tv Hudson Institute Discussion on Syria Turkey CSPAN October 15, 2019 10:02pm-11:33pm EDT
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can everybody hear me? ok. my name is ali rogin i'm with the pbs news hour covering foreign affairs and as a journalist, i want to say i'm grateful to the hudson institute for convening this panel to discuss what is a rapidly developing, as we all know, situation on the syrian-turkish border. without further ado i'm going to introduce thfoo yo all probably already know. to my left is the founder of mb long and associate an international legal and advisory firm from 2007-2009 she served as the first woman confirmed by the senate as assistant secretary of defense for international affairs and the chair of nate e-'s high level groups. she has previously served as the principal deputy secretary of defense, and she was the deputy secretary of defense for counter narco. next we have michael durand, a senior fellow here at hudson institute. he specializes in middle east security issues and during the administration of president george w. bush he served as senior director in the national security council. to the left is retired brigadier general mark kimmet of the u.s. army, served as secretary of state for political military 2009, and 2008 to
prior that, the deputy secretary of defense 2006-2008 and last but not least, a fellow here at hudson institute as well. his research program focuses on the middle east, europe and trategic commission. and blaze was in a congressionally mandated project for u.s. institute of peace. how this is going to work, we are going to be having a conversation for the bulk of this session and then we are going to open it up to a q & a. so, please start thinking of your questions now. i know that on the program you all received there was presented very much a binary choice between people on this panel who are here to argue in favor of the policies that the united states is implementing on the syrian-turkish border and against. in the brief moments we have before the panel began, i think
it's fair to that body size this as a binary choice between either being in favor or eing against so we're going to get into a little of the gray area here today as well as talk about what the recommendations of these esteemed panelists believe going forward. so if i could just maybe go down the line and start with just getting your general thoughts about what you think of the u.s. withdrawal from northeastern steeryria and the precipitating events. mary beth. [laughter] >> how much time do i have? >> right, let's try to keep it for a few minutes and then get into the meat of all of that after that. >> i think the situation in 2019 has evolved over the last decade is fairly predictable that the president made the decision, as any president would probably who was sitting in that white house chair would make, that eventually the u.s. had to withdraw out of northeast syria. it was not sustainable position.
it certainly wasn't sustainable with the numbers and assets that ere applied. i believe it unfortunate and a mistake that make the decision and implement it the way it was made in part because, number one, we're allowing the slaughter of not only kurds, but the syrian defense forces actually majority arab these ays and the kurd membership is almost equaled by the christian and -- membership and those have over timed joined, and we lost an lost an ined, and we opportunity there, i think, to stabilize northeast syria and to allow those people to sort themselves out from an association of more stability and perhaps empowerment. turkey pulled that trigger, i
hink, prematurely. we positioned ourselves, unfortunately, in a weakened position by acquiescing to erdogan's threats and withdrawing the way that we did which i think is a mistake, however, i think we're going to end up there eventually. i do think that the president has the position he is not ithdrawing out of syria. not only in northeast syria, but along the border and still understand in reticent positions backed off up in the northeast where we still may be providing some assistance and i think that's the right thing. i think it will be controversial going forward and there are a lot of implications outside of the tactical maneuvering on northeast syria that i think are more important and those are our relationships with turkey. we can talk about that in
detail, our positioning in the middle east and in the world in a larger sense. our relationships and perceived relationships with the iranians and russians in particular and the stability or perception of lack thereof u.s. credibility in foreign policy rit large. i think those are the really mportant issues that are front who is -- rather than those kind of things. we can get to that later. >> thanks. >> i think it's important that we focus on where we would like all of this to end. how we want to bring this to a solution. and i think it's important to recognize that we were postured for catastrophic failure in northeastern syria because we entered into an alliance with the pkk and that the ypg, the
kurdish force we worked wi on the ground is the pkk. this is a terrorist organization on the state department's terrorism list that seeks to partition turkey between kurds and turks by aligning with the pkk or aligning with the pkk we set ourselves on a collision course with turkey. and that was unwise from a humanitarian point of view and the strategic point of view. the strategic prize in this ituation is the orientation, the international orientation of turkey. the turks have been telling us for years now that they don't like the fact that we are providing a power umbrella under which the pkk can build an autonomous kurdish statement in northeastern syria and we have effectively time and time again told them to sit down and shut up. that we rebranded the pkk as the
sds, we brought in arabs and yazidis and others as mary beth was saying, but the power center f that organization was always the pkk and we should recognize that we lied to ourselves. the obama administration packaged this as something other than pkk. it successfully propgannized the american people in that regard, but it didn't the turks. they are enraged by it. they have said time and time again tt this is destroying a relationship with them and we're ignoring it. it's not a question of erdogan, by the way. the vast majority of turks support this operation. if we look at the mess we have there now, we have to recognize we played a major role in creating that, in creating that mess. getting out of it means we need to reestablish good ties with
ankara, stabilizing that part of the world. if we don't have productive ties with the turks, which means largely working on their terms, not on ours because we had 1,000 troops there and there -- we are leaving. everyone knows we're leaving sooner or later. turkey is going to be there forever, and the turks know this as well. so we have to work through them largely on their terms. we can have our humanitarian concerns and we can push them aggressively. we can have differences of opinion. they have to be within a turkish frame work rather than some framework that we have made up as a result of where all the different little positions we ended up with as a result of a lot of temporary tactical decisions we made without strategic understanding. we started to talk about the middle east and our policy in the middle east without reference to states. we have to go back to a traditional understanding of how the world works. states are the
