On Monday, April 23, THO organized an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. titled “Washington’s Shifting Syria Policy: Implications for U.S.-Turkey Relations.” The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Sahar Khan (Research Fellow, CATO Institute) and featured insights from the following speakers:
- Mariam Jalabi – Representative of the Syrian National Coalition to the United Nations in New York
- Michael Pregent – Fellow, Hudson Institute; former intelligence officer with over 28 years of experience, including at CENTCOM; Fox News commentator
- Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Peter B. Zwack – Former U.S. Senior Defense Official and Attache to the Russian Federation from 2012-2014; Senior Research Fellow, Center for Strategic Research at the Institute for National Strategic Studies
- Dr. Mesut Hakki Casin – Academic, Istinye University, Air Force and Turkish Military Academies; former Turkish Air Force officer
The current U.S. policy in Syria and the constraints of regional dynamics
BG Peter Zwack began the discussion by providing an explanation of why the conflict in Syria is so complex, along with a brief understanding of the U.S.’ ambition to bring stability to the region. BG Zwack warned of the dangers of poor policy decisions, saying that they could lead to a much larger conflict. Regarding the current U.S. policy in Syria, BG Zwack noted that it is under review and that the military does not get the final vote. He explained that the decision on how to handle Syria will ultimately come from Washington rather than U.S. military officials on the ground in northern Syria.
The perspective and impact of the Syrian National Coalition
Mariam Jalabi provided the audience with a description of the Syrian National Coalition and the organization’s goals. Ms. Jalabi explained that the Syrian National Coalition is actively pursuing a political solution to the civil war in Syria. She also identified the Syrian regime’s lack of interest in a political solution as the main obstacle to a political resolution of the conflict. Ms. Jalabi argued that action must be taken in order to bring the Syrian government to the negotiating table. She underlined that a “strategic comprehensive policy” from the U.S. is needed to bring about a democratic Syria.
Assessing President Trump’s strategy against ISIS in Syria
Michael Pregent noted that each outside actor operating within Syria has different goals and that the U.S. is the only power involved that is specifically targeting ISIS. Mr. Pregent explained that Assad, Russia, and Iran all have other concerns besides ISIS. In contrast, President Trump hopes to soon declare victory against the terrorist organization and withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. Mr. Pregent noted that even in a post-ISIS Syria, Iran will remain entrenched, which complicates the other major component of U.S. policy in Syria: preventing the spread of Iranian influence. Regarding the ties between the U.S. and Turkey, Mr. Pregent argued that the relationship was in a better state prior to the coup attempt in 2016 and has deteriorated in tandem with the U.S.’ decision to partner with the YPG in Syria.
The future of the U.S.-Turkey relationship
Touting the potential strength of the U.S.-Turkey relationship, Dr. Mesut Hakki Casin listed many examples of past U.S.-Turkey cooperation during his remarks. Dr. Casin equated much of the perceived poor current relationship as a result of anti-Turkey propaganda and stated his belief that Turkey is protecting Western democracy in the region. Regarding the future of the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey, Dr. Casin stated, “Improving this bilateral relationship is difficult but not impossible.”