Updated: Jul 27, 2021
By Haig Hengen (@haighengen)
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa convened on June 3, 2015 to discuss US Policy towards ISIS after the terror group seized the Iraqi city Ramadi and Syrian city Palmyra. The subcommittee hearing was designed to discuss US military strategy in weakening ISIS as well as the current state of military and refugee affairs in Syria and Iraq.
After seizing control of Ramadi and Palmyra, ISIS has emerged as a powerful and organized terrorist organization. The subcommittee hearing heard testimony from Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Dr. Anthony Cordsman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Dr. Matthew Spence, who was formerly the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East to discuss the efficient measures and strategies the U.S. must take in order to weaken or defeat ISIS.
The questions posed were insightful as Representatives continually raised questions regarding the military strategy in Iraq and Syria. There was constant debate into which strategies would be successful. The witnesses proposed arming Iraqi soldiers and establishing an ecosystem to recruit Syrian fighters. Another proposed strategy was to create and strengthen the relationship with the Kurdish forces who have established themselves as a powerful entity with a structured organization. However, Michael Rubin shed light on the fact that although Kurds are pro-American they did not forget the absence of U.S. help in the Iraqi-Kurdish rebellions in 1975 and 1988, a time period when the Kurds felt betrayed by the United States. Also if weapons were to be given to the Kurds, they would not be dispersed equally. According to Dr. Rubin, the Kurds distribute weapons based on political hierarchy.
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) raised the issue of refugees and displaced civilians in Syria. He discussed his readiness to establish a safe haven in Syria that the U.S. military would control, allowing for the safety and security of Syrian civilians. This effort, would also aim to reduce the amount of refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon. Dr. Spence, however, strongly disagreed adding that safe heavens are not the answer. Dr. Spence also addressed the concern about the long term effects of a U.S. military installation within Syrian borders if the current Syrian regime falls and political power shifts hands.
A pivotal moment of the hearing was when Rubin stated his displeasure with the Turkish government and their terrorist activities. Rubin made it clear that there was a correlation between Turkey’s visa policy and the nationalities of terrorists traveling to Turkey and crossing into Syria to join ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Rubin suggested that Turkey adopt a stricter and reformed visa policy, which he believes will, in the long run, reduce the number of individuals participating in terrorist organizations. “If Turkey wanted to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, it could tweak its visa rules for those countries that are the source to require visas for those under the age of 40” he said. Rubin explained that Turkey has a stricter visa policy with Algeria then they do with Morocco.
Once analyzing which nationalities traveling to Turkey and entering Syria he concluded that there are many more Moroccans in Syria than Algerians, who join terrorist organizations elsewhere. In Rubin’s written statement he mentions that “Thousands of Moroccans and Tunisians have entered Syria through Turkey, but few Algerians have. The reason is not a lack of radicals in Algeria, but rather Turkey’s visa regimen: Turkey does not require visas for Moroccans, Tunisians or, for that matter, Libyans, Lebanese, and Jordanians,” he said.
Rubin stressed that “Turkey has proven itself an unreliable ally at best,” and has become the “Pakistan on the Mediterranean.” He also said that the fact that “Turkey is willing to say one thing publicly and do quite another is a serious issue.” Historically, Turkey has been able to close their boarder to Syria, but now claims that doing so is not possible, which is “clearly nonsense,” according to Rubin.
It is clear that ISIS is a powerful enemy that has an established ecosystem and continual monetary growth. For any group, membership is what keeps it thriving. The U.S. and its allies must stop people from traveling to Syria to participate in terrorist organizations which drastically increases membership. This solution is possible, but only if Turkey thinks so. If you reduce and stop participation the terrorist groups will not grow. If the terrorist groups do not grow they lose influence and manpower which weakens the organization and leads to defeat and potential peace in the region. The Turkish government should rethink their political strategies and the U.S. needs to be clearer to their allies in the region. It is counterproductive to the U.S. effort to defeat ISIS if our allies continue to allow the free flow of terrorists across their borders and allow them to reap financial gains through illegal oil smuggling. A clear and distinct solution exists and it is possible. Turkey has an opportunity to completely weaken the power of ISIS. If they choose not to, it is up to their allies to ensure Turkey takes the necessary measures to defeat terrorism.
Haig Hengen is a government affairs intern at the Armenian Assembly of America. He is currently studying international economics with a minor in Arabic at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.