main actors and we need to position ourselves accordingly. the strategic prize is turkey and the strategic goal when all of this settles is that we can contain iran. if we drive -- we are in a position, which makes no strategic sense whatsoever of ditching a major ally, a nato ally, that sits aboard europe and asia and which we have bases, intelligence, platforms and ability to stop the russia through the black sea strategic, strategic posture, an ally that worked with us in bosnia, in afghanistan, not to mention the korean war and others. we're going to ditch that state for a splinter group extremist terrorist organization that doesn't even represent the kurds. the pkk is not the kurds. this makes no sense. we now have a bipartisan -- we
now have a bipartisan concensus in congress to put massive sanctions on turkey in order to save our relationship with the pkk. how did we get to this position? it makes no sense. >> all right. >> well, maybe it would be worthwhile to talk about how we got to this position. i've written extensively on this ever since december 19th, but let's go back to the beginning. i think president obama was right when isis attacked into iraq in 2014, there was a recognition that you couldn't just go against the nose, you had to go against the tail of isis. nd that meant get in there and defeat the caliphate. until as any military person will tell you if you don't get to the root of the power you're never going to be successful. so at that time the mission was go in under a very, very limited scope, the authority for the military force. that allowed us to go in to kill
isis with american forces and american proxies. you all remember at that time lieutenant general, general lloyd austin was in charge of centcom and i sadly remember him in front of congress saying we spent $500 million to field four oldiers. trying to set up a force with the arabs there, we couldn't vet them properly, they weren't reliable, they were more concerned about fighting assad than they were against fighting isis. we needed to find an alternative fighting force. an alternative fighting force as this scrappy group called the wpg operating outside of kabani. we dropped air supplies in and they proved to be good fighters. we decided to work with them, we
understood there was going to be a problem and the problem was going to be turkey because this is a pkk affiliated group according to secretary of defense ash carter. so we had to figure out how to finesse this. we told the turks and our policy was that this relationship with the pkk with the w -- ypg was temporary, transactional and tactical. that was the american policy at that time expressed numerous times. it didn't mean that we were long-term allies of the ypg, it meant that we had a specific purpose for a specific time and at the end of that we were going to break apart. there was mutual benefit, the ypg had many, many kurdish towns they were trying to defend against isis. e wanted to kill isis. what happened, isis is defeated boo i a brilliant job by ypg on the ground and the american support provided there. at that point the mission was over, but all of a sudden, our nd srted thinking we need
to what we would simply call engage in mission creep of a massive amount that i've never seen before. we were in there under the authority for the use of military force. counter isis and counter isis alone. all of a sudden we started nation building. we started humanitarian operations. we were going to build a 40,000 man police force so they could be the local police. and there's no doubt in my mind that that would have been a multi-year operation and then on top of that, a syria resolution. what would america do at that point? we'll take sector northeast in this operation. our policymakers on the ground, good-hearted as they may have been were setting the united states up for a multi-year, if not decade long operation in complete violation of their authority for the use of military force. it's that simple.
they got ahead of their headlights. they were making promises on the ground to the ypg that they were writing checks they couldn't back up. so where do we find ourselves? we find ourselves enthralled and in love with an organization that every time they have a press conference has a map -- has a picture behind it and the map along side of it. and so, this was an untenable, it was unsustainable and i think regardless of how this policy fiasco works out, i have no doubt -- >> explain who they are. >> i have no doubt -- >> there are people out there who don't -- >> ok. ochlon was head of the pkk responsible of organizing killing 40,000 turks inside of urkey. rocava three inside northeast
syria are with the ypg aspiration is to set up an independent country and independent nation which is effectively syria kurdistan. so i'm not going to give you my personal views on the current administration, but i would simply say that if anybody was surprised by the decision 19th announcement by president trump, they haven't been watching president trump. they may have been surprised, they shouldn't have been shocked. the fact is, president trump, since the day he was on the campaign trail says we're going to get out of stupid wars in the middle east. and if you take a look at what's happening here, each individual component may have merit, but when you put that whole thing together, you end up with a disjointed policy that when our disjointed policymakers on the ground are trying to justify this, you can just imagine what's said inside the oval office.
why are we here? what's in the benefit of the united states? where is the united states' interest here? the united states doesn't have friend, it has interests. how are the interests of the united states being served here? there would be some saying, we're going to keep an eye on iran. we're going to thwart russia, hold off turkey. i mean, these are all outside of the mandate and the only authority which is the authority for the use of military force. and when you see people in congress that are now saying, we're abandoning our allies, who hree years ago were on the record saying, working with the ypg is the dumbest policy i've ever seen, i criticize the united states congress for not being educated on the situation and not invoking their legislation which was the authority for the use of military force as a constraining
mechanism under which the united states was allowed to put forces inside of syria for no other purpose than the defeat of the isis caliphate. the isis caliphate is done, this president made the decision made the decision to pull out now that the isis caliphate is defeated. how that's being done is the biggest fiasco that i suspect everybody up here has seen in their government and military career in the past 50 years, but there we are. on't confuse the policy fiasco that we're seeing happen on the ground with mismatched policies and ways and means that got us here. i feel so much better. [laughter] very well-stated. >> good morning, all of you, thanks for joining us for this important discuss. ali, thanks for moderating. it's my privilege to be on a panel with three such distinguished individual i've learned so much about the middle
east from and it's my unfortunate play to have to go after all three of them so i'll try to find some areas of nuance to shed light on issues that haven't been discussed yet. overall i'd like to make the point the situation is not as binary as a lot of the debate would suggest it is and even though, as said, and mary beth said, it's predictable that we got to this place especially between the calls between presidents erdogan and trump last december where the original decision to pull out was made, and the resolution, that finally came to its end. the first point i'd make, it didn't have to be this way and by that i mean that even though this was set up as general kimmitt said, the decision to work with the ypg and syria, the outcome didn't have to be a howdown. between turkey and the syrian kurds.
