically in Turkey, including the crackdown on dissent, civil society and the constitution. The former deputy assistant secretary even referenced a debate within the White House over whether to keep Turkey in the European division or move it to the Middle East division.
Sloat spent considerable time discussing Cyprus in her remarks. She spoke about the progress of the negotiations and how it could serve as a beacon of hope from the volatile region as a way to resolve conflict through diplomacy rather than violence. A solution to the Cyprus problem would also alleviate complications between NATO and the EU and would streamline energy production in the region. Aronsson also touched on her visit to Cyprus in December. The positive momentum on the ground among Greek Cypriots, despite negotiations breaking down, inspired her. She believes it could profoundly change the Eastern Mediterranean if resolved. The Italian ambassador referenced the Cyprus problem as being the longest issue on the UN Security Council and voiced his support of the U.S. efforts to resolve the issue. He warned that Cyprus must not become a battleground for other issues due to its energy potential.
Turkey – U.S. Relations: A Clean Slate?
AHI attended “Turkey-U.S. Relations: A Clean Slate?” hosted by the Global Policy Institute, Feb. 2, 2017. The Global Policy Institute’s president, Paolo von Schirach, moderated. Presenters included: Retired U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who is a former assistant secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs; Walid Phares, former policy advisor to Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign; and Burrak Kuntay, president, American Studies Center, Bahcesehir University.
Schirach spoke of the motto at the Canadian Embassy of “Friend, Partner, Ally, and Neighbor” and likened the U.S.-Turkish relationship to holding all of the same values with the exception of neighbor. Kimmitt urged the United States to improve its relationship with Turkey because it is surrounded by a sea of instability. Phares pointed out that the Trump administration will have to decide if it will continue to support the Kurds in Syria, against Turkey’s wishes, or consider a new shift in policy. Kuntay argued that the problem between the U.S. and Turkey is over which terrorist group should be given priority to be eliminated, the Kurdish PKK or ISIS. He stated sinister forces backed by the Gulen organization were attempting to undermine and destroy U.S.-Turkish relations.
Gallup Talks Media Consumption in Turkey
AHI attended “Media Consumption in Turkey,” a panel discussion hosted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and The Gallup Organization, Jan. 8, 2017.
Benjamin Ryan, a consulting specialist from Gallup led the discussion by presenting a general overview of the populace perception in Turkey vis-à-vis the government and its institutions. His findings were based on results from Gallup World Polls four waves of phone surveys conducted in Turkey between 2014 and April 2016, just months before the most recent failed military coup. Ryan’s statistical findings of Gallop’s surveys noted some key takeaways. Specifically, Ryan noted confidence in the Turkish military remaining consistently high, never falling below 75% of support from the people. However, confidence in judicial system has fallen.
The economic outlook for Turks has improved since 2008 although there are significant demographic distinctions in confidence levels. For example, Turks within a younger age demographic and lower levels of education tended to be more confident in the economy than those within an older age demographic and greater education levels. Interestingly, Ryan shared that generally, fear of expressing political views has declined in recent years, but it remains high in Southeast Anatolia. Regarding freedom of media, Ryan reported that as of April 2016, 38% of the population felt media in Turkey are free. Ryan noted that although this statistic has been relatively consistent during the past few years, it has seen a slight decline.
Following Ryan, William Bell, director of Research, Voice of America, shared his findings from BBG’s 2016 research. Overall, Turks have a large number of media outlets available to them though press freedom is increasingly circumscribed. However, despite this, a significant portion of the population, especially among the better educated, express some degree of dissatisfaction with Turkish media. Moreover, no single media outlet enjoys clear dominance. Widespread access to satellite TV and digital technologies means those who desire to, and are able, do take advantage of foreign media. Bell highlighted particularly the greatest disparity in data was found when considering education levels, citing the higher the level of education, the greater the dissatisfaction with media freedom within Turkey, which corroborated Ryan’s findings.
Defense Priorities for the Trump Administration
The Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institute hosted a panel to discuss defense recommendations for the Trump administration, Feb. 21, 2017. Panelists included: Thomas Wright, fellow and director of the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy; Robert Hale, former comptroller of the Department of Defense; and retired Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller of Pratt and Whitney. Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow, Brookings, moderated. The discussion centered on an evaluation of the current U.S. defense budget and how the Trump administration will seek to adapt and implement it moving forward. The discussion also considered today’s most pressing security challenges for the U.S.
O’Hanlon summarized the current state of the U.S. defense system, emphasizing that the U.S. defense budget currently stands at $600 billion dollars, an amount above the cold war average of $525 billion. He argued that although military spending seems to consume a relatively large portion of the budget, it only comprises one-sixth of the federal budget. He cited a decrease in armed forces by 35-40%. Meanwhile, the Budget Control Act has remained, which means spending caps (sequestration) loom for fiscal year 2018. Looking forward, the Trump campaign promised to build up the military by 15%, which would push up the annual defense budget to around $700 billion.
Wright reflected upon the global security pressures the Trump administration is facing. He explained that in the past five to six years, the world has seen significant divergence as Russia and China moving in opposite directions and no major traditional security balancing in the way. Wright said Russia, China and the Middle East are the three major security challenges, and at the same time, these three regional orders are deteriorating simultaneously. Wright offered that the question that will define the Trump administration’s approach to these issues is whether the president wants to bolster the regional orders or not.
Hale opined on where he believes Trump and Secretary Mattis will focus the defense budget. He expects to see a defense budget that supports the European Reassurance Initiative and one that places a continued emphasis on special operation forces in addition to added funding toward the fight against ISIS. Moreover, Hale highlighted how big procurement programs currently underway will place enormous pressure on the defense budget. However, these procurement programs are necessary to meet the base needs when looking forward to 2020.
As a final topic of discussion, the panelists reviewed the current state of the Trump administration and its developing security strategy.