The Republican Foreign-Policy Meltdown

The Sunni power incubated under Gen. Petraeus' watch now sees in the Syrian civil war an opportunity to redraw national boundaries in the region. Again, from Al-Monitor:

The Syrian unrest in 2011 was enough to stimulate new ideas including changing the border. For the first time, religious calls emerged in support of redrawing the border to unify Sunni regions on both sides. In the meantime, fears increased among the Shiite authorities in Baghdad and southern Iraq, who were worried that Sunni areas in Iraq would transform into a stronghold for Syrian revolutionaries, or that Syria would transform into a stronghold for Iraqi Sunnis who oppose the Baghdad regime.

A trillion dollars and tens of thousands of casualties have turned Iraq into a sectarian powder-keg, with an Iran-allied central government supported by its Shi'ite majority confronting a well-organized and well-armed Sunni minority. No-one expected the spark to come from Syria. The Republican leadership, meanwhile, has nothing to say about that conflict. We do not want to let the heinous Assad regime continue to murder its own citizens, nor do we want to put advanced weapons in the hands of Sunni extremists who dominate the Syrian opposition, despite the best efforts of the West to foster a moderate government in exile.

Petraeus allowed the Republicans to claim a certain degree of success for the unpopular Iraq war. American conservatives idolized him. In 2010 he was speaker at the annual dinners of the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and Commentary magazine. Petraeus is gone, but the bill for his brilliance is just coming due.

Turkey has turned into a regional trouble-maker. As Halil Karaveli of Johns Hopkins SAIS warned in the New York Times on February 27th:

President Obama has relied heavily on Turkey in seeking to oust Mr. Assad and Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit the Turkish capital, Ankara, later this week. But Turkey is part of the problem. It is exacerbating Syria’s sectarian strife, rather than contributing to a peaceful and pluralistic solution....Turkey has provided a crucial sanctuary for the Sunni rebels fighting Mr. Assad and has helped to arm and train them.  Even more ominously, Turkey is turning a blind eye to the presence of jihadists on its territory, and has even used them to suppress the aspirations of Kurds in Syria.

Washington's embrace of Erdogan, though, began in the Bush administration. It was Bush who first invited Turkey's Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erodogan to the White House, undermining Turkey's secular parties. As Omer Taspinar of the Brookings Institution wrote at the time:

America's advocacy of "moderate Islam" against the "radical Islam" in the Middle East worries Turkey the most. Turkey being portrayed as a model within the moderate Islam project has been conceived as a support for the moderate Islam in Turkey, thereby led to a clash between America’s approach and Turkey’s laic and Kemalist identity. Already alarmed over the landslide victory of Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republic’s laic reflexes have become overwhelmingly concerned with the "model" expression of the US, which allegedly promoted Turkey’s moderate Muslim identity. In the aftermath of his victory, Washington’s [December 2002] invitation to the AKP Chairman Tayyip Erdogan, who was not confirmed as a prime minister then, was perceived [by the Turkish intellectuals] as the weakening of the secular foundations of Ataturk’s republic by the United States.

The Bush administration and the mainstream Republican leadership went all in on the gamble that moderate Islam would bring democracy and stability to the Middle East, and turned the devious, erratic Turkish leader into its poster boy, with disastrous consequences. But the Republicans' ideological commitment is so rigid that they have difficulty freeing themselves from the grip of what Charles Krauthammer inappropriately dubbed "democratic realism." (In opposition to this, I proposed an Augustinian realism as the basis for U.S. foreign policy).