U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East and U.S.-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019

U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East and U.S.-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019

12 Dec 18

On Thursday, December 6th, THO hosted a panel discussion on “U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East and U.S.-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019.”

On Thursday, December 6th, THO hosted a 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 speakers:

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.), Istanbul Aydin University

Dov S. Zakheim – Senior Fellow at Center for Naval Analyses, Former Department of Defense Official 


US Foreign Policy in the Middle East and US-Turkey Security Cooperation in 2019


Daniel Christman began by discussing the relationship between Turkish and American businesses. He emphasized how the bilateral relationship between businesses in both countries remains strong, adding that at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “we tend to be open, positive and encouraging about American investment [in Turkey].” He went on to talk about further possible American intervention in the Middle East in 2019. Christman noted that the relationship between the United States and Iran could produce troubles as neither the US nor Iran seem to be on the same page when it comes to foreign policy. He emphasized that Iran is likely trying to ride-out Donald Trump’s presidency, making it difficult to predict what Iran would do in the Middle East. Sarah Houston then asked him about compromise between the US and Turkey with regard to America’s backing of YPG forces in Syria. Christman explained that it would be difficult for a compromise to be reached. He added that it is imperative that both sides understand the other’s security concerns and the grouping of the YPG and PKK into the same group complicates the matter. 



Looking ahead to 2019, Christman explained that both American President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan want to improve US-Turkish relations. However, “the role that Congress is playing now will be a fascinating wildcard” in the equation since they hold a large amount of power when it comes to sanctions and there could likely be a divergence in when it comes to perceived hostile actions by Turkey and other countries in the Middle East between the US Congress and President Trump. 

Dr. Naim Baburoglu was asked about the potential for compromise between the US and Turkey on the YPG issue and whether or not he believed the Manbij agreement between the two countries would be successful. Dr. Baburoglu began by explaining how the US-Turkish relationship was damaged by the Syrian civil war, pointing to the United States’ backing of YPG forces in Syria. He went on to talk about how without the backing of the US, Turkey would not view the YPG forces as a serious security threat. He then touched on the drilling of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and explained how America’s agreements with the Greek government and Greek companies was another point of tension in the US-Turkish relationship. Finally, he discussed Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Although this was another strain on the relationship, at the end of the day Turkey needs NATO and the United States as partners.  


Dov S. Zakheim began by answering Houston’s question about what could be expected in 2019 from President Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East. He explained how it would not be easy to predict, especially with Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. However, “at the end of the day…look at what Trump does instead of what he says,” Zakheim stated, noting that the President’s rhetoric and actions are typically divergent when it comes to foreign policy. He also discussed the implications of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, explaining how Congress could use the imposition of sanctions on Saudi Arabia as a way to defy President Trump, which would only serve to make the American position and strategy in the Middle East more difficult. With regard to the United States’ backing of YPG groups in Syria, “our being there is a restraint on the YPG,” Zakheim said. The US backs the YPG only to a point and by being in Syria as well, America could reign in any potential elements of the YPG forces that would look at turning on Turkey. Looking ahead to 2019, he foresees that US-Turkey relationship will improve. Although Turkey purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, “Turkey is a country with a long and dignified history,” especially in its relations with the United States, which Zakheim believes will trump their relations with Russia.