DAVID H. PETRAEUS

Normalization of US-Turkey ties ‘very likely to take time’

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The issues affecting US-Turkey relations will take time to be resolved, with setbacks along the way, David H. Petraeus has said in an interview with Kathimerini.

Chairman of the KKR Global Institute and with a lengthy career in public service, Petraeus was director of the Central Intelligence Agency while serving for 37 years in the US military, including command of US and NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia.

Petraeus, a man with deep knowledge of the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, points out that Islamic extremism can only be dealt with if the Americans and their allies and partners share “blood and treasure.”

He believes that the coronavirus pandemic will affect our way of life and the global equilibrium. He describes China’s response as “impressive” while adding that the US has already administered the coronavirus vaccine to more than 100 million people – recalling Warren Buffett’s famous advice, “never bet against America.”

Petraeus says that the Biden administration has set in motion the mechanism to create new and reinforce old multilateral alliances and partnerships that will strengthen the foundations of America’s global leadership.

Petraeus, who will address the upcoming Delphi Economic Forum (May 10-14), speaks very positively about his experience of working with members of the Hellenic Armed Forces in missions in Afghanistan and Bosnia, adding that NATO would welcome an additional contribution from Greece.

In the last few years we have faced various forms of crises, from financial to security and from health to geopolitics. Is the pandemic a factor that could either enhance or disrupt the course of these crises? 

Yes, I believe it is doing both. The pandemic has, in particular, accelerated a number of trends that were already visible in the world, and the years ahead will undoubtedly show that the “new normal” will not be merely a return to the old normal. Rather, I suspect that experiences of the past year will lead to enduring changes in how we work, how we live, and how we pursue leisure, as well as in many other aspects of our lives, including geopolitics, international economics, and, certainly, global health.

There are some who claim that the current health crisis and what looks to be more efficient management from China, is an indication that Beijing is actually already in a place where it can play an enhanced international role and even bypass the USA in terms of global leadership. Are we there yet? Or are we moving closer to a bipolar or even perhaps a multipolar world? 

China has done an impressive job in dealing with the pandemic, though it did experience difficult times early on. But, certainly, Beijing has guided the world’s largest country very skillfully after acknowledging the initial outbreak of the virus in Wuhan. Meanwhile, the US and a number of other Western countries have been experiencing difficulties in dealing with the virus. That said, the US has done a very impressive job in developing and then producing and administering vaccines. Well over 100 million Americans have now been vaccinated, and it is now clear that vaccines will be available for Americans of all ages by mid-April, an extraordinary achievement. That will, together with the enormous US fiscal support packages that have been approved and very astute monetary policy, enable the US economy to rebound very impressively this year. In fact, it is likely that the US will see the highest growth rate in some 50 years, taking overall GDP well above where it would have been projected to be before the pandemic. In sum, while there will be changes globally in many respects after the pandemic has been dealt with, it is worth recalling Warren Buffet’s observation that it is never wise to bet against America.

In that regard, can the United States be of equal effectiveness (for its own and its allies’ interests) in both the Atlantic as well as the Indo-Pacific area?

With respect, I do not think that is the right question. Rather, I tend to think that the question should be whether the US can, together with its allies and partners, effectively pursue American, Alliance, and partner interests in both the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific areas. And that is very likely, I believe, especially in view of the numerous impressive domestic initiatives being pursued by the new American administration that will deal with the pandemic and shore up the domestic foundation of American global power.

What new system of regional alliances and partnerships could there be if the United States decides to take the world stage in a more engaged way than it did during the four years of the Trump presidency? 

First, my sense is that the Biden administration very much wants to reinvigorate existing alliances, partnerships and relationships – including returning to some (e.g., the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization) from which the previous administration withdrew. President Biden and his team clearly see that as a critical element of America’s foreign policy. Second, I do believe that we may see some new international partnerships, such as the D10, a much-discussed grouping of major democracies, and possibly additional initiatives in certain economic sectors and geographic locations, as well.

You know the MENA region, especially the Middle East, very well. Is there a way of restoring some balance or is it too late and we will have to accept another reality that could even lead to changes in regimes, borders or even ways of governance?

It is never too late to take action, and I do believe that there are various initiatives that could help stabilize some of the more difficult situations and countries in the region. In particular, I think it is important that the US, together with allies and partners, makes a “sustained, sustainable (as measured in the expenditure of blood and treasure) commitment” against Islamist extremists in the greater Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of Africa. Beyond that, there also clearly needs to be considerable effort to both work with and push back against Iran, to support the effort in Libya, to push for a peace agreement in Yemen, and to capitalize further on the historic agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

On NATO

One of the status quo disruptors of recent years has been Turkey. The rift between Washington and Ankara is growing deeper mainly because of the Turkish insistence on moving to buy even more S-400s, but also due to its close ties with Russia, China and Iran. Can this rift be somehow bridged?

I hope that it can, given how important Turkey is to NATO geopolitically and as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and Asia. But the solution is very likely to take time and will not be easy or without setbacks along the way, as there are numerous other issues that also affect the US and NATO relationships with Turkey.

Is Ankara’s quasi-independent approach an indication that maybe – as some Europeans like French President Emmanuel Macron have already claimed – NATO is “brain dead,” or, to put it more gently, that it needs serious changes to continue to be relevant? 

I don’t think that NATO is brain dead; nonetheless, as its leadership has forthrightly noted, some changes would be advisable. That said, I also don’t think that NATO is likely to provide the sole solution to some of the truly intractable issues that various of its member-nations experience – not just that of the difficult relations with Turkey at present, but also the problems of democratically elected illiberal governments in some European countries, challenges associated with overwhelming refugee flows, issues of domestic populism, and so forth. NATO can play an important role in many situations; however, it will likely be part of the solution to such challenges, not the solution by itself.

Ankara also has nuclear ambitions, with the active aid of Russia. Can the world deal with yet another actor with possible nuclear capabilities in the future, especially in such an unstable region?

As a general proposition, I believe that the world will be much better off if it can avoid any further proliferation of nuclear weapons. 

Ankara has been intervening in war-ravaged countries such as Syria, Libya, Iraq and, more recently, the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It also has aspirations to dominate the East Mediterranean and to also promote this neo-Ottoman agenda in the MENA region. Can a regional expansionist agenda coexist with NATO values and priorities?

Clearly, decisions in Ankara have been challenging in a variety of different respects, and all NATO nations need to exercise both resolve and patience in addressing the various challenges.

On Greece

You have served in the top ranks of the US military for almost 40 years and you are acquainted with the decades-old architecture of the US presence abroad. Do you believe that, because of its position, Greece could play a more active role, of course always within the NATO framework?

I was privileged to serve with Greek forces in Bosnia and Afghanistan; in each case, Greece deployed very professional forces that made important contributions. Beyond that, I am keenly aware that Greece has historically been one of the countries that has long met the goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense. Given all that, and in view of Greece’s geopolitical importance, I am sure that those in NATO not only wish to applaud what Greece has done and is doing, but welcome any situations in which there might be additional contributions – as is generally the case for all of NATO’s members!