Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Erdogan Off to a Slow Start in Cairo

Erdogan, who just kicked the Israeli ambassador out, arrived in Egypt, where the people just kicked out the Israeli ambassador, who reportedly fled dressed as a Muslim. Despite this perfect welcome, Erdogan fell short with a speech to the Arab League lacking creativity and a sour dose of old-style thinking from his guys back in Ankara. This is not the performance he needs if he is to become the leader of a new Mideast.

Erdogans address to the Arab League, judging from media reports, consisted of relatively moderate rhetoric empty of substance, if anything undercutting his stance as self-promoted leader of a new Mideast. Erdogan will need diplomatic creativity rather than warm air to make an impression on famously turbulent but directionless Mideast affairs. In particular, his failure to applaud Cairos demand that Israel stop violating Lebanons border seems to have been a real missed opportunity to establish common ground with an Egyptian military clearly digging its heels in.

Behind the Rhetoric
If Erdogan omitted substance from his rhetoric in Cairo, elsewhere he was taking real action. Turkey is sending three frigates into the Eastern Mediterranean to put some constraints on Israel's ability to write its own rules in Mediterranean international waters. The Turkish frigates will reportedly sail with orders to disable the weapons systems of any Israeli vessels encountered in international waters. It is hard to believe that Ankara would relinquish control to such a dangerous degree, but true or not, the report sends a message.  [Today's Zaman 9/12/11.]

A separate report that Turkey has figured out a way to repair its F-16s, previously crippled by U.S.-installed software preventing them from targetting the F-16s Washington provided to Israel, purportedly adds real muscle to Ankara's military repositioning.

Making the reasonable point that Israel causes the trouble it faces in the Mideast, Erdogan told the Arab League on Tuesday:

Israel will break away from solitude only when it acts as a reasonable, responsible, serious and normal state. While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other.

Erdogan termed the creation of a Palestinian state not an option but an obligation but, judging from reports, stopped short of proposing any action to back up even those moderate words, thus leaving the door open to working with Israel toward a deal that would support secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In striking contradiction to Erdogans high moral tone concerning Palestinian desires for justice, however, Turkish Interior Minister Sahin stated the same day that Turkey could launch an incursion into Iraq to attack Kurds at any time. Both Turkey and Israel insist on marginalizing a minority, both refuse to negotiate with that portion of the minority that demands independence, and both assert the right to attack across international borders in order to subjugate that minority. The hypocrisy of Ankara simultaneously criticizing Israels illegal and unjust behavior while asserting the unilateral right of Turkey to behave undermines Erdogans laudable foreign policy project of creating and leading a responsible and moderate Mideast center. If Erdogan looks good, that is only because of the appalling level of incompetence on the part of Mideast rulers.

1 comment:

William deB. Mills said...


I wrote this post from the perspective of state-to-state relations, an admittedly narrow perspective, and thus overlooked the importance of Erdogan's remarks from the perspective of Islamic politics.

Juan Cole has provided that important perspective with this [http://www.juancole.com/2011/09/muslim-brotherhood-rebukes-erdogan-for-advocacy-of-secularism.html] analysis of Muslim Brotherhood reaction to Erdogan's defense of secularism.