There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times today about the growing influence of regional powers in the Middle East — in particular, Turkey — and their growing unwillingness to ask “How high?” when the United States says “Jump!” The hook for the Times piece, which is written by Sabrina Tavernise and Michael Blackman, is the May 31 assault on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian supplies to the blockaded Gaza Strip, which killed nine people, almost all Turkish citizens, and gravely damaged Israel’s relationship with Turkey — its only ally in the region. That in turn created a very awkward situation for the United States, caught in the middle between one of its “most pliable allies,” as Tavernise and Blackman put it, and Israel, to which the United States has given its unquestioning, unconditional support for over four decades.
The article is a masterpiece of U.S.-centric ‘journalism.’
The change in Turkey’s policy burst into public view last week, after the deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish flotilla, which nearly severed relations with Israel, Turkey’s longtime ally. Just a month ago, Turkey infuriated the United States when it announced that along with Brazil, it had struck a deal with Iran to ease a nuclear standoff, and on Tuesday it warmly welcomed Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Russian prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, at a regional security summit meeting in Istanbul.
See that? Turkey’s outraged reaction to “the deadly Israeli commando raid” had really nothing or little to do with the “raid” itself — the fact that Israel had attacked a Turkish ship and killed Turkish civilians who were bringing food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies to Gaza and had not threatened the Israelis in any way prior to their boarding the ship. That was just Turkey using the wanton killing of its own citizens as an excuse to launch its new and changed policy.
In fact, Turkey’s anger toward Israel really has nothing to do with anything Israel has done. Erdogan is just pandering to those anti-American, anti-Israeli Arabs:
Turkey’s shifting foreign policy is making its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a hero to the Arab world, and is openly challenging the way the United States manages its two most pressing issues in the region, Iran’s nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Turkey is seen increasingly in Washington as “running around the region doing things that are at cross-purposes to what the big powers in the region want,” said Steven A. Cook, a scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations. The question being asked, he said, is “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?”
From Turkey’s perspective, however, it is simply finding its footing in its own backyard, a troubled region that has been in turmoil for years, in part as a result of American policy making. Turkey has also been frustrated in its longstanding desire to join the European Union.
“Finding its footing” — I love that! Like a rebellious child who doesn’t realize that his parents still know better than he does what’s best for him. The result of that, of course, is just confused and foolish behavior:
It is Mr. Erdogan’s confrontation with Israel, which he accused of “state terrorism” in the flotilla raid, that raised the loudest alarms for Americans. Many see his fiery statements as a sign that he has not only abandoned the quest to join the European Union, but is aligning himself with Islamic rivals of the West.
Yet, for years Mr. Erdogan encouraged closer ties with Israel, even taking a planeload of businessmen to Tel Aviv in 2005. While the relationship has deteriorated badly in recent years — with Mr. Erdogan lambasting Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, over the Israeli military’s tactics in the Gaza campaign — Jewish leaders in Istanbul say that it is more about Mr. Erdogan’s dislike of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than his view of Israel.
“The Jewish community in Turkey is not at all alarmed,” said Ishak Alaton, a prominent Jewish businessman in Istanbul. The tough talk, he said, is simply Mr. Erdogan’s style, an attempt to score points ahead of an election.
Mr. Erdogan, though a pragmatist, is also a devout Muslim, a category that was once the underdog in secular Turkish society, and sympathy for the Palestinians is ingrained. He is hotheaded, with a street fighter’s swagger that becomes more pronounced in crises. He took personal offense, for example, when Ehud Olmert, then Israel’s prime minister, began without warning the bombing of Gaza while Mr. Erdogan was mediating talks between Israel and Syria.
Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University, argued that Turkey had stepped into a vacuum left by a failed peace process, and that it was trying to “save the Palestinians from becoming desperate again and save Israel from itself.”
That may be so, but Mr. Erdogan’s tough talk eliminates Turkey’s place at the table as a moderator with Israel, analysts said, and also boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.
Oh my goodness, yes! Heaven forbid we should have “tough talk” toward Israel from Turkey! It’s funny, though, how “tough talk” is fine if it’s Israel hurling accusations of anti-Semitism and “Jew hatred” at critics of its assault on the Mavi Marmara or of its collective punishment of Gazans or of its theft of West Bank Palestinians’ land. Or if the “tough talk” is coming from Joe Biden asking “What’s the big deal?!” and telling blockaded Gazans that Israel “has a right to self-defense” (by boarding ships loaded with humanitarian supplies and shooting civilians in the head at point-blank range with dozens of bullets).
Maybe we should look on the bright side, though. At least, with Helen Thomas no longer a resident, if only in a ceremonial sense, of the Village, we can trust our Villagers to adhere to at least some kind of standard of journalistic objectivity. At least we no longer have partisans and opinioneers at the Village Pump.