and who to side with. and the clearest example, to demonstrate that is looking at the u.s. relationship and the turkish relationship with iraqi kurds over a long period of time turkey has voiced the same concerns as now voicing with syrian kurds about northern iraq. it was one of the reasons why the turks were fearful of the outcome of the gulf war in 1991, why they were concerned about operation provide comfort, where the u.s. provided air cover for northern iraq that allowed the establishment of the autonomous kurdish regions and one of the reasons why turkey decided not to allow the united states to use turkish territory and turkish basis for the 2003 invasion of iraq because of their concerns that it would empower iraqi kurds, which were actually at that point, iraqi kurdistan was the center of gravity for pkk operations. turkey launched into northern
raq for the pkk. d by 2012-2013, one of the closest partners was the krg and the iraqi kurds. because the u.s. facilitated the political institution that moved away from the pkk, that embraced responsible governance and made clear to turkey there was an economic benefit here and not a military or terrorist threat. there's precedence for the united states working with the groups and brokering a peace and understanding between turkey and those kurdish groups. unfortunately that's not what we've done the last five years or the time that we worked with the ypg and that has been an unfortunate waste for those five years that we could have led urselves to a situation that was not this drastic. i want today make a point to the general's point, it was to work
with the ypg in 2014. first of all, we have to remember that in 2014, president erdogan was having regular talks and turkey was in the middle of a peace process with pkk. and erdogan was working with pkk hoping to bring that conflict to an end. so at that time, the pkk was not an existential threat to erdogan or turkey, but seen as a potential partner for peace and potential political partner. secondly, general kimmitt mentioned we spent 500 million training four guys. that's not the whole story. we spent training fighters inside of the turkey and the moment they crossed from border from turkey to syria, they were captured by extremist forces. i don't know how that happens unless there's someone telling them where these fighters are
going to be crossing, so, i think we had multiple experiences with turkey leading up to 2014 during the syrian conflict where we tried to work with them and although they were certainly failures on the u.s. side in terms of syria policy, finding common ground with turkey on who to support among the syrian opposition, on which fighters to train and eventually on trying to fight isis, we repeatedly failed and so when it came to the decision how do we target the center of gravity of the islamic state's caliphate. we were left with no options other than the ypg. the other point i wanted to make, it didn't have to be this, and the "it" we are talking about it not that we made a choice between turkey and the syrian kurds. the choice we have made is to abandon and betray both of them. we've not only left behind our partners in the fdf, but not won
turkey as a strategic prize, but lienating them through lack of clarity of what we're hoping to accomplish and what we're going to allow them to do and so within a week of green lighting their military operations we're now sanctioning them. this is entirely unclear that this is going to help our relationship with turkey in the short-term and in the long-term, i would say that the future of turkey as a u.s. ally, as a nato partner, it really depends upon its ability to resolve its conflicts with the kurds internally and externally and all we've done is prolong and extend and deepen that conflict. we've put off the possibility of the peace process in turkey for years if not decades in years and a generation, all that's doing is actually pushing turkey further away from the united states, further away from the west, further away from the democratic institutions and values on which the modern republic of turkey was founded, and in so doing we're pushing it closer to russia, to china and
to iran. so, if our objective in all of this is to try to win turkey back, to try to keep iran from expanding its influence and aggression in the region, all we've managed to do is increase both of those. is this the right way to have eft? i think doing so in the way in which there was no impending turkish operation as made clear y the fact it took him three days to mobilize and meld the operation. -- mount the operation. having done so with no clear plan with the turks about what the operations were going to be, o red lines as to what the
united states was willing to tolerate. nd actually after we had demobilized and demilitarize the syrian kurds to make it harder for them to mount a defense, all of those things have made it and even more treacherous situation, we could have facilitated a deal between the kurds and assad if we were really going to leap and we wanted to leave the control of this territory. if the choice was about pulling out, if that's what we're debating, there's all manner of things that could've been done to make this much less of a fiasco. the debate is not whether we should hold out or not, it should be done this in this manner. it's hard to imagine being able to do it in a way that would make the situation any worse than it is right now. >> i thank the panelists for a very robust layout of how we got here. now we want to turn to what you
all think we should do about it. i invite you to approach that question in whatever way you want to, whether it's vis-a-vis turkey, the kurds, syria, the assad regime, however you think you want to approach your recommendations for the united states, and whoever wants to take it i guess will start. yes, mary beth. >> i'm going to take a slight detour over to what some of my colleagues have said the prize and the strategic issue at hand, which is how does this impact our relationship with turkey. as this sort of one of the many facets in which we deal with erdogan. i have to say i disagree vehemently that the u.s. actions on the northeast border of c pushed turkey into being a turkey of today. the turkey of today is no longer
the secular turkey that was the original member of nato. the turkey of today has an extremist. t's increasingly dictatorial authoritative leader, he has put his own journalists and his own teachers and other civilian in jail repeatedly. he has facilitated through 2012-2014 the iranian nuclear and other programs by going around the blockades and the embargoes and sanctions against ran. he is currently illegally has gas extractions off the coast of yprus. he has purchased the s-400 -- excuse me, from russia, only after which we had to talk him out of purchasing the committee control communication system from the chinese. shall we go on?
he dares to come to our capital and unleashes his thugs against protesters who are across the street and push them around and beat them. this is no good buddy of ours that somehow we are responsible for the freeze for the cold air in our relationship. this is a turkey that is not a good ally, full stop. this is a turkey that the turkish people increasingly with their ability to vote are voicing their concern and opposition to erdogan. this is not a regime that we should be facilitating and we darn sure shouldn't be facilitating the aggressive extraterritorial aggression of this regime neither iraq or syria. full stop. sorry. >> if we can -- >> we are pausing.
>> i think that's enough to get an interesting discussion started. mark, you signaled to me for -- first so i'm going to let you have the floor first, and then michael, if you can then add your thoughts. >> listen come on the issue of turkey i certainly understand there's been an increasingly authoritarian strain to what is happening in turkey right now and where disputes the go well beyond the issue of the s-400, the issue of pastor brunson, we had the issue of a belief the united states participated in some of the coup activities. belief that we are harboring a terrorist in the form of a gulen. so stipulated, this is not a good relationship. the question is should we as a nation be trying to push ourselves for as reform effort inside of turkey, do we want to get under the tent to try to fix that or do we want to stay
outside the tent and just push turkey, historical native ally who has served alongside of us, is it better for us to try to work with turkey as an ally to try to help in the reform effort r do we just excoriate, isolate, and tossed out of date of the largest ground military in the region? i just don't think it's necessary that we have to lose turkey no matter how bad it gets. because there will be a future in turkey. there will be in russia, there will be a post-putin. in hungary the with the a post orban. i just want to make sure when those events happen, we're on the right side of events there. >> no one thinks we should abandon urkey. >> it's my turn. >> i know, but speedy i like to give mary beth an opportunity to respond giving it was responded
to her and then will go to michael. >> the what is saying we should kick them out of nato. no one is saying -- we have nuclear weapon issues in turkey. but let's not, let's not be, let's be honest about what we are dealing with here. this is an extremist authoritative government that is elling the secular democracy and infrastructure of turkey down the road, endangering the turkish people somehow acquiescing to them sending troops across their own border is not a path to establishing a conducive productive relationship with this regime. > i want to make three points. one about this debate, then about what we should do right now and would want to go, what kind of arrangement we can hope for there. with regard to this debate, we need to make a distinction, and it's extremely important between
this issue, by that i mean support by the united states of the pkk. we have not been honest with ourselves about what we were doing in northern syria. mark put it very well. we were building up a grouthat was supporting the construction of roads. we were building roads, and autonomous kurdish state led run exclusively by the pkk, which is not a democratic organization. the pkk was expelling from its area kurds that didn't agree with it. that's what we were doing, whether we told ourselves or not, that was the effect of our actions. we need to separate that from anything else in the turkish-american relationship. because this question of kurdish separatism in turkey is different than any other issue in turkey. it's absolutely, it's the number one issue and turkish domestic nd foreign policy, and every self-respecting turk supports erdogan on this issue.
