Turkey Is No Longer America’s Ally

Nov. 21 2018

Both Presidents Obama and Trump made efforts early in their presidencies to establish warm relations with Turkey’s authoritarian and Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, only to find themselves frustrated by his uncooperativeness in several key areas. Among these are Erdogan’s effective sinking of the once-strong Turkish-Israeli military alliance, his support for Hamas (which maintains a headquarters in Turkey), his sponsorship of blockade-running flotillas to Gaza, and his involvement in fomenting violence and rioting in Jerusalem. While it is easy to blame the growing gap between Ankara and Washington on Erdogan’s personal and ideological proclivities, Steven A. Cook argues that the two nations no longer share the common interests they did during the cold war, and that the U.S. should act accordingly:

[American] policymakers should regard Turkey as neither a friend of the United States nor an enemy. In many areas, Turkey is a competitor and antagonist of the United States. As a result, American officials should abandon the intensive and often fruitless diplomatic efforts to convince Turkish policymakers to support the United States. Instead, the United States should not be reluctant—as it has been in the past—to oppose Turkey directly when it undermines U.S. policy. In practical terms this means the United States should develop alternatives to the Incirlik air base [used by American troops in Turkey], suspend Turkey’s participation in the F-35 jet program, and continue, [over Ankara’s objections,] to work with the [Kurdish] People’s Protection Units (YPG) to achieve its goals in Syria. . . .

[Some] analysts discount Turkey’s growing commercial ties with Iran and periodic high-level visits of Iranian and Turkish officials to one another’s capitals, arguing that historical, cultural, and geostrategic factors will always render Turkey an important counterweight to Tehran. Turkey has partially proved this by continuing to host a U.S. radar installation in southeastern Turkey. [But this fact] should not obscure Ankara’s consistent willingness to weaken international pressure on Iran. While Turkey has decreased the amount of Iranian oil it imports, Ankara has signaled that it will continue to purchase gas from Iran after November 4, 2018, defying U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran after the Trump administration withdrew from the [nuclear deal]. . . .

[Moreover], U.S. officials should take a stronger public stand on Turkish policies that undermine U.S. policy. . . . Records from the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations indicate that remonstrating with Turkish officials in private and publicly praising them has little, if any, effect on the policies that Ankara pursues at home and abroad. . . . The Trump administration’s own experience indicates that public pressure on Ankara is effective.

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More about: Israel diplomacy, Politics & Current Affairs, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign policy


Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela