THO’s panel on “What’s Next for the Middle East” featured speakers Chuck Freilich, Senior Fellow, International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University; Michael M. Gunter, Professor of Political Science at Tennessee Technological University and THO Advisory Board Member; and Sanford Silverburg, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History and Politics at Catawba College and THO Advisory Board Member. The panel was moderated by Pinar Gezgec, THO’s Partnership Manager.
During this event THO released the Annual Review of U.S.-Turkey Relations and prospects for 2019 moving forward. Following opening remarks made by Pinar Gezgec, the first question focused on how the panelists viewed the current U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Dr. Silverburg responded to the first question with a reference to the “unique approach” that the current U.S. administration is taking and suggests it is therefore very difficult to characterize U.S. policy. Dr. Freilich notes that this question is first predicated on the idea that there is a clear policy of the U.S. on the Middle East and argues that there has been a lack of consistent policy from the current administration. Dr. Freilich continues and notes that the lack of a strong American role in the region, especially following the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, will potentially be a driving factor for the rise of outside powers in the region like that of Russia and Iran to build a regional hegemony.
The panelists continued in a lively dialogue to discuss the current state of the Middle East and the impact of the aforementioned withdrawal of American troops from Syria. Dr. Gunter discussed the geostrategic importance of Turkey in the Middle East and stressed the importance of how the U.S. responds and works with potentially influential countries in the region for the future of Syria and U.S. policy moving forward. Dr. Freilich commented that the current region “is like a volcano bubbling under the surface and we have no real way to know when it will erupt.” Further both Dr. Silverburg and Dr. Freilich remarked deep concerns in where the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey is heading and the strain the purchase of S-400s will place on the relationship moving forward. The panelists then took questions from the audience.