Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What to Do About Turkey?

There has been much nonsense written regarding Turkey in the aftermath of the flotilla incident. Here's just one example from an Israeli no less.

Monday's botched commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla has proven disastrous for Israel. World public opinion has united in condemning the Jewish state and the U.N. Security Council has already demanded an inquiry. Closer to home, the strategic alliance that Israel had painstakingly forged with Turkey is in tatters.
The strategic alliance between Israel and Turkey has been dead for quite some time. The Islamist government of Turkey has for years now pursued a policy of using Gaza and the Palestinians as a weapon against Israel, and as a lever to advance its own power in the region at the expense of both Israel and the U.S.  This policy has included close relations with Iran to the extent of attempting to undermine even the mild sanctions advanced by the Obama administration. Yet from many pundits you still see a pretend view of Turkey, as if it were still the 1990s, with Turkey a solid ally of the U.S. and a friend to Israel.

It has been the shift in the Turkish government, from secular and western-oriented, to Islamist and focused on regional power that has produced not only the rift with Israel, but its transformation from strong U.S. ally to neutral bordering on hostile. There is little Israel could have done to change this dynamic, and any Israeli still pretending that Turkey is some sort of strategic partner rather than a dangerous threat is a deluded fool. The idea that Turkey actually cares about the Palestinian self-determination and humanitarian issues is utterly laughable. All you have to do is look at its savage repression of the Kurds. The Turks have joined Arabs in using the Palestinians as a weapon against Israel, going so far as to help organize the latest blockade-breaking effort in support of Hamas.

So what should the U.S. do? First and foremost we need to recognize reality. And reality is that Turkey is no longer an ally, a strategic partner, or a friend to the U.S. Friends don't ally themselves with rogue states who are open enemies of America (Iran), attempt to destroy the legitimacy of the key U.S. ally in the region, and support anti-American terrorist organizations. Far from being a friend, Turkey is now a problem and a threat to U.S. interests in the region. It's time we recognized that situation and planned accordingly.

One of the main reasons Turkey has felt confident in acting against U.S. interests is the Obama administration's projection of weakness abroad. None of our enemies, rivals and potentially hostile states fears Obama in the slightest. They know his instinctive desire to appease, naivete, inexperience, extreme reluctance to act unilaterally, self-delusion and wishful thinking cripple U.S. power. The overwhelming power of the U.S. is useless without the will to wield it in the service of U.S. interests. Turkey, like many other states, has every reason to feel confident that it can do whatever it wants as long as Obama is in charge of U.S. foreign policy. Weakness breeds aggression, and U.S. weakness risks a Middle East war, something that is definitely not in our interests. There have been reports and speculation that Turkey might actually send a naval escort with another Gaza flotilla. Attempting to break the Gaza blockade with naval force would be an act of war against Israel. A war between Turkey and Israel, which would probably draw in Arab states as well, would be a enormous disaster for U.S. interests. It seems unlikely, but given the current conditions it is conceivable.

One way to avoid conflicts and all-out war is to establish clarity in foreign policy. If the possible reaction of a great power is unclear, an aggressive state might be inclined to gamble. What would happen in the event that Turkish naval forces clashed with Israeli over the Gaza blockade? What is the position of the U.S.? In the aftermath of the latest incident the U.S. should be holding high-level talks with Turkey, and making our position absolutely clear, so that there will be no misunderstanding or miscalculation. Most of this should take place behind the scenes, but it should be forceful and direct. Turkey should be told that regardless of our disagreements with certain aspects of Israeli policy, U.S. power stands firmly behind Israel. We recognize that a Turkish military attempt to break the Gaza blockade is an act of war against Israel, and it will be treated accordingly. Depending on the Turkish response, this message could be reinforced by sending a powerful U.S. naval force to the Eastern Mediterranean. There are all sorts of other issues that should be raised at such a conference between the U.S. and Turkey, but I'll leave it at that for the moment since this post is getting pretty long. Wars often begin through miscalculation and delusions about the possible actions of states with interests in the matter. It's time to for Obama to use his "let me be clear" line for something meaningful.

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