President Trump’s Call to Erdogan Reaffirmed American Alliances in the Middle East

April 21 2017

Turkey’s national referendum on Sunday—which approved constitutional reforms granting near-dictatorial powers to the country’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—triggered a call from Donald Trump that some have criticized for effectively condoning the collapse of democracy. But Lee Smith argues that the call was a necessary reaffirmation of the unsteady alliance between Washington and Ankara:

To the Turkish president, the call likely signals that he can once again count on a reliable NATO partner, one eager to reset America’s Middle East policy. That the call seems extraordinary, even repugnant, to much of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment shows that the chaos unleashed by the Obama administration over the last eight years may have left permanent scars. . . .

No, Turkey’s problems are not all Obama’s fault. Erdogan committed many foreign-policy blunders all on his own. Perhaps most importantly, he provoked a break with Israel, and while Ankara and Jerusalem have since patched up minor differences, their once strategic relationship is unlikely to be repaired while he governs.

Still, the Obama administration added to Turkey’s woes. The main venue was Syria, where Russia was supporting forces in the conflict that Turkey opposed. When Moscow brought down a Turkish plane in 2012 and Obama officials backed the Russian version of events, Erdogan began to understand there would be no help coming from his NATO partners, because the alliance’s driving force, [the U.S.], had its own ideas about the region and how to reshape its role there. The nuclear deal with Iran was the Obama administration’s key initiative, and the deal as President Obama conceived it required realigning American regional interests with Iran. This meant tilting against traditional Middle East allies, preeminently Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. . . .

The Trump administration’s support of Saudi Arabia’s conflict with the Houthis, strong and public backing of Israel, and the strike on Shayrat airfield in retaliation for Assad’s chemical weapons attack are steadily convincing Middle Eastern powers that the new White House has returned to the traditional American view of the region.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy

Lessons for the U.S. from Israel’s 2007 Bombing of the Syrian Nuclear Reactor

March 23 2018

In 2007, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan came to Washington with overwhelming evidence that Syria, with North Korean help, had built a nuclear reactor for military use. After a debate among his advisers, President Bush told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he had chosen to pressure Bashar al-Assad diplomatically to give up his nuclear program. Israel itself then bombed the reactor, which was located in an area that in a few years would become the heartland of Islamic State. Earlier this week, for the first time, Jerusalem publicly took responsibility for the attack. (Amnon Lord explores possible reasons for that decision here.) Elliott Abrams—then the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East—related the discussion within the White House over what to do about the reactor, and also explained what could be learned from the affair, in a 2013 article for Commentary:

The Israelis believed that if they [or American officials] spoke about the strike [after it happened], Assad might be forced to react to this humiliation by trying to attack Israel. If, however, we all shut up, he might do nothing—nothing at all. He might try to hide the fact that anything had happened. And with every day that passed, the possibility that he would acknowledge the event and fight back diminished. That had been the Israeli theory, and the Israelis knew their man. We maintained silence and so did Israel—no leaks. As the weeks went by, the chances of an Israeli-Syrian confrontation grew slim and then disappeared. Syria has never admitted that there was a reactor at the site. . . .

Two final points are worth noting. First, in May 2008, Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria were publicly announced in Istanbul. The discussions had begun secretly in February 2007, and obviously had continued after the Israeli strike on [the reactor]. It would appear that the strike . . . made the Syrians more, not less, desirous of talking to the Israelis because it made them afraid of Israeli power. It also made them more afraid of American power until we undermined our own position, which is the second point.

A very well-placed Arab diplomat later told us that the strike had left Assad deeply worried as to what was coming next. He had turned Syria into the main transit route for jihadists going to Iraq to kill American soldiers. From Libya or Indonesia, Pakistan or Egypt, they would fly to Damascus International Airport and be shepherded into Iraq. Assad was afraid that on the heels of the Israeli strike would come American action to punish him for all this involvement. But just weeks later, Assad received his invitation to send a Syrian delegation to [a] big international confab [organized by] then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Annapolis Conference, and according to the Arab envoy, Assad relaxed immediately; he knew he would be OK. . . .

Finally, this incident is a reminder that there is no substitute for military strength and the will to use it. Think of how much more dangerous to the entire region the Syrian civil war would be today if Assad had a nuclear reactor, and even perhaps nuclear weapons, in hand. Israel was right to bomb that reactor before construction was completed, and President Bush was right to support its decision to do so. Israel was also right in rejecting fears that the incident would lead to a larger war and in believing that it, and the United States, would be better off after this assertion of leadership and determination.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Bashar al-Assad, George W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Nuclear proliferation, Syria, US-Israel relations