Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Turkey's foreign policy

The latest go around between Turkey and Israel has Turkey calling for an apology from Israel for the May 31 raid on the Turkish-flagged vessel, pay compensation, agree to a U.N. inquiry into the incident and lift the blockade of 1.6 million Palestinians living in Gaza Strip. In return for all of this Turkey offers not to “cut ties”.

The amount of compensation is unclear, the make-up of a U.N. inquiry is unclear, the nature of the ties to be cut is unclear and the wholesale lifting of the blockade will ensure an “armed to the teeth” Gazan militia.

In an earlier time, Turkey’s actions in all of this would likely constitute an act of war.

Fortunately, Turkey is dealing with a nuclear-armed state that shows remarkable constraint in the face of provocations. The U.S. asked Israel to stay out of the Gulf War and despite the rocket bombardment of Israel by Saddam Hussein, it complied with the request. One wonders if the charlatan in the White House who appears determined to set Israel adrift to appease the Muslim world would have the same success with Israel in a similar circumstance.

Anyway, it ought to be Turkey apologizing to Israel and having to explain why it permitted a ship load of Islamic radicals, bent on martyrdom to leave port for the sole purpose of provoking a military response from Israel. The only conclusion one can come to is that Turkey has long planned its break from Israel and the flotilla raid is the fig leaf it needed for legitimacy.

Turkey’s foreign policy should not be surprising to any student of the history of that country. It is best summarized by this: “Who is winning, go with them.”

At the outbreak of the First World War, Turkey wanted to sit on the sidelines in glorious neutrality until it figured out who was going to win and then it would join that side in the hope of sharing in the spoils. However, German diplomacy, in the face of British perfidy, indifference and arrogance caused the Turks to join the German and Austro-Hungarian Axis.

Had Turkey stayed out of the conflict there never would have been a disastrous Gallipoli campaign, Churchill would not have had to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty, Lawrence of Arabia would have been an obscure Arabist, Saudi Arabia would never have been born, and Britain and France may never have ended up with the League of Nations mandate over Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

What a difference all of that might have made for the Near and Middle East.

Turkey learned from its experience and managed to stay out of the Second World War, despite pressure from Germany, until the closing months when it joined the Allied side.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey embarked on a modernization program, reforming its governmental institutions and its cultural norms to make it more “Europeanized”. It saw modern, industrial Europe and the United States as the models of the winning side and it endeavoured to be one with them.

Now Turkey has slid away from that Western embrace and is courting the Islamic world it once dominated. Having taken the measure of the results of the 40 years of Arab-Euro dialogue on the fate of Europe and Israel, having seen the United States squander its political and economic capital on mostly fruitless wars in Islamic countries, having taken the measure of Muslim-leaning Barack Hussein Obama, Turkey has decided that the winning side is an Islamic world and it wants to join it, for the spoils.

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