if what undermine erdogan, i tell you i don't do it. you don't do by building up the pkk on his board and then allow him to present himself as the definitive turkish interests against the united states. so let's talk about that. everything that erdogan has done in the last few years to be difficult to us, including the s-400s, he has done in the context of us building up the sworn enemy of turkey in the face of numerous, constant turkish requests that we not do it. now, there's no guarantee that we can salvage turkish-u.s. relations. there's no guarantee at all. i wish i could argue that if we move away from our pro-pkk policy, that we can return relations to where they used to be. but i know for a fact we will never succeed at that so long as
we are seen by the majority of turks as supporting the pkk. so let's recognize that we played a role in the deterioration of our relations with turkey. whether it's 50% america and 50% erdogan% erdogan, or 80% erdogan and 20% america, i don't know, but we played a major role. let's move aside the mistake that we made. let's get past that and to try o do something productive. just a couple of sentenced about what that means. what is that productive? >> donald trump has been forced, doll trump has been forced into, by this bipartisan consensus in congress to put sanctions on turkey. let's use that for negotiation with erdogan, possibly get, maybe get forces to stop, cease-fire in place and then negotiation with the turks but -- about anrrangement and northeast syria that meets their security needs and allows us what we need
in northern syria and protects civilian life. and one last sentence just about what blaise said. i agree with almost every word that blaisesaid. >> can i get that in writing? [laughing] >> you can get the full sentence -- >> about what we would like to see in northeast syria, is something on the model of the krg and iraq. but we never tried to build that. this is the key. we converted the relationship between ally and proxy. our ally is turkey. our proxy was the pkk. our forces on the ground, the department of defense became the representative of the pkk to turkey.
this is -- one of the reasons why the people who are arguing against what's the turkish intervention or outraged by our sink in but we are on the other side, we come america, are on the other side and, therefore, you should feel comfortable with t. it's the fact we are over there made it so untenable to the turks. because we elevated a little splinter extremist organization of a minority and put it on the same level as ally and begin mediating back-and-forth in representing the turkey the positions of the pkk. so while we're using our power umbrella and then representing nterest to turkey, us the greatest power on earth and turkey's greatest ally. that was absolutely untenable to the turks. here's no possible way they were ever going to accept that. that pkk, the ypg on the ground, rejected any notion of power-sharing in their area. they hate -- they hate the krg.
these guys, the ypg, they would rather be in bed with assad and the iranians than with the kurds of iraq. that's why we're seeing this quick, the 30 speedy, this very speedy move the american slave -- americans leave and the russians and the syrians move in. because they have always been aligned with the russians and the iranians. we borrowed the russian and iranian proxy and that was strategically stupid. >> mary beth? >>that sounds great -- >> it's true. [laughing] >> statistically speaking, it is not true. there was a survey of having been to the syrian refugee camps, most of the syrian defense forces are not even kurds. they are arabs. thank you.
and, in fact, that is more out by the wilson center's survey of syrian defense forces that overwhelmingly conclude that the majority of syrian defense forces are arab, statistically overwhelmingly arab, then the kurds, right unbutton underneath the kurds, christians with a few turkmen and they use these. at the beginning i don't disagree with anything that you aid about the ypg. i don't know the ypg. it was a mistake, i don't know whether it was mistake but the syrian defense forces are no longer and have been for a while equal to the ypg. it is a diverse organization of actually several very large tribes who fought against the kurds on behalf of assad until very recently and as the joint the sdf in order to preserve what they believe to be territorial,
one-third of syria, on behalf of this very shaky, very of the moment grouping under the sdf. so the narrative of these guys being the wai pf and the pkk is a couple years old and no longer the case. it's much more complicated now. that's the turkish narrative that they want us to believe, and it's just not accurate. >> that's like saying account isis coalition which is 52 states is not an american coalition. if you took america out of account isis coalition, of the 51 state are however many would be -- how much firepower with the bring on the ground against isis? ask yourself the question. none. it's an american coalition. he sdf is a pkk coalition. >> that's your opinion.
