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What Happened to the ‘Special Relationship’?

Not all that long ago we were lectured that Obama, with his charisma and savvy, had won over Recep Tayyip Erdogan and formed a new partnership with him that would lead to Middle East stability and a new Turkish omnipresence as a force for good. So, for example, on December 7, 2011, in the Washington Post, Washington insider David Ignatius gushed about the emerging duo:

They are unlikely partners: a cool and unflappable U.S. president and a proud, sometimes hot-tempered Turkish prime minister. But they have developed a working relationship that is one of the most important but least discussed developments shaping this year of change in the Arab world.

If you’re looking for factors that can keep the Arab Awakening from turning into a nightmare, the U.S.-Turkey partnership is mildly reassuring. President Obama and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have worked closely to manage events in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and, increasingly, Iran.

They have talked by phone 13 times this year, according to the White House.

At the time, it never occurred to Ignatius that talking 13 times a year to the likes of Erdogan (apparently, the Obama White House was eager to get that fact out to court reporters) was not proof of a “relationship that works” but evidence that an Islamic autocrat had found a willing superpower enabler.

In fact, what followed from the special relationship was a nightmarish Arab Awakening. We did not manage events at all with Erdogan in Egypt. Instead, we were fooled into promoting the anti-democratic Muslim Brotherhood (a “largely secular” group, according to James Clapper), whose rise led to the counter-coup of the anti-Islamist General Sisi.

We destroyed Libya, leading to the logical trajectory of the Benghazi disaster.

Syria, fake redlines and all, became a genocidal wasteland, whose millions of migrants have nearly wrecked the unity of the European Union.

Needlessly yanking all U.S. peacekeepers from Iraq (for the price of a cheap reelection talking point, and at about the time Ignatius praised the special relationship) doomed the nascent consensual government there and invited in both the “jayvees” of ISIS and the Iranians.

Iran itself went on to join in a new regional Russia-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas bloc, to harass U.S. ships and interests — and shortly became the beneficiary of American ransom for hostages and a deal that was a de facto pathway to nuclear-weapons status.

We turned on Israel and the Gulf States and needlessly alienated past allies in the region.

And Turkey itself? Erdogan was green-lighted and empowered to be what he always wanted to be and what he now is after his recent “referendum”: a neo-Ottoman Islamist sultan, destroying democracy and copying Putin’s playbook at home and abroad.

What will destroy NATO is not Donald Trump’s loud pressure to ensure that members meet their previously promised financial commitments, but an anti-democratic, theocratic, and expansionist power “guarding” its southern flank, with its hand on the immigration valve into Europe, routinely flying over (and eyeing) territory of its ancient rival: democratic but bankrupt Greece. This is a power eager to reassume its former and supposed glories founded on religious hegemony aimed at the West.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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