Philip Giraldi is a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He is a regular contributor to www.antiwar.com in a column titled “Smoke and Mirrors” and is a Contributing Editor who writes a column called “Deep Background” on terrorism, intelligence, and security issues for The American Conservative magazine.
He has written op-ed pieces for the Hearst Newspaper chain, has appeared on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC, National Public Radio, and local affiliates of ABC television.
He has been a keynote speaker at the Petroleum Industry Security Council annual meeting, has spoken twice at the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC convention in Washington, and has addressed several World Affairs Council affiliates.
He has been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Britain’s Independent Television Network, FOX News, Polish National Television, Croatian National Television, al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, 60 Minutes, and Court TV.
He prepares and edits a nationally syndicated subscription service newsletter on September 11th issues for corporate clients.
*After the Turkish Army is fighting against IS in Syria, is the PYD still the only partner of the US in Syria against IS?
The PYD is certainly the most effective militia being supported by the United States but there are also the moderate rebel groups that have been trained by the CIA and US military in Jordan. The military program has been described as a failure but the CIA reportedly has several thousand or even more militiamen in place in Syria. It is difficult to determine if they are any good but there have been reports that many of them have gone over to al-Ansar taking their US provided weapons with them.
“Washington was surprised by the Turkish intervention Syria”
*Did the Washington administration expect such an intervention of Turkey in Syria?
Washington was surprised by the Turkish intervention as the conventional thinking in the Administration and Pentagon was that Turkey was too weakened by the purge of officers that took place after the July coup attempt to undertake any major operations. It was always assumed that Ankara would respond militarily to prevent the creation of a Kurdish controlled zone along the border but the high level of Turkish involvement was unexpected.
*If Al Bab is captured by Turkey, and the IS is eliminated in that region, how will this effect the war on IS? And in Syria?
If al-Bab is captured Turkey will have achieved a major strategic goal to control the reconfiguration of the border area. I expect it will then react more cautiously and, now that it is working with Russia and Iran, it will back off from any direct confrontation with the Syrian army.
“US is unhappy over the Russian-Turkish- Iranian proposal”
*Russia, Iran and Turkey say they are ready to help broker a peace deal to end the almost six-year- long conflict in Syria after meeting in Moscow. How is this seen in Washington?
Washington is unhappy over the Russian-Turkish- Iranian proposal because the United States is largely excluded. This means that Washington will continue to have war objectives, i.e. removing al-Assad, that will not necessarily be shared by the major players on the ground in Syria. It is a blow to Washington's sense of self-importance. Donald Trump is primarily interested in eliminating IS so he will probably be pleased with the result.
*And how do you personally evaluate the possibility for peace in Syria after this agreement of Russia-Turkey- Iran?
As the Syrian government has basically won the war the chance for some kind of reconciliation is much increased, particularly with Turkey and Iran as guarantors of the process. I would not be optimistic about this happening very quickly, however, as there continue to be numerous armed groups that understand that they will not be amnestied because of crimes they committed while the fighting was going on.
*Why did the US postpone the Raqqa operation? Isn't there enough force to attack Raqqa?
The US must rely on proxies to do the actual fighting for Raqqa. The Kurdish militias are fully engaged in the north, the so-called moderates are not numerous enough and have poor morale and US resources are fully committed to the fight for Mosul in Iraq. Washington is unwilling to use large numbers of American combat soldiers to eliminate Raqqa, which certainly could be done. Mr. Trump might be willing to do so to end the IS threat permanently. We shall see.
*The US always told the Turkish government that keeping the PYD on the eastern part of Euphrates is a reasonable request. Why is the PYD still on the westen part of Euphrates(Manbij)?
The US does not actually control the PYD and the Turkish request is indeed reasonably given Ankara's security priorities. The Kurds, of course, have their own ambitions regarding the region, something that Turkey (and Iran and Syria) understand very well but gets lost in translation in Washington.
