Friday October 31, 2014
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31.10.2014
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Zalman Shoval

This Turkey is cold

We have not yet reached the point of seeing the end of Turkey, according to the Americans, but this could certainly be the direction things are headed. Washington is not alone in asking itself, unhappily, if under the stewardship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Turkey has distanced itself from its traditional ties to the West to the point that its 61-year membership in NATO is becoming increasingly meaningless.

The Obama administration, buried neck-deep in troubling domestic complications, has recently found itself in a position unfamiliar to the U.S. in recent decades. All its traditional Arab allies in the Middle East are pulling away from or openly expressing their discontent at its policies in Egypt and Syria, particularly their concern that Washington will not hold a hard line in the face of Iran's nuclear ambitions. The country which has most recently and most aggressively given voice to these concerns is actually Saudi Arabia, the oldest U.S. ally in the Middle East (an alliance predicated on close-knit strategic and economic interests). In talks with U.S. congressmen, the Saudis have publicly and privately criticized the administration's policy (or lack thereof) in the region. Saudi Arabia's decision to forfeit its temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council also stemmed from its concern that Washington is liable to craft undesirable diplomatic initiatives pertaining to the aforementioned issues.

As for Turkey, in the past it has enjoyed special status in Washington's eyes because it was an important member in the North Atlantic Alliance and an integral part of America's strategic deployment in southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Its close ties with Israel also played an important role, and the first significant setback for this U.S. strategy was indeed Turkey's fallout with Israel.

Other Turkish initiatives, which the U.S. could not have interpreted as anything but unfriendly or hostile, were soon to follow: purchasing an air-defense system from China instead of from the West (which could give China a close look at NATO systems positioned in Turkey), reports of supplying a variety of weapons to al-Qaida in Syria and the revelation in the press that Turkey burned Israeli agents operating in Iran.

Objectively, one can also view these actions as links in the chain of Turkish diplomatic failures, along with the now-defunct relationship with Syrian President Bashar Assad; the futile pretentions of standing at the head of a Sunni alliance to encompass the entire Middle East; its goal of serving as an ideological and practical model for Islamists to take control in Egypt (a goal which suffered a severe setback when the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power), and finally, marginalizing any Turkish influence on the Palestinian issue. All these have turned Turkey into an extremely shoddy ally in Washington's eyes. And although talks have recently resumed about adding Turkey to the European Union, it is doubtful that the deciding EU countries are enthusiastic about this possibility.

In the press, Congress and U.S. foreign diplomacy corps, hard questions are being asked these days about the administration's policies in a variety of possible scenarios, most of them troubling, in the Middle East. In light of what The New York Times described as the Obama administration's new Middle East policy -- which appears to have more holes than solutions -- these questions gain even more validity.

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