Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Calling Out Efraim Inbar's Bullshit

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a Shillman/Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum recently published an article titled "Turkey is no American Ally", which was originally titled, "America's Unacknowledged Problem." and I take issue with a number of statements Mr Inbar made. I will quote directly from the article itself:
But Erdogan-led Turkey does not behave as an ally or a friend of the US. This is not a new development.
If he means that Turkey hasn't always marched in lock-step with American wishes, he may be correct here. However, Turkey is a sovereign country, with its own interests, concerns and goals. The Turkish government is obligated to look after Turkish interests first. Its allies' concerns must come secondary.

For example, Turkey shares a common border with Iran and it's in Turkey's best interest to keep relations as friendly as possible, considering how much trade they do with each other. Iran is one of Turkey's largest trading partners and Turkey receives a considerable percentage of their natural gas from them. Yet, the USA expected Turkey to simply jump on-board  with a new round of sanctions against Iran and when Turkey hesitated, the USA held up military aid that Turkey needed in their fight against the PKK terrorists.

Okay, the US is concerned about Iran's nuclear program. But, Iran hasn't made any attempt to strike either the US or Israel militarily and such attempts would be noticed long before they came to fruition, assuming that they'd even be crazy enough to try. But, the PKK insurgency was a daily problem in Turkey which has cost thousands of lives. So, Turkey needed those weapons a lot more than the US needed to further turn the screws on Iran.

Besides, I've never heard of Turkey attacking US Navy ships or conducting espionage operations against the United States, both of which Israel has done.
Erdogan and his Islamist party, the AKP, have ruled Turkey since 2002. Erdogan's Turkey has gradually distanced itself from the West, adopting domestic and foreign policies fueled by Ottoman and Islamist impulses.
I think what is actually happening here is that Turkey has reevaluated its political position in its part of the world. The USA maintains close political and economic ties with its neighbors, Canada and Mexico. But, Turkey's only friends in its own region had long been primarily Azerbaijan and Israel. That's two countries out of all the countries in their neighborhood. Not much, when you think about it. Having a powerful military, a relatively stable government and a surging economy all at the same time, it was not in Turkey's best interest to have little, if any, influence with its neighbors, especially considering much of that part of the world was once under the Ottoman Empire's domain and therefore has historical significance to the Turkish people. We also cannot ignore the simple fact that 98% of the Turkish population is Muslim and the Turkish people have a strong affinity for their coreligionists, such as in Lebanon and the Palestinians.

For too long, Turkey has been obediently silent on Middle East issues, deferring to US and Israeli interests, while alienating and antagonizing its Iranian and Arab neighbors. That isn't much of a trade-off.
Turkey has been on the road to an authoritarian regime for several years. Infringements on human rights have gradually increased. In truth, Turkey has never had a political system with checks and balances able to constrain attempts to consolidate power around one politician. In recent years, Erdogan has weakened further the few constitutional constraints against the 'Putinization' of the Turkish political system.
I've got news for you: Turkey hasn't exactly been a bastion of democracy, even before the AKP took power.
The military, once active in politics as the defender of the Kemalist secular tradition, has been successfully sidelined.
Like the coup the military carried out against the democratically-elected government of  Necmettin Erbakan? While Turkey's economy certainly improved after the coup, the coup itself resulted in thousands of people being arrested, tortured and killed. The coup leaders themselves were eventually arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. In fact, there was allegedly another planned coup in the works when the AKP won elections in 2003 and the Turkish government is currently cracking down on yet another military-linked organization's plans to overthrow the government.

I don't know how the Israeli people might feel if their own military decided on its own that they didn't agree with the election results one year and decided to step in and overthrow the government. But, I suspect that they wouldn't be very comfortable with their military doing something like that.

Essentially, Mister Inbar is saying that the Turkish military knows better than the Turkish people how to run a government.

Sorry, Efraim. Democracy is messy.
It pretends to cooperate with the US policy in the attempt to contain radical Islam, but actually Turkey supports ISIS. 
This is simply repeating claims made in Newsweek that Turkey gives actual military support to ISIS, but the reporters were unable to independently verify the claims made by their source. That did not stop other publications from taking the allegations as Gospel, as if an accusation equals proof. However, documented encounters between ISIS and Turkish forces have shown that the Turks have not hesitated to attack ISIS.

Prior to the Syria Civil War, relations between Syria and Turkey were actually warming-up, with Turkey offering to serve as mediator in 2009 for negotiations between Syria and Israel. While Syria was open to this, Israel flatly rejected the offer.
Turkey is also openly supporting another radical Islamist organization – Hamas. 
So does Qatar. Despite this, Israel has established trade relations with Qatar and the Qataris even assisted with the rescue of Jews fleeing Yemen.

Let's not forget that Hamas won elections in Gaza. So, they are the democratically elected government of the people living there. Israel might not like it, but there it is. If Turkey is trying to build bridges wit the Palestinian people, that means all of them, whether on the West Bank or in Gaza. While Hamas holds sway over Gaza, the Palestine National Authority does so in the West Bank and the Turks need to maintain ties with both parties to be effective diplomatically, especially since Hamas and the PNA are often opposing each other.
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has a rabid anti-American position.
You can find Hamas' charter at this link. There is no mention of the United States anywhere in it. Being anti-Israel does not make Hamas anti-American by default. Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas at the time, strongly condemned the 9/11 attacks.
In 2003, Ankara denied the request from Washington to open its territory so that the US military could attack Saddam Hussein's forces from two separate fronts.
You mean for the war President George W Bush justified by saying, among other things, that Saddam was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, which turned-out to be completely untrue? The war where Al-Qaida grew by leaps and bounds? The war which turned the entire country of Iraq into a war zone? That war?

Now, I wonder why Turkey didn't just want to leap right in and help us with that fiasco?

Seriously, though. Turkey was already in the middle of its own quagmire, fighting the PKK on its own soil. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a war in Iraq would turn into the same thing. If Turkey was going to start being a major diplomatic player in the Arab World again, it couldn't be seen as America's obedient lapdog, willing to let its master do as it wished, whenever it wished. So, rather than play the enabler for an obviously foolish endeavor, Turkey passed. In hindsight, it was a good plan.
AKP-ruled Ankara also defied American preferences on Syria, a country allied with radical Iran and on the American list of states supporting terrorism. In January 2004, Bashar Assad became the first Syrian president ever to visit Turkey. In April 2009, the two states conducted their first ever joint military exercise. No other NATO member had such close relations with the authoritarian regime in Damascus, which has been closely allied with Iran for several decades.
I think Mister Inbar needs to buy a recent map of the region. If he looked closely at Turkey, he'd notice that Syria and Turkey share a common border. In fact, the Syrian border is the longest foreign border Turkey has. It would seem to be a good idea to, at least, try to get along with your next door neighbor. Plus, since Syria is close friends with Iran and Iran also shares a border with Turkey, it makes even more sense. This isn't complicated stuff here, Efraim.
Turkey further deviated from the Western consensus in 2008 by hosting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir twice. Bashir, who was charged with war crimes and genocide in Darfur, presided over an Islamist regime.
He was invited to Turkey in 2009 to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. As the sitting head of state of a Muslim majority country, he was entitled to attend. He later visited Denmark to attend conferences on climate change and Mr Inbar doesn't seem to have a problem with that.
Turkey even welcomed the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for a visit in August 2008. No Western country has issued such an invitation to the Iranian leader. Additionally, Erdogan congratulated Ahmadinejad immediately after his re-election in June 2009. When it comes to Iran's nuclear threat, Ankara, unlike its NATO allies, has refused to adopt the U.S. stance on harsher sanctions, fearing in part the economic consequences of such steps. In June 2010, Turkey voted at the UN Security Council against a US-sponsored resolution meant to impose a new round of sanctions on Iran.
Well, excuse Turkey for trying to stay on good terms with a neighboring country who happens to also one of its largest trading partner and the source of about 1/3 of its natural gas. Does Professor Inbar want Turkey to remain on outright hostile terms with countries with whom it shares a common border? I seem to remember Israel working very hard to establish peaceful relations with Jordan and Egypt. So, it's good enough for the Israelis, but not the Turks? Really?
Turkey also has consistently defied advice from Washington to tone down its anti-Israel statements and mend relations with an important American ally. All American efforts in this direction have failed.
Okay, I'll give you this one. But, the more important question is how important is Turkey's relationship with Israel, as opposed to the importance of Turkey's relations with the rest of the countries in the region, many of whom still don't like Israel very much. As I said, Turkey had offered to mediate negotiations between Israel and Syria, but Israel's rejection of the Turks' offer was undoubtedly quite an insult to the Turks who had made the offer in good faith and in the interests of peace. It looks like Turkey offered a helpful hand and Israel slapped it away.

