Middle East in 2020: A Challenge for World Peace?

Middle East in 2020: A Challenge for World Peace?

31 Jan 20

Turkey's Middle East Policy by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal

31 Jan 20

In his exclusive overview, Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal presents a brief overview of Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East, highlighting Turkey's stance on escalating tensions in Iran and Iraq. He also touches upon the situation in Syria and Turkey's approach to the matter and cooperation with other partners to help resolve it.


On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, the Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a panel discussion at the National Press Club on the “Middle East in 2020: A Challenge for World Peace?” with panelists Elena Pokalova, James Carafano, and Dr. Christopher Bolan. The panel, moderated by Isil Acehan, a visiting professor at George Mason University, began with opening remarks from Sedat Onal. Onal, Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, who spoke about the US-Turkey relationship and developments in the Middle East.

After Deputy Minister Onal's comments via video concluded, the moderator turned to the panel and began with a question to James Carafano, the Vice President of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign policy and an E.W. Richardson fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Carafano began discussing the US’s three main regions of interest, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. He stated that the “US is a global superpower with global responsibilities” and that it must and it will protect its interests in the key regions – it is in the US’s interest to ensure peace and stability in all these areas. That being said, Carafano did not agree with the prospects of a US pivots from the Middle East or a US withdrawal from the region. Instead, he sees a continuation of deep US engagement in the world, and in the Middle East specifically. 



Next, panelist Elena Pokalova, the Chair of the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, discussed expectations for the next three months in terms of increased tensions in the Middle East. She did not have optimistic views on the matter, elaborating on the idea that while ISIS may have lost territory in Iraq and Syria, the fight is far from over as Jihadist groups have moved into the “ideological space where most terrorist organizations operate.” She noted the uptick in online propaganda from these organizations, namely ISIS, in the recent past – especially since the death of Al-Baghdadi. Pokalova also touched on the issue of ISIS detention centers in the region, especially ones which house many women and children, who are highly susceptible to “secondary radicalization.” 

Dr. Christopher Boland, a Professor of Middle East Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College, discussed the role of the US and Iraq in the region. He found that “the nature of US engagement will change because conventional military power does not get you what it used to.” Instead, the US needs to reconsider its interests in the region and figure out how to balance pursuing said interests with the various instruments of power that are at play. In terms of Iraq, Boland noted that it had found itself exactly where it does not want to be – as a battleground between Iran and the US. 


The moderator, Isil Acehan, asked panelists about the strains on the US-Turkey relationship and how that might affect bilateral relations. Boland noted concerns regarding Turkish integration in NATO while possessing the Russian S400 and while the US was still partnered with Kudish forces – a move that goes directly against vital Turkish security interests. Turkey has also found itself on the opposite side of many US allies in the regions on a number of different issues, such as the war in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood, and support for Qatar. Carafano struck a different tone, finding optimism in the fact that US-Turkey relations survived two recent crisis – the Turkish incursion into Northern Syria and the S400 purchase. Despite these hardships and opportunities for either party to walk away, both found importance in the US-Turkey relationship and pushed through to ensure continued cooperation. Overall, Carafano predicted that the US-Iran relationship would continue to be more of the same, as Iran internally faces struggles and is awaiting the next US presidential election in November.

The event concluded with audience questions for the panel. The bulk of this discussion centered around China’s role in the Middle East. Carafano argued that US-China competition is already global and therefore the US needs to be everywhere, including the Middle East, as does China. Many other powers in the region see it as advantageous to engage both China and the US, as opposed to engaging with only one superpower. Finally, Bolton noted an issue some nations are raising with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, where China is bringing in Chinese workers for the project instead of engaging with the local economy. The panelists agreed the US-Chinese competition had reached the region. 

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