No Turkey This Thanksgiving
The United Nations’ annual opening of the General Assembly each September affords heads of state and heads of government the opportunity to meet both formally and informally. The upcoming meeting between President Barack Obama and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promises to be particularly contentious. How exactly it plays out will inevitably demonstrate the astonishing power of Israel and its Lobby. Obama is expected to rebuke Erdogan over the issue of Palestinian statehood, which Turkey supports, and over the willingness of Ankara to use its own warships to protect Turkish vessels in international waters that are seeking to sail to Gaza. They have good reason to do so. In June 2010, the Israelis boarded a Turkish ferry in international waters and killed nine Turks, one of whom was also an American citizen, most of whom were shot execution style.
Turkey: Ally since 1949
Turkey has been a NATO ally since 1949, hosting numerous American bases and the key intelligence listening post at Sinop, which had unique ability to monitor Soviet ballistic missile launches. Turkish soldiers in the Korean War were regarded as some of the finest engaged in that conflict. And they have fought and died to save American lives. The 5,000 men of the 1st Turkish Brigade were attached to 2nd then to the 25th US Infantry Divisions. In 1950, after the Chinese breakthrough, they fought a series of bloody rearguard actions covering the retreat of the American troops in which they suffered more than 3,500 casualties.
But American congressmen and pundits, particularly those who are particularly enamored of Israel, seem to have forgotten their history, if they ever knew it. In September 16th Washington Post Morton Abramowitz, a former US Ambassador to Turkey, opined the following:
Erdogan “now directly challenges our major alliance in the Middle East, and how far he will go is unclear…By threatening to militarily contest Israel’s blockade of Gaza…the Turkish government has laid down a serious challenge to American policy…Obama’s meeting with Erdogan on Tuesday is crucial. He can take a few important steps. He should immediately deploy 6th Fleet ships from Norfolk to the Eastern Mediterranean to signal that the United States will not tolerate even inadvertent naval clashes. He needs to make clear to Erdogan that the United States will not side with Turkey against Israel and that Turkey’s current strategy risks undermining regional stability.”
And there’s more. Seven United States Senators have sent a letter to President Obama stating that “Turkey is shifting to a policy of confrontation, if not hostility, towards our allies in Israel and we urge you to mount a diplomatic offensive to reverse this course. We ask you to outline Turkey’s eroding support in Congress…and how its current ill-advised policy towards the State of Israel will also negatively reflect on U.S. Turkish relations and Turkey’s role in the future of NATO.” The Senators are Mark Kirk, Charles Schumer, Mark Warner, Scott Brown, Joe Manchin, Joe Lieberman, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Comparing Turkey to Israel
Abramowitz and the Senators reveal their own ignorance apart from anything else. Turkey is an ally. Israel is not. Turkey has served United States strategic interests. Israel has not. Turkey has hosted American bases and committed its soldiers to support their American counterparts in combat. Israel has not. Israel has done little more vis-à-vis the United States’ real interests than take more than a hundred billion dollars in taxpayer provided largesse, use Washington as a veto machine to protect its own interests, and betray all of that by spying and stealing defense secrets which were later traded to the Russians and sold to the Chinese.
Abramowitz wants to use the US Navy to protect Israel against the consequences of its own actions and is willing to attack an alliance member which is insisting on freedom of the seas and some accountability for the killing of its own citizens.
Americans were once proud of the US Navy when it acted in that fashion, but apparently no longer, at least not in the White House nor among some retired ambassadors. The Senators are threatening to use all means possible to punish Turkey not because it has done damage to the United States but because of its strained relationship with a third country, Israel. The Senators even threaten reducing Turkey’s role in NATO. Excuse me, but NATO is an alliance with equal partners, isn’t it, not an American fiefdom?
Sacrificing US interests for the Israel Lobby
So why all the defensiveness about Israel when Israel is a liability and Turkey a valuable asset strategically? Well, there’s an election coming up, which means that President Obama will do everything he can to appease Israel and its Lobby without any regard for the United States national interest or for old allies like Turkey. He will ignore world opinion by vetoing Palestinian statehood at the UN and he will make clear to the Turks that Israel always comes first, the single immutable factor in American foreign policy. Israel will always come first. And there will be plenty of congressmen and Morton Abramowitzes that will stand up and say that he is right to do so.