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Look Who Wants to Lead the Middle East!

I don’t like the use of the word “Ottoman” to apply to post-Ataturk Turkey as there are simply too many differences and confusing nuances. After all, in modern history, despite the fact that its sultan was also the Muslim caliph, the Ottoman Empire functioned internationally as a normative power, not an Islamist state. It was also a status quo power seeking to preserve an existing empire and easily forming alliances with European states.

The new Turkey is ambitious, Islamist, anti-Western, and not likely to be a force for stability. In his victory speech, reelected Prime Minister Erdoğan did not mention Europe or the West even once. Though the Western media didn’t notice it, in praising the victory of the Turkish Islamists he spoke as a Muslim leader.

Breaking with the orientation of the Turkish republic since the 1920s, Erdoğan began his speech by praising, “All friendly and brotherly nations from Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku and Nicosia.”

He added: “The hopes of the victims and the oppressed have won,” and, “Beirut has won as much as İzmir. West Bank, Gaza, Ramallah, Jerusalem have won as much as Diyarbakır. The Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans have won, just as Turkey has won.”

In talking about the Middle East, he wasn’t including Israel; in the Caucasus, he didn’t mean Armenia or Georgia; and as for the Balkans he didn’t mean Greece or Croatia or Yugoslavia.

As a Turkish journalist explained:

The fact that he mentioned Sarajevo, while avoiding mention of Europe, clearly shows that he sees himself as the leader of the Muslims and that of those Muslims who are oppressed, not by their regimes, in the view of Erdoğan, but by the Christian West. So, Erdoğan’s world view, based on juxtaposing the oppressed East vis-à-vis the imperialist West, is here to stay.

Is it of some concern that the leader of Turkey speaks in the same terms as the leader of Iran? You wouldn’t know it from Western coverage.

One point that isn’t properly understood is that if Iran, post-secular Turkey, post-Mubarak Egypt, and Syria (though sidelined by its own internal problems for now) may be contending to some extent, it isn’t good for Western or U.S. interests. They’re squabbling about who gets to devour what.

In this context, the battle over Syria should be understood. It is widely claimed that Turkey has broken with the Syrian regime as if this were a humanitarian impulse. There are proposals to use Turkey as a mediator and even reports that President Barack Obama is consulting Turkey about what to do in Syria.

Big mistake. True, Turkey has been allied with the dictatorship of President Hafiz al-Asad. But the revolution has posed a dilemma for Ankara. Asad is good. After all, he hates the United States (though the Obama administration doesn’t seem to notice) and Israel, supports revolutionary Islamists (Hamas, Hizballah, Iraqi insurgents), and is an ally of Iran. Iran and Hizballah, both of them Shia Muslim, prefer their ally Asad, who claims to be Shia Muslim.

But for the (Sunni) Islamists in Ankara, the Islamists in Damascus are better. The Turkish regime doesn’t want a moderate, pro-Western democratic government in Syria; it wants an Islamist, even more anti-American government in Syria.

So the Middle East is returning to a higher level of conflict and eventually bloodshed, in part thanks to U.S. bumbling. It’s a typical story. Obama thinks American power is evil and bullying, but by withdrawing it (except for the bizarre adventure in Libya), he is contributing to anarchy and the destruction of legitimate U.S. interests.

By the way, notice that -- at least for the moment -- the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of no importance in all this. Yet that’s the issue the West is obsessed with, usually in ways that would weaken Israel and thus strengthen all of its enemies.

It’s a very sad and even more dangerous story. The hope is that as all these problems and disasters become more visible, the Western democracies will wake up and change their policies. Every minute counts.