American Grand Strategy, Why Kissinger Got Peacemaking Right and Carter Got It Wrong, and Israel’s Turkey Problem

December 3, 2019 | Michael Doran
About the author: Michael Doran is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute. The author of Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East (2016), he is also a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council. He tweets @doranimated.

In a wide-ranging interview by Alan Johnson, Michael Doran criticizes the failures of U.S. grand strategy since the end of the cold war, expounds upon his essay from the beginning of this year on the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, and discusses Washington’s complex relations with Turkey and the Syrian Kurds. Doran also addresses the situation of Israel in historical perspective, comparing two competing American approaches to peacemaking that date back at least to the Eisenhower administration:

The U.S. understood Israel’s defeat of Egypt in 1967 as a victory for the West against the Soviet Union. A different understanding [of the Israeli-Arab conflict] developed under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, part of a more realistic understanding of Israeli power as an asset to the U.S., able to put pressure on Soviet proxies such as Egypt. The U.S. then made clear that while it could act as a mediator between Egypt and Israel, the price of American mediation was for Egypt to disengage itself from the Soviet sphere of influence. The Sinai disengagement agreements of 1973 and 1974 are the first successes you can attribute to that strategy.

Using Israeli power as an adjunct of U.S. power was Henry Kissinger’s strategy and it was successful. But here is the thing—it was the Carter administration that then reaped the biggest benefit of Kissinger’s strategy in the form of the 1978 Israel-Egypt peace agreement: the greatest U.S. diplomatic achievement in the Middle East. . . . The Carter administration, not understanding the basis of its own achievement, returned to the older notion that Israel was a liability not an asset to U.S. interests.

Although the Carter conception of [peacemaking] was pie in the sky, devoid of an understanding of how the world works, it returned in a big way in the 1990s. We once again came to believe that if only the U.S. would pressure Israel enough, the region’s bad guys would melt away.

Arguing that Washington should seek to repair its relations with Turkey’s anti-Semitic and Hamas-supporting president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Doran acknowledges Jerusalem’s concerns about such a policy while seeking to put them in perspective:

[A]ny threat to Israel from Erdogan pales in comparison to the threat posed by Iran, which has spread militias with precision-strike capabilities around the region; that is a strategic threat. Erdogan is a threat, sure, but he is separated from Israel by Syria, and his primary concern is the Kurdish question, not aiming rockets and missiles at the Jewish state. I think that the true level of threat posed by Erdogan is minuscule in comparison to the threat posed by Iran. . . . It is similar to the kind of threat that Israel faced historically, in, say, the 1980s and 1990s from Saudi Arabia. It was a problem for Israel, but a manageable problem.

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