Besides, Israel seems hellbent on starting a war with Iran, with Iran fighting Israel directly or fighting a US-led coalition. Either way, a war involving Iran would have even more disastrous effects than the Iraq War did. At the very least, you'd see Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and perhaps Pakistan dragged into it, with hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the borders, many of whom will end-up in Turkey. Who will feed and shelter these people? Israel? Doubtful. The United States? Given America's bungling of the disaster relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, I doubt the USA could suddenly be able to competently handle a refugee crisis on the other side of the world. Israel can keep pushing for a war they want when they know they'll get off scot-free (aside from the occasional missile hit or bombing) but they wouldn't get stuck with the bill for the cost of the war they seem to want so much.

Of more concern to me is how the anti-Jewish rhetoric is spreading through Turkey, causing some Turkish Jews to emigrate to Israel or other countries. Jews have long been loyal, productive and contributory citizens of Turkey and it will be a sad day for both Jews and Turks if the Jewish community in Turkey fades into history as those of Libya and Egypt have and those of Lebanon are well on the way to the same fate.
There is also a clear divergence between the US and Turkey on important global issues such as Russia and China. For example, the US. wanted to send ships into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Straits during the Georgia war in August 2008. Turkey flatly denied several such requests on the pretext that the military vessels were too large. Moreover, Turkey proposed the creation of a regional security framework involving Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, that left out a NATO role. More blatantly, Turkey has failed to participate in the Western economic sanctions imposed on Russia during the recent Ukraine crisis.
Yes, it certainly seems to be in Turkey's interests to piss-off the Russians, another major trading partner.(sarcasm) When the Republic of Turkey was founded, one of the first countries they signed a peace treaty with was the Soviet Union. Why? Because it was a big, powerful country that was pretty close-by. Well, the Soviets are gone, but the Russians are still around and Russia is still a big, powerful country that is still very close-by.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline of the Ottoman Empire was its loss in the Russo-Ottoman Wars, a lesson not lost to modern Turks. Yes, the USA is a powerful ally, but it's very far away. While a military conflict between Turkey and Russia is unlikely, a trade war is very possible. Since Armenia is a Russian ally, it behooves Russia to remain on friendly terms with the Turks. Plus, Azerbaijan is an ally of Turkey and it's a good idea to for Russia and Turkey to be friendly with each other so that they can work together in the future to resolve the Armenia-Azeri conflict, which in turn may finally lead to open diplomatic ties between the Armenians and the Turks, which have been stalemated for years.

Think long-term.
Dissonance exists also with regards to China. While the US fears the rise of China, Turkey sees this country as a potential economic partner and not as a problem. 
 China is a major trading partner with Turkey, right now! Most recent figures show that China is #15 on imported goods from Turkey and #2 (slightly behind Germany) on goods exported to them. By comparison, the USA is #9 on products from Turkey and #5 imports to Turkey.

