“So fragile was the structure of their reality that a single unsubsumed consciousness, a solitary ripple in their little pond was enough to roil the waters into a frothing, burbling foam.”—Norman Spinrad, The Void Captain’s Tale (1985)
Consider five factors that had no effect on the very warm reception given by President Barack Obama to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:
— While the U.S. government has pressured Erdogan not to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Erdogan announced in the White House Rose Garden that he would do so. An alleged U.S. ally says publicly in front of Obama, while being hosted by him, that he is going to defy the United States.
This is not some routine matter. With previous presidents, if an ally was going to do something like that he would say nothing at the time, and then months later would subvert U.S. policy. Or better yet, the foreign leader would not do so. To announce defiance in such a way is a serious sign of how little respect Middle East leaders have for Obama — and for U.S. policy nowadays — and how little Obama will do about it.
— Equally bad: Erdogan directly promised Obama that he would conciliate with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cooperated, because Obama asked him to do so. That’s what U.S. allies do. But immediately Erdogan showed he would pay no attention to the agreement he made.
His negotiators subverted it in several ways, including with demands for ridiculously large amounts of money, the delay in the promised return of the Turkish ambassador to Israel, and the continuation of legal action against Israeli officials involved in the Mavi Marmara affair, when Israeli soldiers were attacked by Turkish terrorists demanding to sail to Gaza to deliver equipment to Hamas.
So a second time, Erdogan betrayed Obama and make the president look foolish (that is, had anyone in the mass media pointed it out). Again, there was no U.S. criticism of the move or apparent pressure to make Erdogan keep his promise.
Three other ways that Erdogan has subverted U.S. interests with minimal costs (in fact, the Obama administration has usually furthered this behavior):
— Some small U.S. diplomatic protests were made about the growing internal repression in Turkey and human rights violations there. Increasingly, the country lives under a reign of intimidation even as the Western media mostly ignores this situation. Since the United States keeps praising him, Erdogan can demoralize his opponents, who cannot hope for foreign help even as he carries on a policy of spreading anti-Americanism in Turkey.
The political power of the Turkish armed forces — the traditional guarantor of the republic and stability in the country — was dismantled by Erdogan with U.S. approval. The Turkish media was subverted with only an occasional American squeal of complaint. Now he’s destroying the independent judicial system, the last barrier to his assault on democratic rule. The U.S. embassy in Turkey consistently warned about what has been happening; the White House ignored this information.
— With the Obama administration’s permission, the Turkish government violates the sanctions against Iran with ever-larger trade and major bilateral cooperation projects. Erdogan’s consistent defenses of Iran’s policies (though the two countries are at odds over Syria) have been forgiven and forgotten by the White House.
— In many ways, the Turkish government has been taking the lead on setting U.S. policy toward Syria. It was Erdogan who largely determined that the official opposition exile leadership would be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, a path followed by Obama. (I can’t prove it — but I’ll bet that Turkey’s regime promised Obama that if he would declare support for the rebels verbally and let them be armed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia then Assad would easily fall. I’d also bet that Erdogan assured Obama that if the president helped the rebels a moderate government would emerge in Syria.)
Meanwhile, Obama has praised Erdogan unstintingly. Obama thinks Erdogan is the very model of a “moderate Islamist”, and since Obama’s strategy is to support such people in much of the Arab world, Erdogan has been his guide to the region, though this has meant supporting the radical Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Especially ironic: Obama believed that Erdogan’s goals were essentially the same as those of the United States, while Erdogan was in fact following a profoundly anti-American policy designed to bring hostile Islamist governments to power. Remember this is no longer the old Western-oriented Turkey of previous decades, but a radical — if concealed — Islamist regime.
At the Washington meeting, Obama and Erdogan agreed that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must go. But who will they replace him with — and how will they get rid of him? Obama said that the Syrian dictator “needs to transfer power to a transitional body. … That is the only way we’re going to resolve this crisis.”
But that is demonstrably false, because Assad won’t step down. So what’s the United States going to do about it?
Will he continue to follow advice from Erdogan, which has already proven to be wrong because it is based on the interests of a Turkish Islamist regime seeking to promote Sunni Islamism and Turkish influence in the region?
Once again the Turkish government has taken the lead on U.S. policy by pushing for direct U.S. aid to the rebels. That means giving money, weapons, and other aid to the Muslim Brotherhood and more radical groups to take power, because the real moderates in the Syrian opposition are rare.
Obama’s expressed hope of creating a Syria that is “a source of stability, not extremism” is very dangerous — he might well hope that, but it is not a realistic goal. And again: what is Obama going to do to bring about this objective?
(Incidentally. the U.S. government has apologized to Israel for U.S. officials confirming to the New York Times that a ground attack within Syria earlier this month was staged by Israel. Publicly stating this information forced Syria — and Hizballah and Iran — to officially threaten Israel with retaliation, thus endangering Israel.)
Now too, Iran, Russia, and Hizballah are stepping up support for Assad. It is clear that Russia will block tougher action in the UN Security Council; Russia is also stepping up arms shipments to Assad. If Russia provides Syria with advanced anti-aircraft missiles, these could be used to shoot down any U.S. planes that try to enforce a no-fly zone. Yet Obama doesn’t have the credibility or leverage with Russian President Vladimir Putin — who from every indication holds him in contempt as a weakling — to stop Moscow from showing that it is the stronger, more reliable ally. Hizballah has up to 5,000 fighters inside Syria now, though they have been mainly employed in holding territory vital for Assad’s survival.
The rebels will not win without a lot of U.S. help. This civil war is becoming an international test of wills in which Obama — for reasons that are not unreasonable — doesn’t want to fight. Yet does that mean the United States will accept a humiliating defeat at the hands of Tehran and Moscow? Fortunately, while the rebels cannot win, they also are likely to hold much of Syria. In other words, Assad can’t put down the rebellion, either. But the result will be stalemate, continued war for two years or more, and tens of thousands of more deaths.
One day there will be congressional investigations on how U.S. policy armed terrorists, and even — albeit unintentionally — al-Qaeda groups. It will be too late. The situation in Syria makes the Iran-Contra affair look like a picnic.
The situation is getting very dangerous, and with a “friend” like Erdogan it is clear that Obama’s policy toward Syria, Iran, the advance of revolutionary Islamism, and the Israel-Palestinian “peace process” is in serious trouble.