statistically is not borne out. >> it's not the numbers. >> the leadership, the political agenda and the court fighting capability. i can jump in. let's maybe broaden out the conversation agai. i don't know if i'm going to that but am going -- [laughing] i am going to do something unaracteristic and agree with michael mullen, and general kimmitt on another. ike is right that having a mechanism for reconciling or at least deconflicting between the turks and the sdf forces on the other side of the border come away trying to find ways to accommodate turkish security concerns, a way to make turkey, some form of mechanism for working with both sides of this ould be fantastic. we have that up until ten days ago. that's we have joint u.s.-turkish patrols. we had a demilitarization of sdf forces along the border and we were trying to give turkey the security guarantees that was looking for. i have not heard an explanation
yet of why that was not enough for the turkish site other than turkish demand that that gets a 300-mile long 20-mile deep strip of territory that it gets to control within syria. and i don't know why that is necessary for the repair of u.s.-turkish relations for us to enable turkey to have that. having that strip of territory for turkey is not about the sdf. it is about the fact that it has more than 3 million syrian refugees that is no longer political tenable for erdogan to maintain within turkey and he needs to be able to send somewhere. turkey has mismanaged its diplomacy in its attempts to work with russia and iran and is fundamentally miscalculated when it came to trying to protect the zone of opposition forces and is findings that it can no longer maintain that. so it has on the order of 115 million refugees are likely going to be trying to cause the turkish border under the iranian syrian russian offensive going
on there. what's happening is turkish trying to find a way to accommodate that pressure which is why it needs the territory, that's why you are security guarantees, the mechanisms that were put in place over the last four months to cut accommodate turkish security concerns were not enough to make erdogan happy. so yes, it would be great if we tried to do everything we could to make sure that turkey felt secure. that's in fact, what we are trying to do with all this fell apart. i will disagree with general i will disagree with general kimmitt on the fact i don't see us having been engaged in a nationbuilding exercise. ation building was 150,000 troops in afghanistan, 185,000 troops in iraq. we had 1000 troops that we are spending $1.25 billion on you. that's a drop in the bucket in erms of we spent in iraq and afghanistan. what we spend on overseas
operations generally. we are not engaged in a massive exercise of trying to build up a state there. what we were engaged and i think was twofold. one was continued counter isis operations because we understood that returning stability to these areas was important to making sure isis wasn't able to reemerge because we knew isis was not, was physically defeated or territorially defeated but not ideologically defeated. that is something that is been asrne out in the last 10 days we've seen resurgence of isis sleeper cells within territories that it once held. the fact, the thing we were not honest with ourselves about, at 1000 forces were in northern syria to protect against iranian expansion into that territory. it was about making sure that assad and iran were not able to take control of major oil-producing areas of scenery -- syria which would help fund the reconstruction and a continued grasp on power. it was to make sure there was not a land corridor particularly
through that area along the iraqi border that was established to allow iran to continue funneling weapons and fighters in money both to assad and if hezbollah. this is something that john bolton talked about, the need to have forces in syria until iran was pushed out, something the military was, in fact, not very willing to be upfront about that this was part of why we have been there, but something that because as ng out mary beth said at the beginning, of all the orders for his troops to pull out, the one garrison that is remaining about the 15050 soldiers we have stationed at a critical border crossing between syria and iraq which makes it clear we are concerned about iranian presence there. yes, we haven't been honest about ourselves about what we're doing in syria but not because we have been engaged in nation building. we've been engaged in trying to push back against iran in ways that we have been forthright about. the question of what we're going to do, very quickly, i think the current debate about the
sanctions that were put in place in turkey by the administration yesterday, the sanctions are being considered by congress. at this point are going to be counterproductive. to marry beth's point, the fundamental thing we lost is credibility in this decision, but also clarity for ourselves and for our international partners about what exactly are the u.s. objective s. we need to step back and think about both what are the subject is, figure out how to articulate those clearly rather than doing that and a tumultuous hodgepodge manner, then think about how we get back the credibility to try to further those objectives. sanctioning turkey for something it appears we greenlighted them to do does that help us get back our credibility. what we should be doing with turkey is putting in place the sanctions and penalties that we left on -- unenforced 200 putting in place the penalty in
trying to skirt iran sanctions, putting in place the sanctions that are due under the countering america's adversaries through sanctions act for turkey's purchase of the s-400s had been delayed indefinitely to do the things that are required of us to do by law and by the result of turkey's counterproductive actions and step back and reevaluate where we're going next and how we rebuild the credibility to get there. >> i take your point about maybe it's small in nation building. the united states was heavily involved in ensuring the governing council is moving along, helping with self-governing processes. one of the fundamental issues of the nationbuilding effort is to ensure u.s. security on the ground. we're helping build a 40,000 man police force. ok, small in nationbuilding but
if they we were moving in the path in any case. the one point i wanted to talk about was i think that we've got to acknowledge that turkey is not, while turkey is not blameless, i think there's a lot of going to go around particularly in the case of europe and, frankly, some of the middle east countries. turkey has since the beginning of the civil war absorbed a significant amount of refugees. it was mentioned this was a political issue. it's not. it is a drag on the economy. turkey has a fairly weak economy in the first place and has gone out of their way to try to host those syrian refugees to the capacity it can. so yes, they wanted a security buffer zone. es, they still want a security buffer zone of 30 kilometers, but they also want a place where they can resettle a significant number of those syrians who have gone into turkey to relieve the burden. the event absently no sympathy on the part of europe for any assistance in that regard. they see themselves as bearing an inordinate amount of weight for
those refugees. i think they are looking to get them back to, if not for many that area is their homes, but many at the least getting them back into syria so that takes the pressure off a very precarious turkish economy. thelaise said, sanctions on economy right now in many ways is only going to make it worse for the syrian refugees. i want bout 10 minutes, to open it up to you. i want to move the discussion to, we touched on influence of the rent and what this means for iran's presence in the region. i think there's potentially more in-depth discussions i want to start there and also ask you about the other player outside of the region which appears to be russia. the sga worked with the assad regime in the deal brokered by the russians to figure out a way going forward, so it certainly
seems to me that might be something we want to discuss as we talk about the regional calculus here. so whoever wants to begin. let's go down the line. >> i'll make it short. >> i'll take your extra time. > jumping back up to strategy. we have a congruence of interest with the russians right now in syria that i think we need to emphasize, and that is while the russians and the iraq's -- excuse me, the iranians worked very hard together early on getting rid of isis and other activities, there's now a fair amount of tension between the two of them with a little bit of competitiveness with the russians will tell you behind the scenes with who is going to be responsible for the syrian
military after this all settles out, which is the number of years in the future. nd i think working with assad, with the russians to minimize the role of iran in syria would be in all of our best interests, particularly in certain physical locations northeast syria and along the israeli jordanian and other borders where we've already stationed troops. so i think there can be a deal to be made with assad through the russians to keep iran out of those places, limit iran to no involvement in the syrian no, notion which i think the russians would like. absolutely no proxy forces in iran at all. but to the extent, excuse me , in syria at all.