"I do not see a real restoration of the Turkish-US relationship as long as Erdogan is in power"
*Do you see any possibility in the restoration of the US-Turkey relations? If so, what could be done? Since Fethullah Gülen is considered to be involved in the coup attempt, and the fact that Gülen is not extradited to Turkey, makes the Turkish public opinion think that the US is also involved in this coup attempt. And looking at the recent assassination of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara, and the downed Russian warplane last year, Turkey gets the impression that Gülen (with the US auspices) is trying to undermine any Russian Turkish initiative in Syria. How do you evaluate this new point of view in Turkey? Is there actually a way to rescue American-Turkish relations? Would Trump for example allow the extradition of Gülen to give a hand of peace?
I do not see a real restoration of the Turkish-US relationship as long as Erdogan is in power as he exploits anti-American sentiment to fire up his own supporters. US interest in Turkey at the moment is limited to access to Incirlik for the war in Syria-Iraq. When that war ends the interest binding the two countries will be significantly diminished. Most of the world is skeptical over claims that Gulen initiated the July coup attempt and the evidence we have seen here in the US and Europe has not been very convincing. The US was also not involved in the coup attempt, was surprised by it, though there were and are many here in Washington including myself who would have been delighted to see Erdogan gone. Anyone thinking seriously about the assassination of the Russian Ambassador would realize that it would result in pushing Moscow and Ankara closer together as they both would see themselves as victims. That is what has happened.
*How will US foreign policy be effected by Trump's presidency, since he announced that he doesn't want to face any conflicts with Russia. Will the US approach towards the Middle East change in a way that they withdraw from all these conflicts in the region?
The US has no real policy in Syria that makes any sense and is a sideline player. Trump is less hawkish than Obama overall in that he does not support democracy promotion by force of arms but he is more willing to use the military under certain sharply focused circumstances. He will not pursue nation building in Syria or Iraq and is likely to support a much better relationship with Turkey based on existing mutual interests in the region but I doubt if he will extradite Gulen unless Turkey comes up with some very compelling evidence showing his direct involvement. Trump might, however, be willing to move aggressively against Iran, which would be a great mistake as Tehran is an irritant but does not rise to the level of a major threat. Trump will also give unlimited support to Israeli expansion, which will cause problems with a number of Arab states.
Trump avoids a nuclear confrontation with Russia
*On the other hand, the US needs to defend its interests in the Pacific region. And the impression people get from Trump is that he is more hawkish than Obama. Do you think he will lead the US foreign policy towards the Pacific region to confront China, and might this be the reason that Trump is trying to avoid any conflict with Putin, to gain Russia as a possible partner during any possible conflict with the Chinese?
Trump might be considering pressure on China but it will be limited as both countries are closely tied through trade and investment. The outreach to Putin is, I think, genuine as Trump sees no reason to be squabbling over Syria and Eastern Europe, which are not really vital interests of the United States. Russia only threatens the US if an actual war with nuclear weapons were to break out and Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to avoid the type of confrontation that might lead to that. Trump was and is much less hawkish that Hillary Clinton though he does have a blind spot in his comments on Iran, which appear largely to come from some of his advisors, notably Michael Flynn.
*You've worked for the CIA in Turkey in the past. So I would like to ask about the difference of the Turkey you've experienced and the current one. If you compare the Turkey of your period, with today's Turkey, what are the major differences regarding the relations with the West and particularly the US? Are the recent developments seen as an axial dislocation of Turkish foreign policy in Washington?
I worked in the Turkey of Turgut Ozal and Tansu Ciller - even more corrupt than Erdogan but more tied to the principles of nationalism and secularism espoused by Ataturk. Relations with the US were very good because the Soviet Union was a threat to both of us as was the terrorism sponsored by groups like Abu Nidal as well as the Libyan government. I would not want to speak for Washington but I believe that the current Turkish government has moved considerably away from that relationship and those values which has resulted in the many friends of Turkey in the United States and Europe becoming disillusioned with a government that is increasing autocratic and driven by religious imperatives that we consider to be incompatible with democratic values.
Phil is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served eighteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. He was Chief of Base in Barcelona from 1989 to 1992 designated as the Agency’s senior officer for Olympic Games support. Since 1992, Phil has been engaged in security consulting for a number of Fortune 500 corporate clients. He is currently President of San Marco International, a consulting firm that specializes in international security management and risk assessment, and also a partner in Cannistraro Associates, a security consultancy located in McLean Virginia. Phil was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History and holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish.