osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,
osewalrus
osewalrus

Obama's RealPolitik in the Mideast

Of all the various clips that came out of the MidEast trip recently, the most telling was the news that Obama forced Netanyahu and Turkey's Erdogan to make nice. Specifically, he forced Netanyahu to make a full apology for the deaths from the 2009 Gaza blockade incident (not merely an expression of regret) and forced Erdogan to take the call and agree to accept the apology. It kinda went like this:

Obama: Bibi, do you have something to say to Tayipp?

Netanyahu: (looking down at his shoes sullenly) I'm sorry I killed your citizens when they were running our blockade.*

Obama: Tayipp, do you have something to say to Bibi?

Erdogan: I accept your apology and we can be friends again.**

Obama: Good, now lets all play nice together again. Look, I brought everyone new anti-aircraft systems to protect you from Syria and yummy aid dollars for treats!

Netanyahu and Erdogan: Yay!!!

*Even if it was totally your fault and our troops acted in self-defense.

**Even though your blockade is totally illegal and you acted in international waters, making these actions murder and not just excessive force.

This highlights the most important aspect of Obama's trip, IMO. This wasn't about kickstarting the peace process or any kind of hope and change thing. This was about the new Realpolitik of the MidEast. During the 1980s, one of the standard charges against Margret Thatcher was that she had made the UK "America's aircraft carrier." This is about making sure we have an aircraft carrier in the Mideast, and screw the peace process.



Since time out of mind, defenders of the U.S.-Israel alliance and why the U.S. should perpetually agree with everything Israel ever does have said "Israel is our only secure ally in the Middle East." Most folks did not take this very seriously, during the cold war, the Soviet Union was the other guarantor of stability. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we expected we would always have a strongman in Egypt or Jordan or at least Saudi Arabia to provide us with the necessary beach head should the camel droppings really hit the fan.

Besides, if you asked anyone on the left (or in the State Department), they would tell you that Israel was really the source of the friction in the Middle East anyway, so cutting Israel loose (or leaning on it to make concessions that might compromise its security) was actually what was in the U.S. interest. "Israel. Can you believe we are on the verge of World War 3 because of that shitty little country," remarked one European diplomat in 2002. 'Count noses,' the cynical would say. 'More Arabs than Jews, we ought to be on the Arab side.'

But life in the Middle East has undergone some truly dramatic changes in the last few years that have caused those who pay attention to question some of the underlying assumptions on why Israel is the prime beneficiary of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

1. We can no longer count on our traditional strong-man allies to keep order and give us what we want when we really need it. It's not just that governments we used to count on like Egypt might get replaced with new governments willing to tell the U.S. 'fuck off' and mean it. Countries we are counting on, like Jordan, could dissolve into civil war and be part of the problem. In particular, Syria's deterioration is threatening to bring down the region in ways that the Arab Spring never did, by sending endless streams of refugees into the surrounding countries (occasionally pursued by government or rebel troops). Meanwhile, Shia worry that Sunni jihadists could get hold of chemical weapons, Sunni worry that Iran might send even more direct military aid to Assad and Hezzbollah, and Druze and Christians worry that whichever Moslem sect wins out will turn into a radical intolerant regime that oppresses non-Moslems.

Oh yeah, and all those young professional Internet-savvy people whose frustrations boiled up in the Arab Spring? Still frustrated.

2. None of which has jack shit to do with Israel and the Palestinians. In fact, the biggest problem for the PA is that the rest of the Arab world is all wrapped up in its own internal divisions. They can hardly get anyone to promise to show up for the annual Al-Nakhbah riots. Practically the only time anyone ever notices is when Israel is shelling the crap out of them, which is not exactly a fun way of getting attention. And even then, 'everyone talks about the evil imperialist Zionist entity, but no one ever does anything about it.'

