Tell me who your friends are…

Published in Israel Hayom, January 22, 2012

Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” goes the old adage. If that’s the case, Israel, America and the Western world are in big trouble. US President Obama just named the semi-dictator of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as being one of the five world leaders with whom he has a “friendship and bond of trust.” Woe be to us.

Obama told Time Magazine that his diplomatic endeavors have been more effective because he shares “trust and confidence” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Erdogan, and British premier David Cameron, in that order. Obama: “I think that if you ask them… they would say, ‘We have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he’ll follow through on his commitments. We think he’s paying attention to our concerns and our interests.’”

Israeli media, of course, played up the fact that Obama didn’t list Benjamin Netanyahu as one of the world leaders with whom he shares a “friendship and bond of trust.” But that, unfortunately, is not surprising, and it misses the point. The point is – the shocker is – that Obama does feel a kinship to Erdogan – one of the most anti-Western, anti-Israel, pro-Islamist and nasty leaders on the globe.

Erdogan has led a major reorientation in Turkish foreign policy away from the West and towards the West’s worst enemies, including Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza, and Hizballah in Lebanon. Everyone knows that he has crashed Turkish-Israel relations, which within the framework of the new Turkish foreign policy, are a burden. Erdogan hardly lets a week pass without disparaging or criticizing Israel or the Jews. This undoubtedly fits well with the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiments prevalent in the Muslim world.

But Erdogan is Obama’s friend, with whom Obama shares a “friendship and bond of trust.”

Erdogan has curtailed freedom of the press, the freedoms of academia and the independence of the judiciary in his own country – as he attempts to build a centralized, authoritarian presidential system to suit his ambitions. Human rights within Turkey have gone from bad to worse, according to every international index.

But Erdogan is Obama’s friend.

Turkey has become a very unreliable member of NATO. The AKP led parliament (Erdogan’s political party) denied permission to US troops to use Turkish territory in order to open a northern front against Iraq in 2003. During the Georgian crisis in the summer of 2008, Ankara was slow in responding to American requests to send ships into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus Straits.

An even more flagrant deviation from NATO values has been the nascent military relationship and “strategic partnership” (Erdogan’s words) between Turkey and China, including the unprecedented inclusion of Chinese warplanes in a 2010 Turkish military exercise, called Anatolian Eagle, that had previously included the US and Israel.

An American Enterprise Institute report published this weekend determines that the U.S. military can no longer rely on facilities in Turkey for regional operations.

Nevertheless, Obama somehow shares a “friendship and bond of trust” with the Turkish leader Erdogan.

Erdogan also defied American disfavor of Syria, conducting joint military exercises with Bashar Assad’s regime and sending military personnel to train the Syrian military. Turkey further deviated from the Western consensus by hosting Sudanese Islamist President Omar Hassan al-Bashir twice in 2008. Bashir was charged with war crimes and genocide in Darfur. Since then, Erdogan has hosted Hizballah leader Nasrallah in Ankara and backed the Hamas.

Erdogan has visited Iran numerous times since 2009 and has sided with Iran on the nuclear issue, declaring Turkish support for Tehran’s “peaceful nuclear program” and voting repeatedly against American-initiated sanctions against Iran. In 2010, Erdoğan cooked up an agreement with Brazilian President da Silva whereby Iran would send part of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey for safekeeping in exchange for enough higher-enriched uranium to fuel an Iranian research reactor. The Iran-Turkey-Brazil nuclear fuel swap agreement was a blatant move against the US push for economic sanctions against Iran. It was sticking a thumb in Washington’s eye.

Since then, Erdogan has agreed to establish a $2-billion crude oil refinery in northern Iran in defiance of America, and voted against every attempt to censure Iran for building secret uranium enrichment facilities. Turkish banks openly cooperate with Iranian banks to circumvent Western sanctions.

But Obama doesn’t seem to know this. He shares a “friendship and bond of trust” with Erdogan.

Erdogan is so unhinged when it comes to Israel that in 2009 he preposterously accused Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to attack the Gaza Strip with a nuclear weapon. More recently, he has threatened Israel with war over gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Turkey is an important country whose foreign policy reorientation changes the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of the radical Islamist forces. It is negatively affecting the pro-Western orientation of the Central Asian republics. It is considerably weakening the Western strategic alliance, and working assiduously to undermine Israel’s safety and security. Erdogan is directly responsible for this.

But of all the world’s leaders, one of the five Obama feels closest to is Erdogan. Obama says that he shares a “friendship and bond of trust” with Erdogan. Unbelievable.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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