Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written earlier this week by National Security analyst General Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey is increasingly alone. Worse, Ankara’s international isolation has led to unilateral foreign interventions that are producing yet more humanitarian catastrophe in a region that has witnessed near-biblical suffering.
- "Yesterday's news" was the open door Turkey provided to jihadist fighters to enter Syria through Turkey’s southern borders; the growth of ISIS was dramatically spurred as a result.
- "Today’s news” is the Ankara embrace of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli - an embrace made tighter by Turkey’s airlifting of thousands of fighters from northern Syria to Tripoli; amongst these fighters are extremists aligned with Turkey and beholden to Ankara for military support.
In both Syria and Libya, Turkey is risking major military confrontation with Russia.
- Syria developments in just the last week have been especially hellish. President Assad is determined to regain control by Damascus over every square meter of Syrian territory; the front lines against Syrian rebels are now in Idlib province, hard by Turkey’s border. Intensified fighting has spiked refugee flows yet again. And Ankara, already hosting over 2 million Syrian refugees, has ramped its military effort in northwest Syria to stem the refugee tide. Assad is not backing down, nor are the Russians, Assad’s patron.
- The Libyan drama is currently less about refugees and much more about securing access to Libya’s oil resources and eventual infrastructure contracts when the fighting subsides.
Are there diplomatic off-ramps, to minimize suffering and end Ankara’s isolation? Unlikely, at least for the Syrian nightmare. The geo-strategic worry is that Ankara, feeling its isolation, releases refugees into central and eastern Europe and replicates the EU political crises of 2015 and 2016. Putin and Erdogan continue to talk by phone, but there’s no prospect of an international conference any time soon that will end the Syrian tragedy.
- There is greater optimism for Libya, however, thanks to diplomatic brokerage by the UN and Germany. Negotiators in Berlin last month and most recently in Geneva worked for both a cease-fire and a weapons embargo, to defuse the mounting pressure on the GNA by former general Khalifa Haftar, who heads the Benghazi-based Libyan National Army. Haftar is backed and supported by the Russians as well as by Egypt and the UAE; the Turks are increasingly all-in on behalf of the GNA
The U.S. role on Libya can be consequential. We have effectively backed out of the Syrian quagmire; but both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have maintained close relations with Putin and Erdogan, the keys to bringing the chaos in fractured Libya to an end.
- To play this role, however, requires Washington, in the words of Atlantic Council president Jeff Kemp, “to regain an appetite for building coalitions that have been the bedrock of U.S.-led global leadership for the last 70 years.”
- Will the White House acquire that appetite? It’s been long rumored that President Trump wants a major foreign policy success, to aid his 2020 campaign run. Breakthroughs with North Korea and Iran are now clearly non-starters.
But Libya offers possibilities. Encouragingly, Pompeo appears to be testing the appetizer plate. Watch UN efforts over the coming week for a clue on whether this long-running North African nightmare can be peacefully ended.
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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN
LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.
He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.
Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.