but to the extent syria is zbollahized, as some people argue to work with the russians to minimize that, i think the russians actually are buying into that. that also helps us with credibility i think that with erdogan come in a couple of weeks, is it? >> weeks? november 17. >> coming for a meeting, we need to stop bickering about how we got here and be very clear about what we want from the turks and what we are willing to give to the turks. turkey had plenty of opportunity, not only with what blaise was talking to but to the processes to make it clear, but they clearly want something from the u.s. i think we should hear them out but said some very, very stringent limitations of what we expect in return, and certainly the behavior we had the last time. >> can i follow up? carrots the sticks and
you believe we should be presenting to erdogan when he comes? >> i think the sticks, leaves talked about our we are legally required to institute the sanctions in the activities. i think my understanding is while turkey is a losing its key role with the f-35, it's a very difficult process for those of you who are involved, you just can't move the factory, move the jobs. i think there is room there for economic job-training and other reasons to work with the turks, if possible, to keep the program of life. i think turks would greatly appreciate it. it is a key program and facility and capability that they want. i think working with the russians and assad against turkey to deal with the buffer on northeast syria where it will not permit turkish troops or other presence, but allows the return of refugees and displaced
persons, both internally and externally, is something we should strive for, and in some respects should help turkey from the refugee standpoint. perhaps not on a political standpoint. i think those are some ideas. >> michael? >> just a little bit of history here i think is important on the iran question. one of the reasons why the obama administration married the pkk in northern syria was because it was consistent with the obama policy of reaching an agreement regionally and on a nuclear issue with iran. the opposition forces that we ried to use in syria against isis, we made them sign a declaration that they would not carry out any operations against
assad, because assad was a russian and the iranian asset nd ally. and we were in the process working on the jcpoa, and of aligning across the region with iran. this is the dirty little secret of the obama foreign policy. ran the program is the guy who aligned us with irgc assets in iraq against isis. if you want to understand why there's a growing corridor from baghdad to beirut, it's because we just created kill zones for attacking sunnis while never ever addressing the rise of the iranians and their shiite proxies. that is true in all the cost iraq, and it's also true in syria. this is the thing i think people missed this. the pkk, the ypg, has about this entire time that they're
supposed to be our proxy, they kept the assad government forces in the east. planes go from damascus and there are assad forces and hezbollah. then they use it to reinforce the position. if we were serious about having a counter iran program we would return to our proxy, the pkk and what it said, close down the assad position come close down the assad and help us close down ssad position. we never ever said that. if you look at what brett mcgurk wrote a few months ago when he saw trump is going to pull out, he said sadly, what i think we should do is we should broker a deal whereby we take the sdf the right? that was always the plan. >> we just did.
>> exactly. , whichs the ypg program we took on board. ittook on, without admitting , our military especially, we took on the ypg political program in syria, which benefited both the iranians. that was the foundation laid. once the trump administration came in and became hostile to iran, it a lot of well-meaning officials, very much in the manner mark described, well-meaning, good intentioned, were trying to take the position we had built up in syria and graft a counter iran strategy in . but the a militant -- the american military was never on board and the former commander and testified that it is not a dod mission to counter iran in syria. it is an american policy to
counter iran, but not in syria. this morning i read our forces are being pulled out of syria. they are being redeployed elsewhere, including to iraq. the government is saying they can carry out counter isis activities from iraq into syria. counter bordert operations from iraq into syria to counter isis, but we can't close down the syrians in micheline. this is total incoherence, but let's understand where it came from, it came from the original alignment with iran. last point. the strategic prize in all of this is the international orientation of turkey and trying to repair the relationship. has signaledogan us time and time again over the last few years that if you keep doing what you are doing, i have other options.
unfortunately today, a doctrine has taken hold in ankara that perhaps it is better for the turks to align with the russians and iranians and solve their security problems in syria in a russian context. that is what we need to be worried about. this is not an impossibility. if turkey were to team up with the iranians and with the russians, with the intention of throwing the united states out howhe middle east, think difficult our life would become in the region. years, said to us for please don't build up the pkk in syria. we ignored him. last week, he said, we i'm going to drive the americans out and he didn't like that. i'm not saying we would fold all over the region, but turkey is a very significant country with a very significant -- a very coherent understanding of what its interests are.
if it is actually hostile to the united states it can do an enormous amount of damage. before we ever get to that stage, let's make sure we are not doing anything that when we look back on it historically, we will say, you know what, maybe we shouldn't have done that. >> general? >>ive mi a chance to take a breath. [laughter] >> while you are waiting, i will talk some more. [laughter] >> three points very quickly. they have been encircling this region for years. point two, when i came out of iraq the first time in 2004, 1
of the great programs we had was driving a wedge between syria and iran. that was a fools errand. iran has been a patron, syria has been a proxy for decades. i don't think we have any chance of changing that in the near term. goodpoint, we have some normative policy recommendations. my prediction is that the same the yugoslavis -- national army officer made to me in 1996 when we were talking about bosnia as we had just entered in. he said it is going to be a multi-decade operation for you. he looked at me and he said, sometimes you just need to let the fire burn itself out. i think the u.s. policy going
forward with this president when it comes to this area, he's going to let this fire burn itself out. a couple of pnts. part of the challenge of this region is all of the overlapping interests the united states has in it, which the question alluded to. i think we need to stack those and rank them and figure out how to address those in order. i think the number one concern we should have right now is the return of sunni extremism to the area. there are two things we need to be concerned about. so first is the 10,000 or isis fighters that are being held or have been being held in sdf controlled territory and the 100,000 or so refugees being held in that same territory of isis families and others. whatever happens next, we need to make sure that those people are accounted for, those that
are still left. i think this is somewhere where the united states could work with partners regionally to come up with a solution of how to move those camps and fighters into places where we can guarantee they are not escaping. i think we need to be terribly about being used as terrorist proxies in the form of the free syrian army, which is an al-nusra affiliated force carrying out atrocities in northern syria. one of the things i think we should do is put the criteria in ince for president erdogan november. if he wants to come in november, we need to make sure that these forces are not allowed to conduct operations in northern
syria and protections are put in place for civilians in urban areas. there should be conditions if he wants to have a white house meeting to make sure he is working with us. more broadly, the point i wanted to make is one that i read in a book about u.s. policy in the middle east that i admired heatly, which was that united states has failed when it has seen itself as an honest broker. trying to accommodate the demands of multiple different sides and figure out who is right and who is wrong and how to figure out where the historical conflicts are and how to resolve them. instead, we should be more single-minded in pursuing our interests and working with the forces that are actually going to further them rather than giving into the demands of people and countries that lay claims to us giving them what they justly deserve. in this, i think we need to .hink longer term
reap -- we need to think about rebuilding credibility. it is likely to be that northern syria is not going to be the place to do that because we have given up our influence and our abily to affect things on the ground. that means that theaters like iraq and the persian gulf are going to grow more important. it means we are going to be more reliant on partners like israel, that has already been conducting the war between wars, trying to make sure that iran does not embed itself too deeply into syria. at this point, we are more reliant than we were ever before
on partners to try to help us in the middle east and we need to be clear right about who those partners are. >> [indiscernible] [laughter] it was written by a once clear right analyst of the middle east by the name of mike durand. [laughter] i highly recommend it. >> available on amazon. [laughter] >> i think that is a great place to pause the conversation we have been having an open this up to questions. i know the gentleman right here raised his hand. we will start there and try to get as many as we can. i just want to lay some ground rules. name and affiliation. limit your question to a question and not a comment. sir? there is a microphone coming. >> [indiscernible] consuldemocratic representative here. i expect that you will talk a decisions from mr.
