The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl is a normally sober observer of foreign affairs so it’s a bit disappointing to see him writing today in defense of Turkey’s Islamic government. Diehl’s starting point was to debunk Rick Perry’s comment in last week’s debate in South Carolina in which the Texas governor claimed Turkey was run by “Islamic terrorists” and questioned its continuing presence in NATO. Of course, he’s right that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not quite the equivalent of Hamas or Hezbollah, but as Michael Rubin noted last week, it has became a major sponsor and enabler of terrorism. While Diehl makes the point that Turkey has been somewhat helpful to the U.S. on Libya and Syria, on the issues of Middle East peace and the threat from the Iranian nukes, it has been a disaster.
Which is why I think the most distressing aspect of Diehl’s defense of Turkey as a reliable American ally is the fact that he says its leader has become one of the few foreign leaders with whom Barack Obama has a strong relationship. Obama has, according to the Post, spent more time speaking on the phone with Erdogan than any other ally. Indeed, in a cover story interview with Time Magazine, Obama told a fawning Fareed Zakaria that Erdoğan was someone with whom he had become friends and forged “bonds of trust.” It speaks volumes about the deplorable state of American foreign policy that Erdogan is someone with whom Obama is most comfortable.
Diehl’s main point is that Islamists are the “new normal” in the Arab and Islamic worlds. That may be true, but his optimism that groups like the Islamic parties that now control Egypt’s new parliament will turn out to be more like Turkey than Hamas or Iran seems not only naive but also underestimates the extent to which Erdogan has opposed American interests and values.
Under the tutelage of Obama’s buddy, Turkish democracy is in a free fall with journalists and opponents of the ruling party being jailed. Abroad, Turkey has not only abandoned its long standing alliance with fellow American friend Israel but has become the leading supporter of the Hamas terrorist group on the international stage. Just as bad is Erdoğan’s refusal to support the West on isolating Iran, providing Tehran with a reliable outlet for trade just at the time when the Europeans are out ahead of the U.S. on toughening sanctions.
Any president who considered the alliance with Israel or the need to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons as among our nation’s top foreign policy priorities would regard Erdoğan as being, at best, a thorn in America’s side and, at worst, a genuine threat to our interests as well as our democratic values. But not Barack Obama.
Obama has been open about his contempt and dislike for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli is a prickly customer, and it may be that Erdoğan is easier to like on a personal basis. But anyone wondering why relations with the Jewish state have become so tenuous in the last three years need only understand this is a White House where an Islamic quasi-authoritarian who backs Hamas is the president’s pal and the prime minister of Israel is his bête noire.
Turkey may not be (as Rick Perry stated), run by a terrorist, but it is a nation that has been transformed under Erdoğan from a faithful ally to a source of genuine concern on both the home and foreign fronts. If that is Barack Obama’s idea of a true friend, then what does that say about his vision of America or the world?