Yesterday I blogged about the new poll released showing that Arab public opinion has been turning quickly against the U.S. and its interests following the surge that accompanied Obama’s election and his Cairo speech. In that post I referenced the CNAS report that Marc Lynch and Kristine Lord had co-authored. Today Lynch actually addresses the poll results on his own blog http://tiny.cc/9q1rn. The post is worth reading.
One of the interesting things that Lynch addresses in the poll is the increasing prominence of Turkey and its Prime Minister Erdogan, who the poll found to be the most popular individual in the Middle East. Stephen Kinzer recently published a book titled “Reset: Iran. Turkey, and U.S. Foreign Policy” which I haven’t read but have heard good things about and plan on reading in the near future. From what I’ve heard, Kinzer argues that the Turkey and Iran are inevitably going to play a larger and more predominant role in the region and the United States should accept this and act accordingly. I think there’s some wisdom to this but I’d like to make a few points.
First, I’m certainly no expert on Turkey (anyone know any good books for someone who hasn’t studied Turkey much), but from I understand about them I think they can play a positive role in the Middle East. The U.S. should certainly welcome Turkey’s presence in the region, and pass on some of the burden of maintaining an acceptable order in the region to Turkey. And, although I encourage the Obama administration to try actual diplomacy Iran, I don’t think I can say the same things for Iran. In certain cases, such as Afghanistan (SE Asia not ME) and Salafist Jihad, our interests do align with Iran. Yet the regime in the power in Iran can’t afford much reapproachment with the United States or the West in general. Their grip on power relies, at least on part, on having this Great Satan to blame for their problems. Moreover, I don’t think that can or intend to play a positive role in the region, at least from a U.S. interest. Ultimately we are going to have to accept that Iran is one of the strongest powers in the region but we don’t have to encourage it.
Ultimately, the worse scenario is a full-fledge alliance between Iran and Turkey in the region, especially if hostile to the U.S. and our interests.d This is not unthinkable, given that these are two non-Arab nations in an Arab region, and after a history of an Iran-Turkey-Israel alliance that the U.S. backed in the early Cold War years. What the U.S should hope to accomplish is having Turkey become a balancing force against Iran in the region, since we destroyed the previous Iran balancer when we toppled Saddam’s Iraq. That Turkey and its leader are popular among the Arabs is then a good thing, if used correctly. They have the oppourtnity then to moderate against Radical idelogies within the Arab Middle East, as well as balance against the Persian-Shitte growing power. Arab leaders that can’t publically ally too much with the U.S., could find Turkey an acceptable alternative.
I foresee two potential threats to the U.S. embracing this opportunity, both of which we create ourselves. First, the U.S. seems increasingly uncomfortable in buck passing any responsibility for global order and stability even when states have the same interests we do and despite our huge deficit. Want evidence of this? How about that were still deeply engaged in Europe as a “balancing force” even though these nations refuse to fight any wars and we’ve spent the past (almost) twenty years trying to create a purpose for NATO. (Side note: the answer to the question that all the FM’s of NATO get together each year to figure out, What is the strategic purpose of NATO in the new international world is there is none. The purpose of NATO-U.S. on the other hand, is to maintain order in Europe which shouldn’t be too difficult.)
The second threat is obviously that Turkey doesn’t bend over and kiss Israel’s ass. As a Jewish American I strongly believe in Israel (though, as with my own government, I don’t ALWAYS agree with it), but that doesn’t change the fact that Turkey doesn’t pose much of a threat to Israel, and the small disputes they get into which don’t actually matter only strengthens Turkey’s appeal in the Arab Middle East; which ultimately works in both the United States’ and Israeli’s favor, as described above.