US Opinion and Commentary

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Turkey Needs Solutions, Not Scapegoats

Posted January 4th, 2017 at 9:41 am (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin Turkey is accustomed to political violence. Coups and assassinations were common in the 1970s and 80s; in the 90s, a war broke out between Kurdish separatists and government forces that devastated southeastern Turkey and led to terrorism in major Turkish cities. But there is something particularly depressing and ominous about the spate […]

Rise of the Bullies: Trump, Erdogan and Putin

Posted November 1st, 2016 at 4:35 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin In these nail-biting days until U.S. presidential elections next week, it is easy to fall into despair about the state of American democracy. Following disclosure that the FBI is taking a renewed look at emails possibly connected to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s private server, polls have narrowed, suggesting a still-plausible path to victory […]

The Complicated Fight to Drive ISIS out of Mosul

Posted October 27th, 2016 at 2:44 pm (UTC-5)
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The operation to retake Mosul from Islamic State forces is proof of the quote “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Just ten days into the Mosul offensive, military planners are accelerating their timeline to try to take the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital, because they’re seeing lots of traffic going from Mosul to Raqqa.

Complicating matters are the various alliances and interests of U.S.-led coalition partners that intersect and overlap with one another. For example, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be helpful in any coalition move on Raqqa. But Turkey sees the SDF in alliance with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, Turkey wants a role in the Mosul operation to protect the rights of ethnic Turks there. Iraq’s prime minister has ruled that out.

About 30,000 Iraqi troops along with about 3,000 Kurdish peshmerga forces are on the front lines of the Mosul offensive. The U.S. has as many as 200 special operations troops on the ground embedded in an advise and assist role and is leading the coalition air support.

Perhaps the most critical job the U.S. has is keeping the disparate factions focused on the mission and avoiding diplomatic distractions.

Get Ready to Walk Away From Incirlik

Posted October 26th, 2016 at 3:08 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey’s growing instability is imperiling American operations. During the failed coup, Incirlik’s external power was cut off for a week, halting anti-ISIS operations from the air base for several days, limiting them for several more, and increasing the loads on other regional bases. This is unacceptable.

Move on Mosul

Posted October 17th, 2016 at 3:56 pm (UTC-5)
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Battle plans for retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul has been in the works for months. Now, it is time to execute those plans.
Many observers believe Islamic State fighters and supporters, who took Mosul in June 2014, will offer some resistance, use Mosul civilian residents as human shields, lay some traps for those coming after them, and retreat back into Syria.
Kurdish peshmerga, Iraqi army, Shi’a militias, and some Sunni tribal forces will try to coordinate on the ground with air and logistics support from the United States-led coalition.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the country would “celebrate victory as one.” Can a victory in Mosul do what so far has been unattainable, unite Iraq?

Alliances and the Blurred Battle Lines Against ISIS in Syria

Posted September 2nd, 2016 at 4:28 pm (UTC-5)
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Battle lines and alliances seem to be getting murkier in the U.S. fight against Islamic State in Syria.
Last month, Turkey sent tanks and warplanes over its border with Syria in an offensive against Islamic State forces while also targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, whose success against ISIS brought it too close for Turkey’s comfort.
On the day the offensive began, Vice President Joe Biden stood side-by-side with Turkey’s prime minister, signaling which ally the U.S. was standing behind.
How the U.S. will keep both Turkey and the Kurds on its side is just one of the many diplomatic dramas playing out as the five-and-a-half year Syrian civil war continues with no end in sight.

Turkey’s Troubling Entry into Syria

Posted August 29th, 2016 at 2:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey’s strategic objective is not to “crush” ISIS. It is to crush the most effective part of the anti-ISIS coalition: the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The Coup that Wasn’t

Posted July 18th, 2016 at 4:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The attempted coup in Turkey demonstrated the practicalities and pitfalls of how alliances work.

Without mentioning him by name, President Obama reiterated his “unwavering support for the democratically-elected, civilian Government” of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama’s paper statement on Saturday specifically mentioned needing Turkey’s cooperation against terrorism (read: Islamic State.)

Erdogan was slow to allow the U.S. to use Incirlik Air Base to launch attacks against ISIS. He has cracked down on human rights, free speech and freedom of the press.

But Turkey is an ally the United States and NATO need if there is hope for peace in the Middle East.

A Shaken Turkey Faces More Division and Instability

Posted July 18th, 2016 at 12:25 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin When news of an attempted coup in Turkey first broke on Friday, some Turks thought President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had planned it himself to distract attention from his many failures and justify a further doubling down of his authoritarian rule. Now, three days later, it is clear that the coup attempt was […]

U.S. and Turkey Clash Over Islamic State Lifeline to Syria 

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:40 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin It’s called the Manbij pocket and it’s a major impediment to the U.S. goal of defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The enclave in northern Syria, which borders Turkey for 60 miles, has remained open to IS infiltration. It is a lifeline for the IS “capital” of Raqqa that the Barack […]

Why Iran Should Focus on Turkey, not Russia, for Syria Cooperation

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:02 am (UTC-5)
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Iran and Turkey are most interested in the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity…. Moreover, Turkey and Iran’s other interests in Syria — preserving a level of influence, maintaining stability in their neighboring regions and containing Kurdish centrifugal tendencies in the wider region — can only be served by preserving its unity and territorial integrity.

Making Sense of the Mideast Oil Muddle

Posted March 21st, 2016 at 12:37 pm (UTC-5)
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Low oil prices don’t just affect the wealthy sheiks of the Gulf, but also the Kurdish peshmerga fighters operating on the front line against the Islamic State group. With the decline in market value comes a decline in oil exploration, and diminished budgetary expectations in countries like Iraq that are already hanging on by a thread.

How the Kurds Became Syria’s New Power Broker

Posted February 19th, 2016 at 11:59 am (UTC-5)
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The Kurds are skillfully playing the Russians and Americans off each other to extract as much influence as possible. Kurdish threats to defect squarely to the Russian camp propelled Brett McGurk, (U.S.) special envoy for the anti-(ISIS) coalition, to speed up a long-mulled visit to Kobani.

Mr. Erdogan’s Offensive

Posted January 11th, 2016 at 1:24 pm (UTC-5)
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Mr. Erdogan will never succeed in eliminating by force the PKK or Turkish Kurds’s aspirations for more autonomy, and by prosecuting his campaign he is impeding the fight against the Islamic State.

Sharing Christmas with the Kurds

Posted December 24th, 2015 at 10:59 am (UTC-5)
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“When I was a child the Muslims and Christians celebrated each other’s holidays. My mother put up a tree for me and my Christian friends. Most of my teachers were Christians, so were many of my classmates. We didn’t know the difference. …”

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