Here's the rundown:

Exports from Turkey
1) Germany (9.2%)
2) Iraq (6.7%)
3) Iran (6.1%)
4) United Kingdom (5.4%)
5) United Arab Emirates (5.0%)
6) France (4.4%)
7) Russia (4.2%)
8) Italy (4.2%)
9) United States (3.8%)
10) Spain (2.5%)
11) Egypt (2.4%)
12) Belgium-Luxembourg (2.3%)
13) Saudi Arabia (2.2%)
14) Netherlands (1.9%)
15) China (1.9%)
16) Switzerland (1.6%)
17) Romania (1.5%)
18) Azerbaijan (1.4%)
19) Free Zones (1.4%)
20) Israel (1.3%)

Imports to Turkey:
1) Germany (11%)
2) China (9.9%)
3) Russia (7.3%)
4) Italy (6.6%)
5) United States (6.4%)
6) France (4.2%)
7) Spain (3.1%)
8) South Korea (2.7%)
9) India (2.7%)
10) United Kingdom (2.7%)
11) Switzerland (2.1%)
12) Belgium-Luxembourg (2.0%)
13) Netherlands (1.9%)
14) Ukraine (1.9%)
15) United Arab Emirates (1.8%)
16) Greece (1.7%)
17) Japan (1.7%)
18) Kazakhstan (1.6%)
19) Romania (1.6%)
20) Algeria  (1.6%)

By the way, if the USA is nervous about the rise of China, why does it do so much trade with them? On that vein, maybe Professor Inbar should ask his government why Israel does so much trade with China, too?
It held military exercises with China. Ankara even considered purchasing anti-aircraft systems from Beijing, an incredibly brazen position for a NATO member!
Israel has also held military exercises with China and even sells them weapons! They even tried to hide this fact from the United States. What utter hypocrisy!

Granted, Israel is not a member of NATO, but they are a major non-NATO ally of the United States and a major-league recipient of military aid from the USA.
It is not clear why Washington puts up with such Turkish behavior. The Obama administration seems to be unable to call a spade a spade. It refuses to acknowledge that Turkey is a Trojan horse in NATO, and that Ankara undermines American interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.
What kind of question is that? Why does the USA "put up with" Turkey's "behavior", like they're some sort of bratty child, instead of a sovereign nation with a culture much older than our own? Are you, a university professor, so wrapped-up in your little world view that you'd expect Turkey to just make enemies with everyone that Israel is enemies with, regardless of the Real World consequences?

In case anyone missed the irony: calling Turkey a Trojan horse? Seriously, Efraim? You know that the troops inside the Trojan horse were Greeks, right?

Okay, I think maybe the professor was intending to refer to the Turks as a Fifth Column in NATO. Some sort of hidden threat to come spilling out when we least expect it, I guess. He doesn't say what's supposedly hidden inside the Turkish Horse.

So, Professor Inbar's problems with Turkey is that it hasn't always been blood enemies with countries Israel doesn't like (e.g. Syria and Iran) and that it didn't jump on the bandwagon for the Iraq War to topple a dictator Israel didn't like (i.e. Saddam Hussein), plus, they're trying to make friends with China and Russia, which I guess Professor Inbar sees as a bad thing.

Now, I totally understand that Professor Inbar is an Israeli and is a self-declared Zionist, so for him Israel is all that matters. He wants Israel to be safe and he thinks that everyone in the world should want the same thing. Fine. I get it.

But, Professor Inbar seems to forget that not every country in the world is going to put Israel's wants and needs above their own. Most won't and Turkey is one of those countries that will not. They've got their own problems, their own goals and as long as Israel doesn't get in the way, I'm certain that things will work out.

I'm guessing that Professor Inbar's biggest problem with Turkey is their soft-handed approach with Iran. Sure, Israel - or, at least, Professor Inbar - might enjoy the sight of Tehran being bombed out of existence, but I think that Turkey is onto something here. You know, it's a lot easier to talk to people when you're not trying to starve them out or threatening them with nuclear annihilation.

I wonder how Professor Inbar felt about Israel's monetary enticement they offered to the Jews of Iran to emigrate and also how he reacted when the Iranian Jews told the Israelis that they were insulted at the attempted bribe.

Did it hurt much to be rejected like that? Kind of like getting stood-up at your senior prom, wasn't it?

Turkey's approach to international diplomacy - trying to make friends with as many other countries as you can - is certainly better than trying to make everyone afraid of you. On the domestic side, the AKP is even building bridges with Turkey's Christian minorities. I'd be happier if they'd do the same with their Jewish citizens, but things take time.

I hope that I've stated my objections to Professor Efraim Inbar's article well enough.


Duane Browning
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