The fashionable 1970s in international affairs
Amid internal political debates in Turkey, a big shift in geopolitics is taking place nearby. Unfortunately, Turkish analysts and politicians are too far away and too shortsighted to discuss the ramifications of what is happening between Washington DC, Tel Aviv and Tehran. This could be costly.
As Zbigniew Brzezinsky would say nicely, there are three centers of power in the Middle East, and the U.S. has to deal with at least two of them to survive in the Middle East. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the three corners of either political stability or turmoil, depending on their governments. It appears that the U.S. has slowly switched partners, or at least is looking into it. Turkey might just be returning to its traditional role as little more than a military ally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal to the U.S. Congress created maneuvering space both for Iran and the U.S. Analysts say his avoidance of the term “zero nuclear,” openly acknowledging Iran’s role in the region, are signs that “Israel means business.” So for many, Israel and Iran may be going back to where they were in the 1970s: Open rivals but not enemies.
There are good reasons for this. Turkey, with its internal debates and increasingly volatile economy, is far from being a reliable ally and a proper democracy for the U.S. Iran is an open partner in the fight against ISIL in Iraq. The American and Israeli media is so tired of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tirades and anger sessions that Iranian Major General Qasem Suleimani’s adventures in Tikrit have become more exciting to cover.
Meanwhile, Israel is slowly approaching a critical election. This is the first time in a decade that Netanyahu has felt the heat. As Iran-U.S. dialogue deepens, there is very little need or attention for his “security concerns.” And as ordinary Americans, (and Congressmen/women) tire of supporting Israel, Netanyahu has started slowly turning the steering wheel to dialogue.
Turkey and Israel are almost twin brothers separated at birth. Both countries are run by right-wing governments that yearn for Obama’s attention. Turkey’s Erdoğan gets angry when Obama does not respond to him. Netanyahu gets on a plane and makes his case in a deeply red Republican Congress.
President Obama has said that he did not watch Netanyahu’s speech and preferred instead to have a phone conversation with European leaders. Netanyahu’s trip to Washington has been a slow-burning crisis for months, and it looks like Obama has preferred to avoid his presence. As Foreign Policy’s Aaron David Miller wrote: “Netanyahu’s speech and the president’s personal reaction — I’m not watching, and there’s nothing new anyway — also suggest that a willful president has become even more determined when it comes to seeing through a deal with Iran.”
Turkey will have to appeal to that Congress as the critical date of April 24 approaches. Unfortunately, Turkey’s only advantage is its possible cooperation in the fight against ISIL to take back Mosul; even there, Ankara is full of strings to attach, conditions to push, and excuses to stay away. The cost in return will be thousands of Sunni refugees who Turkey will have to host.
Turkey’s June parliamentary elections will be even more critical than Israel’s. And Iran and the U.S. will be watching even more carefully. As Turkey grows more and more distant from the U.S., the vacuum will be filled by Iran and Israel. The 1970s are suddenly so “in” again.