Seeing the Big Picture: Transatlantic Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa
On February 18, 2016, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) together with The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies hosted a debate in Brussels on the challenges for the transatlantic partnership in the Middle East and North Africa. Discussants were Dr. Ian Lesser, GMF’s senior director for Foreign and Security Policy, Dr. Magnus Norell, senior policy advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy and Adjunct Scholar at Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Ambassador Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. The panel was moderated by Ingrid Habets, research officer at The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies. Lesser and Tomi Huhtanen, executive director of The Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies welcomed the audience.
Dr.Lesser discussed the U.S. approach toward the Middle East and highlighted that even if “a decade of U.S. activism left the American public and strategic class with distaste and more inclined toward conservatism, the U.S. is not disengaged in the Middle East.” Lesser also described the chaos in the region as “entering a period of protracted sustained conflict.”
Meanwhile, Dr Norell assessed the Iran nuclear deal and its implications. According to him, the deal was not “a smart deal for the West” deal. The nuclear deal gives Iranians “more means to pursue their anti-Western goals.” Moreover, Norell pointed out that the West’s assumption that the deal could pave the way for improved US-Iranian relations were based more on wishful thinking rather than on hard evidence.
Ambassador Marc Pierini discussed the current refugee crisis and the EU-Turkey deal to limit the refugee flow to Europe. In Pierini’s opinion, Turkey gained a lot of political benefits from the refugee deal and succeeded in neutralizing the EU’s narrative of rule of law and freedom of expression in Turkey. Nonetheless, there are no quick results on the refugee deal. One of the major issues is that “nothing has been done to control the traffickers,”-said Ambassador Pierini. Mafia networks who gain huge amounts of money are still operating on the ground, Pierini said.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer session touching on a number of issues such as, the dynamics around the Russia-Turkey tensions after the Russian war plane that crashed in Turkey last November, the implications of NATO’s decision to assist with the refugee crisis in the Aegean Sea, the current situation in Syria,- and the military campaign against the so-called Islamic State Group (ISIS). Participants included think tank representatives, academics, journalists, NATO, and EU staff.