AHI Capital Reports September-December 2018

Volume 10, Issue 3                   

THO Analyzes Difficulties In U.S.-Turkey Relations


On September 6, 2018, AHI attended an event hosted by the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) titled “The Future of the U.S.- Turkey Relationship in the Trump Administration.”

The panel was moderated by THO advisory board member and Associate Professor Dr. Mark Meirowitz joined by the following speakers:

●          Molly Montgomery- VP at Abright Stonebridge Group, Former State Department and White House Senior Official

●          Joel Rubin- Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for House Affairs, State Department

●          Akif Kirecci (via skype)- President, Ankara Center for Political and Economic Research (ASEM) and Academic, Bilkent University

The moderator, Mark Meirowitz, started off by asking “How did we get to this point after President Obama proclaimed a “model partnership” between Turkey and the U.S.?” He also mentioned other tensions between the U.S. and Turkey.

Commenting on the introduction and Meirowitz’s question, Molly Montgomery stated, “I don’t believe there is anyone in the foreign policy world who currently likes where relations are between the U.S. and Turkey.” She continues by explaining that finding a common solution is a very difficult, though important, task that can be achieved through discussion.

Akif Kirecci gave the perspective from the Turkish vantage point. He informed the audience of the impact a rising dollar has on the Turkish economy, and stated “There is a negative feeling among the public in their view of the U.S. because of the economic sanctions.” Kirecci argued that Turkey has been one of the “most reliable partners in NATO,” even though he acknowledged that others do not always view Turkey as a reliable partner.

Continuing the discussion, Meirowitz asked the panelist to go in depth commenting the understanding or lack of understanding between Turkey and the U.S.

Joel Rubin explained that U.S. support for Turkey, even despite Turkey’s concerning tendencies, is due to the U.S. having a “cold war” mentality. Rubin stated that this ‘cold war’ mentality has lasted even after the end of the cold war, and that is the reason why many in the defense establishment still support Turkey. Rubin also mentioned that Turkey does not have a strong understanding of our system of government. Turkey may have grievances about the executive branch in the U.S. not doing enough the influence the judiciary, where many important decisions are made. Though there have been various historic points where Turkey and U.S. have seen eye to eye, Rubin states, “We live in the present and future, and whatever comes from this, we can’t rewind back. While I don’t believe people want to write off the relationship, there is a despair as far as how to write this relationship.”

In the concluding comments of the panel, the moderator asked the panelists to give their overall thoughts on the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

Molly Montgomery discussed the importance of negotiations. Joel Rubin and Akif Kirecci mentioned ended the conversation by explaining the importance of lobbying Congress.

           Experts Discuss Macedonia Referendum

On October 1st, 2018, AHI listened in on a conference call organized by the Atlantic Council regarding the Macedonia referendum, with the discussion titled “More Than Just a Name: Macedonia’s September 30 Referendum.” The speakers were as follows: Dr. Evelyn Farkas, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Eurasia Center, and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council, and H.E. Alain Le Roy, former Secretary General of the European External Action Service. The moderator, Damon Wilson, serves as Executive Vice President, Programs and Strategy at Atlantic Council.

Wilson noted the effectiveness of the anonymous coordinated boycott campaign. Even though the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the main opposition party in Macedonia, did not officially campaign for a boycott, many anti-deal proponents “seem to have drawn on the infrastructure of the VMRO apparatus,” according to Wilson. The current president of Macedonia and VMRO member, Gjorge Ivanov, openly opposes the deal.

According to Evelyn Farkas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, VMRO’s opposition represents a “sour grapes moment” rather than disapproval of the deal. Farkas avers that VMRO was opposed to the agreement on the grounds of political opportunism or jealousy rather than for reasons of policy substance. Many in VMRO, Farkas said, think that “a better agreement” can be formulated in the future if this prospective deal is rejected, an assertion that Farkas questioned. Lastly, Farkas asserted that some Russians were “probably” funding the boycott effort.

Alain Le Roy, a French diplomat who served as the EU’s special representative in Skopje from 2001-2002 and is the French government’s special envoy on Macedonia, said that a main cause of the referendum result was due to a strong partisan environment in the country, as a vote would not simply be expressing an opinion on the issue but of the government in power. According to Le Roy, a yes vote “would be a vote in favor of the government.” Le Roy also noted his surprise at the low turnout among Macedonia’s Albanian population. Lastly, Le Roy stated France would be willing to support Macedonia’s desire to be further integrated into the EU. Farkas also noted that Russia is against NATO influence in the Balkans.

Research from the Atlantic Council concluded that Russian influence on the ground, such as through campaigns or financial support, was more influential than any online campaign.

Wilson noted that while there would be challenges in parliament, and even though the low turnout not ideal, Zaev showed a certain amount of political power. According to Wilson, “In Macedonia’s electoral history, the only time more than 600,000 people voted in favor of anything was the independence referendum in [1991].” Wilson noted that delays and upcoming Greek elections, however, could be potential stumbling blocks. Wilson ended the call by stating that this could potentially be a ‘historic opportunity.’

        U.S.-Turkey Relations After Brunson


On Wednesday, October 17th, 2018 AHI listened to a Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) teleconference on “The Future of US-Turkey Relationship after Pastor Brunson’s Release.”

