President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan share a warm friendship. The Turkish PM is considered a close foreign friend to a president who notoriously has very few. And though American diplomatic cables concluded years ago that the AKP harbors neo-Ottoman ambitions, risking “‘creeping’ Islamization, naivete, and anti-Westernism,” the president has continued boosting Turkey’s regional posture and insulating the AKP’s domestic position.
The Obama administration has supported a leading role for Turkey on Syria. It has tried to put Bulgaria in Turkey’s orbit. It has even transferred Super Cobra helicopters from Afghanistan to Turkey so Turkish troops could use them against Kurds, part of the Turkish army’s cross-border bombing campaign. For the first time in 100 years, the Turkish navy is conducting general-purpose patrols in the Mediterranean. They’re threatening Israel and Cyprus, telling energy companies that they might get attacked by Turkish troops, freaking out the Greeks, and pledging maritime dominance. The White House is seemingly unable or unwilling to stop these provocations.
The Turks have responded to Obama’s indulgence by sabotaging American policy in Central Asia and the Middle East: voting against international Iran sanctions, refusing to implement U.S. Iran sanctions, and undermining the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which has been the central pillar of U.S. strategy in the region for decades.
Now Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu have dragged NATO into their campaign to force Israel to “kneel down” to Turkey.
In the last few months, Turkey has vetoed a new Israel office from opening at NATO headquarters. It has blocked joint military exercises between Israel and NATO. It has categorically refused to share any intelligence from NATO’s X-Band missile defense radars with Israel – forever – over the objections of Congress but apparently with administration assent. As the radars were deployed, Turkey even demanded that NATO remove all references linking the arrays to Iranian threats, emptying what could have been a symbol of international unity against the mullahs.
Many of the AKP’s worst inclinations converge at blocking Israeli/NATO cooperation. The neo-Ottoman itch to throw around Turkish weight gets scratched by asserting “control” over the radars. Turkey also gets to exert some influence over NATO itself, which currently imposes some constraints on Ankara (the Turks had also previously blocked alliance action in Libya). Even Turkey’s strategy of isolating its enemies in international forums – something Ankara also does to Cyprus in the EU – gets advanced.
Above and beyond the harm this does to Israel directly, Turkey’s actions are directly endangering American national security. As a matter of like-it-or-not geostrategic reality, Israel is a critical Western ally and a regional power. Coordination between Israel and the U.S., and Israel and NATO, is critical to American power projection in the region. Turkey is undermining that cooperation out of sheer pique, and hurting American interests in the process. The diplomatic onslaught is also making the Israelis incredibly nervous about the constancy of multilateral and bilateral assurances and alliances, at a time when sraeli nervousness on those issues is less than opportune.
And yet the anti-Israel foreign policy experts, who regularly invent newer and more fantastic scenarios as to why Israel is a net drag on U.S. interests, are either silent or blaming Israel for Turkish intransigence. Strange, that.