By Barry Rubin
Suppose that during the Cold War years, the American president’s favorite leader and guide to Latin America was Fidel Castro. That would worry you, right? But such a notion is ridiculous, isn’t it?
Not today it isn’t. President Barack Obama can’t stand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a recent statement to French President Nicholas Sarkozy, caught by a microphone both men thought was off, Obama said: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!”
There is, however, a man who Obama loves to deal with, if not every day at least as often as possible: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
As Turkish expert Soner Cagaptay put it, “The United States and Turkey are on a honeymoon, with President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan having formed what is probably the best relationship between a U.S. president and a Turkish prime minister in decades…. Obama and Erdogan seem to have really hit it off…. The two leaders speak often… and frequently agree on policy.”
I would also stress that Erdogan is Obama’s tutor on Middle East affairs:
–When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Obama Administration officials claim that Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are really moderate and will be further moderated by being in power, the only example provided was that Erdogan’s regime is moderate.
–The U.S. government announced last September 11 its self-described main initiative for the tenth anniversary of the attacks on America. It was an international counterterrorist organization with Turkey as the sole co-chair. Israel was not invited to join.
–When the U.S. government wanted to put together anti-Israel tirades, which Turkey’s opposition leader has called going to the verge of war with Israel, has brought no U.S. criticism, pressure, or lessening of the Obama-Erdogan love affair.
–Despite the Turkish government’s opposition to additional sanctions on Iran last year and Erdogan’s effort to sabotage U.S. efforts by cutting a separate deal with Tehran, Obama was not perturbed.
–Erdogan’s close and supportive relationship with Hizballah and Hamas have not brought any U.S. negative reaction.
–Erdogan has publicly stated that he believes Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that Iranian President Ahmadinejad was his friend. Lately they haven’t been getting along so well. Why, Turkish moderation? No, Erdogan wants a Sunni Islamist regime in Syria; Ahmadinejad wants the current Damascus government which is his ally.
–The regime’s foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu wrote a book in Turkish saying that his plan was to move from alliance with the West to one with the Islamist world in order to fight the West. The book has never been translated and the regime has bought up copies. No Western news media has written about it. Recently, he wrote a book in English saying the regime wanted to be friends with everyone and loved the West. This has been widely reviewed and favorably discussed.
–Far from being a moderate Muslim or even a moderate Islamist, Erdogan has been carrying out the fundamental transformation of Turkey into an Islamist dictatorship.
–Under the guidance of Erdogan’s regime, much of the Turkish media has been generating anti-Americanism. Polls show a huge rise in anti-American public opinion which Erdogan has augmented, not combatted.
–Among Erdogan’s past statements was his famous remark that democracy is like a streetcar and you just must decide where to get off. The Turkish model is inspiring Islamists elsewhere not toward moderation but merely toward patience in implementing their programs. They participate in elections not because they believe in democracy but because they know they will win the elections and then can consolidate power and irreversibly transform their societies along the lines they wish.
–U.S. embassy reporting from Ankara, as we can see from Wikileaks, showed the radical Islamism of Erdogan’s regime on many occasions. Obama simply ignored it.
He has certainly not arrived at that destination but he is well on the way. The independent power of every Turkish institution has been broken. Thousands of dissidents have been arrested and thrown into jail for years on flimsy charges. Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. The list of oppression, repression, and Islamization goes on and on.
In other words, Erdogan tells Obama that there’s nothing to fear from Islamists in places like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and elsewhere. They are really moderates or soon will be. Of course, Erdogan doesn’t care a Smyrna fig for U.S. interests or democracy or moderation. He only wants to promote Islamism in general and Turkish leadership of the Middle East in particular.
But, they say, Erdogan is now opposed to Iran. Sure, though their economic relations continue to be very strong, but only about which country would be the Islamist power in the region. If it serves his purpose, Erdogan will guide Obama into siding with the Sunni Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood and himself) against the Shia Islamist bloc (Iran and the Syrian regime).
If so, we will soon be told that the Sunni Islamists are really moderate. Just as backing them is the “best” way to combat al-Qaida, it will also be portrayed as the “best” way to defeat Iran.
Erdogan is a con-man in this regard; Obama is his sucker we are their victims. As a result, nations will be enslaved (or further enslaved); the prospects for real democracy will recede, Israel will face tremendous dangers, and U.S. interests will suffer greatly.
Let us, then, summarize the situation:
The president of the United States adores a radical, anti-American Islamist who supports radical terrorist groups, seeks to overthrow U.S. allies and replace them with other radical Islamist governments, and wants (no, he doesn’t say it publicly, but what do you think?) Israel wiped off the map.
This is a formula for disaster. And it is precisely what we are seeing every day.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com