If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.
Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.
To court Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, Obama effectively throws Great Britain under the bus and suggests merit in her claims to the Falkland Islands. To support the “reset” with Russia, the Obama administration basically allowed Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to dictate terms for the START Treaty; and to better relations with Iran, Obama has ceded Iran not only the right to enrich uranium despite hard-fought UN Security Council resolutions declaring the opposite, but with a nod and a wink decided to allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability, basically putting Iran within a week of building a bomb whenever its leaders choose to take that step. That Iranian powers-that-be make clear they will never allow rapprochement with Washington is simply a fact Obama chooses to ignore.
Obama’s embrace of Turkey has been little better: To win Erdoğan’s friendship, Obama not only turned a blind eye to the Turkish populists’ efforts to curtail civil rights and liberties but also his embrace of terrorism and religious incitement. While Obama can point to Turkey’s participation in Afghanistan, the Turks have hardly been onboard with American goals there. To win Erdoğan’s embrace, Obama has had to turn a blind eye toward the prime minister’s loathing of Israel, a deep-rooted hatred which now interferes with U.S. and NATO core interests. With an intelligence chief who openly sympathizes with Iran, and a military which seeks to reverse engineer American technology, military cooperation with Turkey comes at a high price. The only silver lining radar system is a different story, but even that cooperation is less than meets the eye.
The 2012 presidential election will be far more about the economy than foreign policy. Governor Mitt Romney is staking a clear position vis-à-vis both Iran and Israel, but when it comes to countries like Turkey, it might be time for him to explain whether maintaining the ties between Washington and Ankara are worth the cost.