Friday, July 9, 2010
One year ago about this time, United States’ president Barack Obama, newly popular leader in the Muslim world, was fighting with the Netanyahu govenment in Israel to prove that he could be an honest broker to bring peace to the region.
Obama did not only deliver a speech in Cairo, 13 months ago in June, which was watched and mostly adored by tens of millions around the Muslim world, he also publicly kept pushing back against the Israeli government for a total freeze in constructions for all settlements.
Throughout the year, up until only a few days ago, it was easy to see plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israeli positions in many areas. When Obama saw Israel was not halting the settlements, but permitting more, and had disagreements over how much emergency the Iran nuclear program requires, U.S.-Israel relations started giving some serious red lights.
Israel’s own nuclear never-acknowledged-arsenal became another issue, when all 189 parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including the United States, called in a declaration in New York in end of last May that singled out Israel for a conference in 2012 to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
While Obama’s relationships with Israel were going off a cliff, he was enjoying almost perfect relations with Turkey during the first year. Obama visited Turkey as his first bilateral overseas visit, happily played a role to polish Turkey’s regional leadership aspirations and described the ties with Turkey as “model partnership”.
During the same period, Turkey, while projecting its new pro-active policies in the neighboring region, was gaining Syria’s and Iran’s close friendships quickly, and aiming to make a breakthrough in relations with Armenia, which was proved to be a poorly planned and executed policy changing discourse later on filled many miscalculations and gaps.
Obama avoided using the word “genocide” in yearly Presidential Armenian Commemoration Day statement, hosted the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at his Oval Office last December to replenish the “model partnership” with creating new economic coordination teams on the both sides. The U.S.-Turkey relationship was indeed seemed to be flowing well considering a brand new American administration was in Washington.
It was confirmed by some of the leading AKP politicians, that the AKP government officials told high American diplomats in Ankara a few months ago when Iran started to be a real pain on the relationship between Ankara and Washington, the Turkish administration understands Obama better and what he wants to do in the region than his own bureaucrats.
Obama’s insistence on policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran seemed another policy convergence point to the Turkish officials during first year who also believed the diplomatic track with Iran would be the only solution going forward.
Obama actually tried to stick with his diplomatic track policy on Iran and “tough love” policy against Israel until very recently. In that sense, the flotilla crisis triggered the US Congress to prove its love and support for the current Israeli government, increased the pressure on Obama to repair the ties with Israel and its Washington friends faster as an easier choice.
Mr. Richard Armitage, a former Deputy Secretary of State, told in Studio Washington this week, a daily news program, that the roots of today’s problems between America and Turkey might have been going back to Obama’s visit to Turkey in last April. Mr. Armitage did not elaborate the point, however it was clear to me that he was referring to the high expectations that were created following such an early and extraordinary Presidential visit which eventually pushed both parties’ expectations’ to different corners.
Turkey took some big matters to its own hands as a mission of its new mutually understood regional power status during the year or tried to stuff the room that seemingly Israel was abandoning as the US’ closest ally in the region. To be fair, there were plenty of signals that seemed as Obama’s blessings to this new mission.
Alas, before too long, the Obama administration realized that there is an upcoming rout in the November elections, and saw no positive results in pushing Netanyahu to compromise, in brief the policies that have been followed for so far. Consequently, the Obama White House made its decision to take a safer route for the last few weeks with the Israeli government and cozied up with its ever powerful Jewish lobby.
Exactly at this juncture, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington, DC this week and met with an all but ready president who has politically no other choice but to accept any offer or promise he is about hear from his guest.
While the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Serkan Demirtas, Ankara bureau chief of the Hurriyet Daily News that Turkey might cut off its ties with Israel if Israel did not apologize or acknowledge an international-impartial inquiry just a day before the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, the flotilla crisis was not even touched during the long statements of the leaders of both countries at the Oval Office.
Obama praised the Netanyahu government publicly for showing a quicker progress to ease the blockade on the Gaza people. While the whole discussions over the Gaza blockade in reality was flamed by the botched flotilla operation, Turkey could not even receive any credit on this easement policy either.
Obama’s reputation with the Muslim world took a heavy blow with his latest Israel/Arab peace process policy discourse as well. The Obama administration, from this week on, will have no leverage left over the Netanyahu government. During his most powerful and popular time in his presidency, which was the last 18 months of the first term, Obama could not get Netanyahu to agree on the important issues. It is safe to argue that there is much less chance now for Obama to apply any meaningful leverage over Netanyahu in much weaker coming months, after already back-stepping several times.
With Israel on the rise, Turkey was bashed behind the closed door meetings in Washington, according to some background talks.
Reportedly, the American administration also asked Turkey in recent days to stop mediating between the West and Iran, right after Obama signed the stronger sanctions package against Iran which passed by the US Congress earlier weeks.
This week proved that Israel is “in” Washington, and Turkey is “out”. For how long this new equation would go on, or under which circumstance that the equation would change, are the significant questions that will be analyzed in the months ahead.