The teleconference was moderated by THO’s Executive Director Elvir Klempic and featured the following speakers:

Matthew Bryza – Former US Ambassador, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe & Asia, Senior Non-Resident Fellow at Atlantic Council

Hassan Basri Yalcin – Associate Professor, Director of Strategy at SETA Istanbul & Istanbul Commerce University

To begin the teleconference, Hassan Yalcin discussed Turkish public opinion of the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson, stating that this issue is viewed through a dual prism. While some view the release as a concession on the part of the Turkish government, others view it as a part of a more complex and longer-term strategy.  Yalcin highlighted that this was an emotional issue that needed to be resolved such that substantive dialogue between the United States and Turkey could continue. Yalcin emphasized the need for the United States to have a “flexible” foreign policy in order to de-emphasize the increasing powers of other countries in the region, such as Russia.

Ambassador Bryza talked about his hope for the improvement of relations between the United States and Turkey, allowing for further coordination in the future between the United States and Turkey.  Ambassador Bryza highlighted four issues which need to be addressed to improve U.S.-Turkey relations: the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, Gulen’s extradition status, Turkey’s relationship with Iran, and America’s strategic partnership with the YPG.

  An Analysis Of U.S. Involvement In the Middle East

On October 24th, 2018 AHI attended a Turkish Heritage Organization event titled “U.S.-Turkey Security Partnership and Current Challenges.” The event panelists were as follows: J.D. Gordon, President of Protect America Today, Former National Security Advisor for the Trump Campaign, Former Pentagon Spokesman (2002-2005), H.E. Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, Foreign Policy Advisor, U.S. Cyber Command, Former U.S. Ambassador to Malta, Former NESA Director for Arabian Peninsula, National Security Council-White House, Ilan Berman, Senior Vice President, American Foreign Policy Council, and Ismail Hakki Perkin, Ret. General, Former Head of Turkish Military Intelligence.

Naskah Zada, the moderator, began by asking for J.D. Gordon’s views on Turkey and Syria.  

Gordon asserted that regardless of any political tensions between the U.S. and Turkey, the U.S.-Turkey military relationship remains strong. He then stated that “it is ludicrous to think that Turkey shouldn’t be a part of NATO,” citing Turkey’s geo-strategic location and air bases as the reason that Turkey needs to be a part of NATO. Gordon also criticized the media for not properly covering the Khashoggi case. Lastly, Gordon suggested that President Trump should have a balanced approach as he simultaneously tries to forge relations with both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as both countries are of great interest to the United States.

Ambassador Abercrombie-Winstanley focused in on the conflict in Syria and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. She emphasized the most important factor in having a strong relationship between the United States and Turkey is communication and dialogue. She also stated that the American government needs cognizant of the Turkish government’s concerns about the YPG and PYD. She stated that, going into the future, the United States would most likely to continue strongly supporting Israel, and that President Trump could be open to negotiations with Iran. When asked about Khashoggi, she said those responsible should be identified.

Ilan Berman stated that the U.S.-Turkey security relationship needs to be looked at as “a long- term relationship.”  Berman asserted, though, that the release of Brunson would alleviate short-term pressures. Berman also pointed out that Trump’s sanctions and actions against Iran could complicate U.S.-Turkey relations. Berman also asserted that the Russians would be willing to negotiate with Turkey on the issue of Syria due to economic reasons.

Retired Turkish General Ismail Pekin stated that the Syrian conflict has strained U.S.-Turkey relations. Furthermore, he noted that there are disagreements between the United States and Turkey on whether or not the YPG and PYD are offshoots of the PKK, which the Turkish government deems to be a terrorist organization. While General Pekin believes that the U.S.-Turkey military partnership will continue to prosper going into the future, he also thinks that the American government must be able to properly address Turkey’s concerns about the aforementioned groups.


         A Look At U.S.-Turkey Relations


On Thursday, December 6th, 2018 AHI attended a Turkish Heritage Organization panel discussion on “US Foreign Policy in the Middle East and US-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019.” The panel was moderated by THO Contributor Sarah Houston, and featured the following individuals: Daniel Christman, Lt. General, U.S. Army (Ret.), Senior Counselor for International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Naim Baburoglu, Turkish Brigadier General (Ret.), and Dov S. Zakheim, Senior Fellow at Center for Naval Analyses, former Department of Defense official.

Daniel Christman began by discussing U.S-Turkey relations through the lens of business, stating that the U.S. and Turkey have strong business ties. Christman also highlighted the volatility in the Middle East, stating that it is unclear what the dynamics between the U.S. and Iran would be under throughout the remainder of Trump’s Presidency. Christman also argued, that when it comes to Turkey, the YPG and PKK should not be grouped together and that these groups need to be looked at with more nuance. Overall, Christman believes that the U.S. and Turkey will want to improve relations, but that Turkey remains a ‘wildcard.’

Dr. Naim Baburoglu focused on the YPG issue and the viability of the Manbij agreement. Dr. Baburoglu stated that the Syrian war degraded the US-Turkish relationship, as the United States backed of YPG forces in Syria, which Turkey considered problematic. Dr. Baburoglou then stated that Turkey would not view the YPG as a potential threat without the backing of Turkey.  He then briefly discussed the recent oil and gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean and that how America’s coordination with the Greek government on this matter added to the tension in the US-Turkish relationship. Lastly, Dr. Baburoglu acknowledged Turkey’s desire for missile systems, such as the S-400’s, as another source of tension.

Dov S. Zakheim stated that it could be difficult to gauge President Trump’s intentions regarding the Middle East. However, Zakheim said that one way to deduce the President’s intentions is to “look at what he does” rather than the rhetoric that is used. Zakheim also stated that Congress could potentially defy President Trump on the Khashoggi issue. Furthermore, he asserted that the United States’ involvement with the YPG has a restraining presence on the group. Lastly, Zakheim stated that he believes in the long-run that the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey would be stronger that of the Turkey and Russia.