Politics & Policy

Is the Turkey Fiasco an Opening for Mideast Peace?

And Russia, too, can play a role.

Lost in the latest Middle Eastern controversy is the fact that the prospects for Israeli-Arab peace are steadily improving, and that the apparently impending defection of Turkey from the Western camp is a great opportunity. The predictable consequence of Europe’s treating Turkey like a shabby, swarthy mendicant knocking at its back door for 30 years — embracing it when an ally in the region was needed, but rebuffing it at other times — is the defeat of the Kemalist Western emulators by the Muslim Turkish nativists.

If the Turks, who are historically no more popular with the Arabs than the Persians (Iranians) are, are throwing in with the militant Islamists, this will severely erode Arab enthusiasm for continuing to carry on the struggle with Israel. Turkey is now playing footsie with the Islamic Brotherhood, which murdered Anwar Sadat and is the principal foe of the Mubarak regime in Egypt. Israel is no threat to these Arab powers, but Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood are.

Obviously, if the Turks go any farther down this road, they will have to leave NATO, which probably should have happened in 2003, when they declined any cooperation in the Iraq War. The current NATO formulation, “a coalition of the willing,” in fact means those sufficiently needful of the American military guarantee (in practice, those countries with the most recent experience of Soviet domination) doing the least they can to accommodate American military initiatives and maintain Washington’s goodwill. Of the NATO countries, only the British acted more forcefully than that to support the Americans in the Iraq War.

Such a move by Turkey would facilitate the more important move of a revival of good relations with Russia, something the West has rarely enjoyed. Premier Vladimir Putin plays the nativist card pretty aggressively, too. But of all the major powers, rivaled in this only by India, Russia has the most serious indigenous-terrorist problem, largely due to Russian Muslims and fomented by Islamists in some of the former Asian republics of the USSR.

There is a long and not very creditable history of Western partitions with Russia, giving rise to much sorrow in the history of Poland, especially. A benign version of this tradition could be revived. Russia can take the two provinces of Georgia it effectively seized in 2008, and the eastern, Russian-speaking half of Ukraine; and Belarus and Moldova (if, as it appears, that is the desire of these countries) can return to affiliation with Russia, and the U.S. and Russia could agree on the treatment of the Asian republics. The Russians would be expected to cooperate in matters involving Iran and North Korea, and it would be possible to guarantee some level of annual oil-and-gas acquisitions from Russia.

There is no logical dispute between Russia and the West, and our anti-terrorist interests are almost identical. The return of Belarus, Moldova, the eastern half of Ukraine, and two provinces of Georgia would add about 45 million people back to the Russian population, and would be a dramatic accretion for Putin and Medvedev, putting them in the company of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Stalin, and the other great expansionists of Russian history. Western Ukraine and Georgia could join the EU and NATO.

The end of the Turkish attendance upon Europe would also be the end of Turkish and most other Muslim infiltration of Western Europe, and would facilitate the assisted departure from Western Europe of some of the millions of so-called guest workers, who, like some house-guests, are proving very reluctant to go home. If the European nationalities could just reenergize sufficiently to prevent further natural population decline, Europe’s apparent death wish could be replaced by a period of revitalization, as economic realities are going to force some retrenchment in the socialist Euro-state.

Now that Europhoric Eurointegrationist dreams have largely evaporated, it should be possible for Europe to move cautiously toward closer economic relations with the Americas and a comparatively benign Russia. If the United States acts sensibly to reduce oil imports, and transfers more of the imports, within the framework of a larger agreement, to Russia, it should have the leverage to persuade the Saudis to do less to promote Islamic radicalism in their control of almost all Islamic institutions in the world.

There are two factors in Israeli-Palestinian relations that justify some optimism. First, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad (an economist with no background as a terrorist), has called for the right of return of the millions of Palestinian refugees to the West Bank and not to Israel. This removes the greatest stumbling block to peace, the long-standing Arab demand to inundate Israel with Palestinians.

Second, the Sharon policy of encouraging economic growth in the West Bank and strangling Gaza, as long as Fatah (West Bank) accepts Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and Hamas (Gaza) does not, is working. The West Bank is enjoying an 8 to 10 percent economic-growth rate, and can have statehood. (The new West Bank state must be narrowed somewhat on the west, to make Israel wider than the nine miles it was at its slenderest point prior to the 1967 war, but the reduction can be compensated for in the south, where, when Gaza adheres to the same agreement, it can be deeper. The two parts of Palestine, and north and south Israel, can have an interchange — with tunnels and overpasses — that keeps both halves of both states connected, and respects the sovereignty of both.) As part of a general peace, Israel could give the Arab countries economic assistance and could join the Arab powers in expelling radical Iranian and Turkish political influences.

Turkey presumably imagines that it can parlay its position into one of strength between the Muslim and Western worlds, but cuddling up to terrorists is not the way to do it. If Turkey becomes seriously obstreperous, the restraints that have been imposed on Iraqi Kurdish activity in Kurdish Turkey could be relaxed. Turkey’s attempted Janus act will be a fiasco, unless Western diplomacy has become completely inept.

It remains only to stop the Iranian development of a nuclear military capability. If the U.S. won’t deal with this, there should be a “Middle Eastern solution,” and Israel should lead precise air interdictions as frequently as necessary to keep a deliverable nuclear warhead out of Iran’s hands until the world can have a reasonable comfort level that Iran could be trusted with it.

Turkey’s flotilla to Gaza was completely irresponsible, but in shedding its Turkish baggage, the West could radically improve its relations with Russia and the Arabs. It is all to play for. This will require traditional diplomacy of the kind that Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Quincy Adams, FDR, Dean Acheson, Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger excelled at. Mr. Obama seems not to have the required temperament or outlook, but perhaps Mrs. Clinton does.


– Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.


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