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Postre: Religion, Secularism and Geopolitics: Turkey (Jon Kofas, Greece) (John Eipper, USA, 06/15/10 3:48 pm)
On 10 June, Gene Franklin asked about the tension between religion and secularism in Turkey. Jon Kofas responds: Taking the long view on Anatolia's intermediary role between East and West, it is indeed true that there has been much written on the issue. The Erdogan regime is interested in having Turkey play an essential diplomatic role between West (NATO, especially US) and Middle East. It is no secret that Turkey wants to recapture some of its Ottoman glory through diplomacy; it wants a greater geopolitical role that would give it leverage to have a voice in determining the regional balance of power. This makes sense because there is no longer a Communist bloc, the US failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both EU and US appear helpless in bringing about a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it seems that such a course would solidify Erdogan's domestic political base threatened by secularists inside the military as well as outside. Until the archives of a number of countries become available to the public, we will not know why Turkey and Israel chose to clash in such a dramatic fashion. From published reports so far we have a nebulous picture. Some dynamics behind the clash include: 1. Turkey's desire to bring out into the open US foreign policy on whether Ankara will play the catalytic role that the Obama administration desired when it took office; a time when Bush's foreign policy appeared it was not achieving anything desirable for broader US interests. 2. Challenging Israel is a great way to unify reluctant generals behind the regime and to recapture public support at home and in the Muslim world where there are no great leaders speaking out. 3. Turkey's obvious ties with Iran and Hamas are justified if we consider the intermediary role Erdogan wants to play in the Middle East and the absence of an alternative from the Arab side. 4. Turkey's increasing economic ties with its neighbors and especially Russia, that has signed a number of agreements on energy. Turkey has a sense that it needs to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy, and the place to do it starts with neighbors. 5. Turkey has to play the geopolitical card more so today than ever because it sees that EU membership will be delayed amid a protracted economic recession and European reluctance for political, financial, and cultural/religious reasons to allow Turkish membership into the Eurozone. 6. Given Turkey's vote at the UN Security Council not to continue with the US-led ''sanctions diplomacy," it now seems likely that Israel launched the attack with US approval. Given what the US said officially and also what it did in the aftermath, I am guessing that Washington gave the green light and may have informed other governments (NATO) regarding IDF operations. 7. The US most likely has reconsidered its position about using Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally, as an intermediary in the Middle East as originally planned, probably because not just Israel, but also some Arab states do not want Ankara to have such a preeminent role. 8. Israel launched the attack and in a calculating manner to create a diplomatic crisis, partly to deflect attention from having its nuclear program undergo the kind of scrutiny others are enduring at a time that US and EU hypocritically demand Iran stop dead in its tracks with nuclear research. 9. Israel knew ahead of time that no European country would do anything detrimental to alter its military, economic, or diplomatic ties with Israel just to support Turkey. Naturally, the rhetoric on the part of most regarding the "poor Palestinians" seemed hypocritical against the reality that this is an ongoing problem from which most countries have washed their hands. In fact, some EU countries also did not want the US to use Turkey as the new regional power at a time that a power vacuum exists. EU benefits from a "tamed" Turkey, not one playing intermediary between Muslims and US. 10. Israel went out of its way to punish Turkey because it wanted to send the message that the Erdogan regime had drifted from the historic role of bilateral relations and it was becoming too close to Iran and Hamas. Erdogan received the message and threatened to board a ship and head for Gaza, prompting Obama to speak with him privately about undertaking such a highly provocative venture. Erdogan now has no illusions about the limitations of his ambitious foreign policy; he knows that Turkish foreign policy is not determined by Turkey's national interests as the regime defines it, but by the US which sets the limits and with Israel helping behind the scenes to make certain a regional power gap is not filled by any country that Tel Aviv does not approve. The question of course is where do the US and Israel go from here? There is an obvious regional power gap in the region, currently filled only by Iran, and there is a need to solve chronic conflict between Israel and Palestinians as the entire world demands. The Clinton-Obama decision to re-think their original strategy about Turkey's role takes us back to the Bush era, when the only prospect was perpetual conflict that some right wingers in the US and of course in Israel want. The dead-end Bush Middle East foreign policy is back!