trump. i respect that you will talk a little bit about what is happening north of syria. many's innocence fled. nobody talked about that. absolutely. issue, concentrating about the pkk. the pkk is an issue inside turkey, it is not connected to northeast syria. i'm not kurdish. i will never accept pkk to be inside syria. i'm wondering why you are talking like that? my question is now -- my opinion is what is your about what is happening in northern syria? civilians and occupation. and one more issue that the area
, concentrated from invasion --m turkey, it is between the majority is arab. they are not kurdish. these people who fled our arab, not kurdish. the first family was killed by airstrikes, it was christian syrian. >> i think that is a great place to pause the question and get some answers. you who have not , over thewing this year we have been talking about it, it is about a third of the territory of syria, a very large territory. there are literally somewhere between a third and half of the total population of syria is either internally or externally displaced. there are millions that are in lebanon, turkey, other places, some of whom, jordan, some of
whom affiliate or self-described themselves as pro-syrian defense forces. kurds, arabs, christians, tribes that have followed their tribal leaders. still very much a tribal geographic fight and these people are being slaughtered. as refugees, they are living under internally and externally absolutely horrific circumstances. it bothers me tremendously that we have not had the coverage of thesehe plight substantially women and children , who are literally dying of malnutrition. they are not even given portable water and in lebanon, they have turned off the water and made
the move because they were worried about the sewage seeping into the water table and impacting. you are exactly right, sir. we have not paid significant attention. that are some indications the ypg and other remnants of others aresra and basically using civilians and women and children in particular as both shields and as political for the fight. that has got to stop, regardless of what the u.s. does. that has got to stop. one final point, the refugees in turkey, it is not because erdogan is out of the goodness of his heart saving the rest of europe from the influx of immigrants. blackmail political tool he used against germany and
in orderd still uses to get their acquiescence in political and other matters. it is not because erdogan is accepting this because he is such a great guy. >> general? >> i think the latest ofculation is that the gdp turkey has been risen -- reduced based on the humanitarian assistance they are giving. but this is going to sound heretical and i would expect a few books to be thrown at me, but i believe that all sides are complicit in what is happening in northern syria right now. i believe they are complicit because it was clear that this was going to happen at some point. erdogan had been massing his forces along the border for the last year.
the fact that the ypg decided to fight inside that area rather than withdraw to the 30 kilometer buffer zone so that the turks could come in in a ,oncombat role, but just occupy the fact that they decided to fight there makes them complicit in the carnage we are seeing. i believe the united states is complicit because they could have worked this out between both sides. look, if the turks are going to come in, you were going to come in as peacekeepers, you have been living with these people for years and years. theare going to turn off very population you are trying to get on your side. my view would be the ypg had the opportunity to reduce the carnage substantially by pulling behind the 30 kilometer line.
theturks could have reduced carnage substantially by coming in as peacekeepers, the united states could have done its job by brokering that agreement before the turks came in. >> michael? >> thank you for your question. because i realize in the last few days in talking about this issue that when you talk about it at the strategic level, it often sounds as if one doesn't have concern about the loss of life in the ground. that is in the forefront of my mind. my point is that if we don't get the structural issues correct, there will be no framework, there will be no successful for a humanitarian policy. simply putting the humanitarian
question first and talking about it without reference for the strategic framework is a disaster. there is a lot of blame to go around here. to figure out what are the structural fundamentals that can create a framework through which we can look after the humanitarian concerns. through the corridor, that is exactly where erdogan once in there because it breaks in the east and the west. you know this i'm sure as well as i do, the goal of the turkish policy is to make sure that there is no rise of the pkk. it would mean there would be no occupation of kurdish cities and so on and so he chose that area. should work to
accommodate his security concerns in that area with a clear understanding that those security concerns -- >> i'm going to get some more questions. in the 10 minutes we have left, i'm going to collect a couple questions. i've seen your hands up quite a bit. over here and sir, if you could give us your questions briefly, so we will incorporate both of them as we end the discussion. >> hello. is for anybody who wants to answer. the sanctions for the purchase, why do you think that the u.s. hasn't imposed these sanctions? what we know about giuliani pressing for favorable outcomes.