3. Even Turkey, formerly European Wannabees who could be counted on to provide basing rights as NATO allies (if need be) are no longer quite as reliable. Not because Turkey is in danger of revolution (although with several hundred thousand refugees and the usual problem with the Kurds (now resolved with a spanking new truce!) one never knows. No, the thing that makes Turkey unreliable is it is a democracy, with a real economy no longer dependent on U.S. aid. In 2003, Turkey's parliament demonstrated its willingness to say no to the U.S. when they voted against giving us basing rights and overflight rights to invade Iraq.

Since then, Turkey has only gotten more independent and feistier. It has developed its own foreign policy goals and relationships (including with Iran). Erdogan has been systemically replacing the old military leadership, which acted as a check on the civilian government if it ever strayed too far from the European Wannabe policy established by Attaturk, by having them all tried for treason and stuff. Mind you, Turkey is not happy with Syria either -- hence the willingness to make nice with Israel at the urging of the U.S. and provided Erdogan could claim victory in his pissing match with Bibi. (It is definitely easier to write your name in the snow in Arabic than Hebrew. Just sayin')

But it is entirely possible that if Syria were going down the drain that we could not rely on Turkey for basing and overflight rights. And we certainly could not rely on them for any help (even passive look-the-other-way help) in the event we ever had to move against Iran.

As a result of all this, the old argument that "Israel is the only absolutely 100% reliable ally for the U.S. in the region" can no longer be dismissed as merely self-justifying bullshit by supporters of Israel who have Israel, rather than the U.S.'s interests at heart. The scenario where, absent Israel, we could not land troops or material on the Eastern Med any closer than the Greek side of Cyprus (which is none-to-stable economically these days) is no longer unthinkable. Heck, even building a forward base on Cyprus might be a problem, given Turkey's attitude toward Cyprus.

By contrast, Israel will snuggle with the U.S. like it's life depends on it, because it does. That's the kind of total dependency you want in a military ally.

Similarly, the fact that Tel Aviv is a downhill drive from the edge of the Green Line is no longer an academic angst for Israelis. If the U.S. is contingency planning that it might have to base troops in Israel to deal with a general regional meltdown, the fact that a now-hostile Jihadi regime in Jordan (having overthrown the current royal family) could base its own troop in an allied Palestinian state that holds the high ground is a U.S. military planning concern. Still an unlikely scenario, but no longer an unthinkable scenario.

So Obama has clued the Palestinians in that the U.S. is not gonna support dismantling the settlements or a "right of return" which would allow several million Palestinians hostile to Israel to claim land in what is supposed to be the Israel side of the half-loaf -- so give up on this "just peace" shit and take sovereignty now with your current sucky borders, or not. Because Ariel and the rest of the Greater Jerusalem metro area are not just about Israel anymore, they are the buffer for if the U.S. ever needs to base on the Israeli coast.

Which brings us back to Turkey and the leverage in Israel. While the U.S. must consider in its planning that Turkey may not be reliable, it would much, much prefer to have Turkey as an ally. That means pushing Israel to swallow its pride and give Erdogan the apology he's been waiting for -- in the name of regional stability. And Israel did it, because the relationship does not just work one way. Netanyahu now has a coalition firmly in hand, so he cannot plead his own political instability to Obama. From Obama's standpoint, Bibi can damn well kiss Erdogan's ass and say it tastes like chalav Yisroel if that what it takes to make the U.S.'s largest regional ally happy and cooperating with its other ally. And Bibi will did it, because he's getting what he needs on the Palestinian front.

None of which has anything to do with justice, global peace, or anything else. And yes, if you are a Palestinian, it totally sucks. Because of course, you are the first and only people who ever got screwed by someone else taking your land and then everyone else making you knuckle under because their own selfish, national interests were served by throwing you to the wolves. Tell it to the Kurds and the Armenians and see how much sympathy you get. Life has a lot of unpleasant choices. If you want to hold out for the "Right of Return" and a capital in Al Quds, go ahead. But I suspect the realpolitik of the Middle East is not going to make that a reality anytime soon.
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