Obama’s Cuba, Iran moves and Turkey-US relations

Obama’s Cuba, Iran moves and Turkey-US relations

Two historical breakthroughs took place in U.S. foreign policy within the same week: An interim agreement between the world powers and Iran on its nuclear program on April 4 in Lausanne and U.S. President Barack Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro on April 11 in Panama City.

During a recent New York Times interview with Obama, Thomas Friedman added the Myanmar situation to the steps taken for normalization with Iran and Cuba. This issue gets less attention as it seems to lack the geopolitical and strategic dimension.

In that interview with Friedman, Obama said that what he did was the result of a doctrine: “We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” 

Obama explains it with simple but clear words. He has such confidence in the level of economical, technological and military supremacy of his country that he does not want to spend more on countering threats negligible to U.S. interests. The fact that the U.S. is becoming independent of energy imports from the Middle East and Latin America has helped Obama form his new policy. 

Both Hassan Rouhani of Iran and Raul Castro of Cuba understood what Obama was trying to do in his second presidential term, and they shook the open hand that Obama extended to them in order to get rid of U.S.-led sanctions and seize the chance to become a partner of Western economies - at least in part. 

There are two important details in those moves. On Iran, Obama took his decision despite the outcry of Israel, or rather the outcry of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is trying to intimidate the U.S. president in his own capital, exploiting the division between Democrats and Republicans. Obama gives assurances about supporting Israel in the event of an attack, but wants U.S. foreign policy to no longer be hostage to it.

It may not be a coincidence that Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry was eager to leave a psychological step behind before Obama’s full support for the Democratic candidacy of his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential elections.

The moves on both Iran and Cuba made Russia lose some leverage in two important parts of the world.
Some will remember that when the Cuban missile crisis broke out in 1962, Turkey was on the other side of equation in the solution. In the end, Washington and Moscow agreed to remove the missiles that were directed at each other in Turkey and Cuba respectively.

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was one of top allies of Washington against Moscow in the region, together with Israel. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the strategic importance of Turkey for the U.S. increased even further. (The cost of this blanket support for Turkish people was the backing by the U.S. of military coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971 and 1980.)

If Iran’s relations with the U.S. become normalized under the Islamic regime, it will force Ankara to also make a shift in regional policies. If there are alternatives, you have to consider new ways of keeping up or increasing your influence.

Considering the current problems between Obama and President Tayyip Erdoğan over Syria and Iraq, as well as with Russia over Ukraine, it should not be a surprise to see a revision in all of those areas.

Erdoğan has always thought “Obama will go and I will stay,” but it seems that the Obama line will stay too.