>> do we have to bring impeachment in? let's make this an impeachment-free zone. >> i don't think it is. i think that is a strictly policy question. thank you. withestion has to do subjects raised a long time ago where this all started. isis andn to take on subsequently to carry that campaign into syria. up, is thate wound wise? if we were going to fight isis in syria? who were we going to fight it with except for stf and ypg forces? we weren't going to fight it with turkish forces.
turkey was actively abetting isis in syria. we know that. i'm not a particular fan of the policy that president obama followed, but turkey was confronted with that in the spring of 2014 and thereafter. we have the question, let's turn to some answers. i know we are not getting to some questions. if i can be so bold as to suggest some of the panelists will have a few minutes after this to chat with folks individually, i apologize, we have to move on. the first question was about sanctions. whoever wants to take that. who else could we have partnered with to fight isis? >> i will do a quick one. i will go really quickly. agree that our
relationship with turkey is really fundamental, not only to our presence in that part of the world, but it is a very important nato ally. those twoe reason why sanctioned activities were pursued is the president and the congress really have been trying to work with turkey particularly from a standpoint not to sever turks andtween the the pentagon. program and 300, thatg to the really is a game changer. , by hopefully out working through the concerns to give them the capabilities that , to have them
reinforce those desired capabilities is something i know this is something this administration wants to do. i think it is purely a realistic acceptance that we have to work with turkey on the f 300 that is a step beyond and anything we can do to delay it is important. >> anybody want to entertain the second part of that question, which is why haven't some of the sanctions been up lamented yet? echo whatjust marybeth said. when it comes to the sanctions, my understanding has been that there have been ongoing negotiations between the united states and turkey on how to resolve it, a standoff including the possibility that turkey would not implement and i think after the initially it was undertaken, there would be an
ability to find a way out of this, which is why the legally mandated sanctions have not been applied yet. it is a lot harder to understand for administration that has maximum pressure on iran is one of its main policy objectives, that becomes a lot harder to understand. >> who wants to dive into the second question? who else could we have partnered with? over at dod,ll, they were always searching for a better partner, but candidly, i'm not disputing that the ypg was not the right solution. i think it was the right solution with the conditions that have been set out. this was not meant to be a long-term reliance. there is a reason the ypg wanted to fight with us. they wanted our assistance.
know that the conditions that were put in because they had to be the day after to fight , the weapons could not stay in their hands and would pose a threat to turkey. our support was not going to be continuing. interestt was a very focused alignment that we made with the ypg that worked out very well for the united states and worked out very well for the ypg and had it been followed to fruition, it would have been a good deal for turkey, as well. >> we have a few minutes. i see the u.s. representative for the syrian democratic council, the political arm of the stf. we have four minutes left, so if i could ask you to ask your question quickly and let's get some responses in. >> thank you so much.
[indiscernible] syrian issue and pkk issue, which i don't think is that simple. is not only with the pkk. what is going on in north of is the syrian people, arabs,t kurds, we have 5 million people living there, they are not all pkk. they are not kurds, they are arabs. do you think that they are accepting in the kurds hands? do you think that the syrian accepted in be kurdistan? i don't think so. [indiscernible] -- question i want to ask let us see -- whatever you
discuss -- what is the alternative here? the fsa, who came to the region killing the civilians after arresting them? [indiscernible] she is a political -- they arrest her and they killed her when she arrived. this is the alternative. [indiscernible] people, they committed -- they are committing the same crimes again. -- whod like to have will replace it? who will be there? who will be the alternative? >> i'm very sorry. i don't want to cut you off, but we have a few minutes, so i want to get some responses.
quickly i don't know the answer to that. my fear is and we haven't really touched upon this, isis and other radicals and other extremists with a diverse agenda and those will prey upon the discord of all the syrian people and we will all lose in that scenario. alln the other hand, if it works out and we can get syria writ large to some sort of post-civil war resolution, it is clearly the plan and i believe everybody in the council would agree that you are looking for a federated region, somewhat self-governing the way that kurdistan is governing iraq. there is a blueprint for that. there is a model for that. we got to syria in a post-civil war political resolution before
anyone can move forward with that. >> all right. you want to have the last word? that ist wanted to say do recognize that the average person on the ground is being crushed by these larger forces and has no voice and what is happening, but i think that we have to realize, i know that you are not the pkk, but the number one concern of the turks is pkk and if we don't address that to their satisfaction, then this is what we are going to get. i think that this was inevitable on the basis of how we approached all of this. the question is how we get out of it. i think the question has to be through u.s.-turkish relations. >> real quick. >> i find this logic a little backwards. it was not inevitable because we were staving it off. we were working through a peace
process. we were doing joint patrols with the turks. to say that it was inevitable regardless of whether we withdrew our troops are not means accepting turkey was going to attack u.s. positions. >> we never addressed it as a political issue. we addressed it, the department of defense shoved everybody else out of the way and addressed it as line here, lined there, and did not address the turkish concerns about the political project that was going on behind the lines. you yourself said it. what we want is the kr g model with powershare. dod did not want power sharing because it liked the island it had created for counterterrorism without reference for the larger structure in the region. that is stupid and this is what we get. >> i'm putting on my tv producer hat. that is when you don't cut to commercial.
[laughter] thank you all to our fantastic panelists. i think they deserve a round of applause. i think this discussion has been very robust today. thanks to all of you for joining us and to everybody who was watching from afar. have a great day. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪ journal"'s "washington live every day with news and policy issues. coming up wednesday morning, we are taking your calls and getting a reaction to the fourth democratic debate. arizona republican congresswoman debbie lasko will be on to talk about president trump and the impeachment inquiry and jennifer cap perella of the institute for the study of war will join us to discuss the impact of the u.s. withdrawal from syria.
also, the connecticut democratic congressman shares the latest on the house democrats' impeachment inquiry. watch c-span's "washington journal" live at 7:00 eastern wednesday morning. join the discussion. >> live wednesday in the c-span networks, the u.s. house returns at 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span for general speeches. at noon eastern, the house takes up several bills, including a resolution opposing the president's withdrawal of. u.s. forces from syria senate continues work on executive and judicial nominations. in c-span3, the senate foreign relations committee looks at tensions between the u.s. and iran over an attack on saudi oil facilities. a house foreign affairs subcommittee meets at 2:00 p.m. to consider recommendations for u.s.-syria policy. at 5:00 p.m., c-span's campaign
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p.m. on c-span. next, commerce secretary wilbur ross in the administration's trade policy agenda. following his remarks, a panel talked further on trade policy and tariffs. this is one hour and 20 minutes. >> good afternoon. good afternoon. welcome. i'm the vice president and general counsel at the federalist society. thank you for being here. a special welcome to the folks joining us on c-span.