Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 10, 2014

Turkey’s Pariah President

Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

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Turks head to the polls today and all indications are that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will win the presidency, most likely in the first round. The campaign has been anything but even: Erdoğan refused to resign from the premiership after declaring his candidacy for the presidency, effectively allowing him to use the resources of the state to campaign. State television began the campaign by giving Erdoğan a more than 400-to-one advantage in airtime over his competitors and ended by giving the prime minister an only 25-to-one advantage in coverage over his opponents.

But with votes counted, Erdoğan will claim a popular mandate, no matter how shady his path to the presidency. How ironic it is, then, that Turkey has effective elected a pariah to be president. Erdoğan began his tenure as prime minister committed to neo-Ottomanism, the idea that Turkey should lead a community of nations that once had the commonality of being in the Ottoman Empire. And his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, promised a policy that would lead to good relations with all Turkey’s neighbors.

Consider the reality: Turkey seeks to be a big player in the Middle East, but as Turks wryly noted during a visit last month, Erdoğan is now unwelcome in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, something no previous Turkish statesman had ever achieved. So much for the role of respected mediator. Nor is Erdoğan anymore welcome in the White House; even the Turkish government acknowledges that Erdoğan and President Obama no longer talk directly on the telephone, quite a status change for the man Obama once described as one of his most trusted foreign friends.

True, Erdoğan is not completely isolated. He might still receive a hero’s welcome from Hamas’s leadership, and in Iran. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin will embrace his Turkish counterpart not only as a friend but also as a business partner. And Qatar, of course, will always lay out the red carpet for any supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Erdoğan has been one of its key investments.

Erdoğan is not completely isolated, but the fact that his most trusted friends and allies are Hamas, Iran, and Russia confirm the facts: Turks have elected as their president not a statesman, diplomat, or respected representative but rather a pariah, one who has contributed not to peace and stability, but rather to war, unrest, and insecurity throughout the region. He has become not a symbol of progressive Turkey, but rather one of backwardness, misogyny, corruption, and dictatorship.

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Obama Doesn’t Worry About Israel’s Survival. That’s Why We Should.

In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

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In an interview with the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman, President Obama once again sounded the themes that have characterized his second term foreign policy: befuddlement and helplessness. But amidst the alibis for failure, the president also said something significant: He’s not worried about Israel’s survival but is concerned about its values. That’s exactly why the rest of us should be more worried about its security.

Here’s the quote:

I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.

“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. … I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. … You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”

It’s nice that the president admires Israel’s achievements. But his complacence about its military achievements combined with his patronizing concern about its democratic and civic traditions is the sort of left-handed compliment that tells us more about his animosity for the Jewish state’s government than his fidelity to the alliance between the two allies. You don’t have to read too closely between the lines to understand that the subtext of these comments—Hamas’s genocidal intentions and Iran’s nuclear ambitions—make Obama’s blasé confidence about Israel’s ability to defend itself deeply worrisome.

The president is, of course, right to note that Israel has a formidable military. In particular, Israel’s dedication to technological advances such as the Iron Dome missile defense system have both saved many lives in the last month’s fighting with Hamas and provided a substantial long-range benefit to its American security partner. But his complacency about its security situation is hardly reassuring.

Israel remains under siege by hostile neighbors in the form of terrorist states on both its northern (Hezbollah) and southern borders. Both remain committed not just to Israel’s destruction but also the genocide of its Jewish population. While Israel is in no current danger of military defeat, the spectacle of Hamas forcing the majority of Israelis in and out of bomb shelters for a month encouraged the Islamists and their supporters to believe their cause is not yet lost. The fact that their efforts are being cheered on by a worldwide surge in anti-Semitism fueled by hatred of Israel also ought to leave any true friend of Israel worried.

Even more to the point, the principal sponsor of those terror groups—Iran—is working hard to gain nuclear capability, a (to use Obama’s own phrase) “game changing” factor that could destabilize the entire Middle East, threaten the security of the U.S. as well as endanger Israel’s existence. But despite paying rhetorical lip service to the effort to stop Iran, Obama has spent the last years hell-bent on pursuing détente with Tehran. The weak interim nuclear deal signed by the U.S. last fall undermined the sanctions that had cornered the Iranians and discarded virtually all of the West’s leverage. If the Iranians are currently playing hard to get in the current round of negotiations (now in the equivalent of soccer’s injury time as the deadline promised by Obama for talks has been extended), it is because they know the president’s zeal for a deal (and an excuse to abandon his campaign promises to stop Iran) outweighs his common sense or his resolve.

The bulk of Friedman’s interview with Obama concentrated on the disaster in Iraq and related troubles. But here, as with many domestic problems and scandals, the president’s priority is to absolve himself and his policies. The world is, he seems to be constantly telling us, a complex and confusing place where all of our possible choices are bad. There’s some truth to that, especially in places like Syria and Iraq. But what comes across most in his account of America’s declining affairs is that this is a president who is overwhelmed by events and has little understanding of them. The best he can do is to spew clichés about his bad options and to blame others.

Obama’s chief whipping boy in the Middle East is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the world leader with whom he has quarreled the most in his years in office. Despite the events of the last month that have proved again that any territory Israel hands to the Palestinians will become a terror base, Obama continues to obsess about the need for Netanyahu to make territorial concessions that will create the possibility of, as the Israeli says, 20 Gazas in the West Bank. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject such mad advice but Obama dismisses their common sense as merely being a case of a lack of vision. Despite his talk about supporting Israeli democracy he has been doing everything possible to thwart the will of Israel’s voters by undermining Netanyahu. Israelis want peace but understand that subjecting themselves to terror governments won’t bring the conflict to a close.

