Saturday, June 19, 2010

Some serious realism on the Middle East:

Lost in the latest Middle Eastern controversy is the fact that the prospects for Israeli-Arab peace are steadily improving, and that the apparently impending defection of Turkey from the Western camp is a great opportunity. The predictable consequence of Europe’s treating Turkey like a shabby, swarthy mendicant knocking at its back door for 30 years — embracing it when an ally in the region was needed, but rebuffing it at other times — is the defeat of the Kemalist Western emulators by the Muslim Turkish nativists.

If the Turks, who are historically no more popular with the Arabs than the Persians (Iranians) are, are throwing in with the militant Islamists, this will severely erode Arab enthusiasm for continuing to carry on the struggle with Israel. Turkey is now playing footsie with the Islamic Brotherhood, which murdered Anwar Sadat and is the principal foe of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Israel is no threat to these Arab powers, but Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood are...

There are two factors in Israeli-Palestinian relations that justify some optimism. First, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad (an economist with no background as a terrorist), has called for the right of return of the millions of Palestinian refugees to the West Bank and not to Israel. This removes the greatest stumbling block to peace, the long-standing Arab demand to inundate Israel with Palestinians.

Second, the Sharon policy of encouraging economic growth in the West Bank and strangling Gaza, as long as Fatah (West Bank) accepts Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and Hamas (Gaza) does not, is working. The West Bank is enjoying an 8 to 10 percent economic-growth rate, and can have statehood. (The new West Bank state must be narrowed somewhat on the west, to make Israel wider than the nine miles it was at its slenderest point prior to the 1967 war, but the reduction can be compensated for in the south, where, when Gaza adheres to the same agreement, it can be deeper. The two parts of Palestine, and north and south Israel, can have an interchange — with tunnels and overpasses — that keeps both halves of both states connected, and respects the sovereignty of both.) As part of a general peace, Israel could give the Arab countrieseconomic assistance and could join the Arab powers in expelling radical Iranian and Turkish political influences.

Turkey presumably imagines that it can parlay its position into one of strength between the Muslim and Western worlds, but cuddling up to terrorists is not the way to do it. If Turkey becomes seriously obstreperous, the restraints that have been imposed on Iraqi Kurdish activity in Kurdish Turkey could be relaxed. Turkey’s attempted Janus act will be a fiasco, unless Western diplomacy has become completely inept.

It remains only to stop the Iranian development of a nuclear military capability. If the U.S. won’t deal with this, there should be a “Middle Eastern solution,” and Israel should lead precise air interdictions as frequently as necessary to keep a deliverable nuclear warhead out of Iran’s hands until the world can have a reasonable comfort level that Iran could be trusted with it.

Turkey’s flotilla to Gaza was completely irresponsible, but in shedding its Turkish baggage, the West could radically improve its relations with Russia and the Arabs. It is all to play for.

One thing that is frequently overlooked in much of the modern commentary on Turkey is the role of Russia. The Turks and the Russians are historical enemies, from long before the Crimea War. But if Turkey wishes to loosen its ties with the west, it must remember that modern Russia is no better ally then it was two centuries ago. The Islamists in Turkey may be looking toward a Persian-Turkish alignment with the tact backing of the Chinese, but China's ability to project power, and to shelter her allies is something that is yet to be tested. China's recent quest for extending a sphere of influence has been limited to countries, like Guinea, Thailand or North Korea, that can be brought easily in line. So far she has shown little willingness to befriend strong allies. I certainly don't like all of Conrad's ideas, but he shows a better understanding of the local dynamics than most analysts.

UPDATE: Walter Russel Mead comments:
The move to the east has many more dangers and many fewer advantages. Anti-Kemalist (or post-Kemalist) Turks may see the Islamic world as a warm and welcoming place, but the Middle East in particular is a place of hard politics and bitter enmities. Turkey’s pro-Iranian intervention has alarmed and enraged many of the region’s wealthiest and most powerful Arab states who see Iran as a greater danger even than Israel. The Turkish rapprochement with Syria similarly infuriates Arabs who see Syria as part of a hostile ‘Shi’a Crescent’ stretching from Iran to Lebanon that seeks to undermine both the Arab nation and orthodox Islam. Turks sometimes do not fully grasp just how much the Arab world resented Ottoman imperialism; Ottoman nostalgia may be fashionable among some Turks, but it has few echoes in countries that suffered grievously under what they saw as corrupt and ineffective Ottoman rule.
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