Obama also believes that the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t Hamas. This conveniently ignores the fact that it is Hamas that plunged the region into war and whose hold on power there is being guaranteed by American pressure on Israel to restrain its counter-attacks on Islamist rocket fire and terror tunnels. The problem is, Obama says, that Netanyahu is “too strong” and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is “too weak.” That explains Obama’s constant attacks on Israel and his praise for the feckless—and powerless—Abbas. If he were serious about supporting democracy, he’d be wary of the autocratic Abbas and his corrupt PA gang and understand that asking Israel to further empower a Palestinian leadership that won’t make peace is not the act of a friend.

Even if we take the president’s assurances of his friendship for Israel at face value, this interview confirms what has been obvious since January 2009. This is a president who believes Israel’s security is not his priority or even a particular concern. Rather, he wants to save Israel from itself and acts as if it has not already made several offers of peace that have been consistently turned down by the Palestinians. Though Obama is right that Israelis won’t allow their country to be destroyed, his apathy about the deadly threats it faces from Iran and its terrorist proxies, cheered by a chorus of anti-Semitic haters, does nothing to inspire confidence in his leadership. The world has gotten less safe on his watch. The Israeli objects of his pressure tactics do well to ignore his advice. Friedman’s interview gives those who do care about the Jewish state’s future even more reasons to worry.

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Israel’s Friend in Need

On July 21-22, Christians United for Israel (CUFI–the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million members and 10 times more Facebook “likes” (1,229,000) than AIPAC (79,000) and J Street (24,000) combined–held its ninth Washington Summit since its formation in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee.

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On July 21-22, Christians United for Israel (CUFI–the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million members and 10 times more Facebook “likes” (1,229,000) than AIPAC (79,000) and J Street (24,000) combined–held its ninth Washington Summit since its formation in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee.

Nearly 5,000 delegates, from all 50 states, heard an array of top-tier speakers (including a stirring address from Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and panels with Elliott Abrams, William Kristol, and James Woolsey, among others). Then they lobbied Congress, with their principal talking point being that any final deal with Iran must deny it not simply a nuclear weapon but a “nuclear weapons capability … allowing Iran to develop all of the components of a bomb so long as they don’t put these components together is not a solution”.

At the Summit, Charles Krauthammer told the delegates he did “not know of an organization in the world more important to Israel than CUFI.” In the two weeks following the Summit, CUFI demonstrated–not once but twice–the kind of commitment that amply supports Krauthammer’s assertion.

On July 31, CUFI ran a full-page ad–reading “Israel’s Enemies Are Our Enemies/ Israel’s Fight is Our Fight/ We Stand with Israel”–in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The ad cited the provisions in the Hamas Covenant asserting Islam will “obliterate” Israel; that there is no solution except “jihad”; and that Muslims are directed to kill the Jews.

On August 1, CUFI ran the same ad in USA Today, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Chicago Sun Times, the Denver Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. On August 5, CUFI ran it again in the Arizona Republic, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the NY Daily News, the NY Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Seattle Times. Within a week, CUFI had run full-page ads in 19 major newspapers throughout the country.

Second, on August 5, CUFI sent 51 pastors–one from each state and the District of Columbia–on a solidarity mission to Israel. In his letter to each pastor, Pastor Hagee wrote that the trip was intended to show “support for the Jewish people at a time when the nations of the world have expressed unilateral condemnation for Israel’s choice to defend her citizens.” The pastors went to the Western Wall to pray; then visited the mother of one of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in June; then traveled south to Sderot, as dangerous a city as there is in Israel, a mile from the border with Gaza; met with former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold and British Col. Richard Kemp, among others; were briefed by the IDF about Iron Dome; and returned to America on August 9.

In 2008, Pastor Hagee described CUFI’s beginnings to a large Jewish audience in Los Angeles, discussing his personal awakening to Zionism and his decision in 2006 to bring together 400 leading evangelicals in America to form CUFI:

And briefly, I said Israel is in a state of danger, we have a Bible mandate to stand up and speak up for Israel, we have never done anything as a Christian group that gets close to a unified canopy under which every person who calls himself a Bible-believing evangelical can speak up for Israel. And we’re a one issue organization – Israel, Israel, Israel. Don’t start bringing up all of these evangelical hot button issues about which you’ve been fighting for thirty years, because we have to stay focused on what we’re doing.

. . . And I said we’re going to go once a year to Washington and take as many of our leaders as we can. We’re not going to stand out on the grass and sing “Amazing Grace,” because Congress could care less about “Amazing Grace.” They only care when you go in their offices, look them in the eye and say “I’m a Christian and I support Israel” and you give them a list of talking points for every one of them, and every senator and every congressmen hears the same message … on one day.

This year CUFI–under the leadership of Pastor Hagee, who at 74 shows no signs of slowing down in his extraordinary efforts to support the Jewish state–not only lobbied Congress on existential issues facing Israel, but held a summit whose spirit is reflected in this video, and went to remarkable lengths to bring Israel’s importance to the attention of the American public and its representatives, as well as to epitomize Christian solidarity in a 51-pastor visit in the midst of the Hamas war. Pro-Israel Jews everywhere owe CUFI a large debt of gratitude and support.

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