The Mussolini of the Middle East Stabs America in the Back

The Middle East has its Hitler wannabe in Iranian President Ahmadinejad. His nuclear weaponization program has accelerated over eighteen months while Obama's "engagement" is being rebuffed with contemptuous defiance from Tehran. Like Hitler in Mein Kampf, Ahmadinejad has made clear his belief that the Jews of Israel should be annihilated.

Every Hitler needs his Mussolini. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan -- a man I know well -- is enthusiastically volunteering for that role.            

The Hitler analogy should be viewed in terms of the late 1930s rather than the wartime 1940s. By the time Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, he had contemptuously resisted limitations on German rearmament and achieved his territorial aims in the infamous delivery of Czechoslovakia at Munich. He accomplished this while England slept -- in John Kennedy's famous phrase -- without firing a shot.

What does this have to do with Ahmadinejad? The Iranians know that once they possess nuclear weapons, they will have achieved hegemony over the Middle East, with all its energy resources, without firing a shot. As the evidence accumulates that Obama lacks the will to take action to stop the Iranian quest, the countries of the Middle East are compelled to come to terms with the reality that the United States will not use its power to defend its own interests and will settle for trying to "contain" a nuclear Iran. In the pitiless sunlight of the Middle East, reality is harshly defined. A nuclear-armed Iran means that the United States is a big loser. And that Iran is a decisive winner.

No Middle Eastern leader grasps this reality with more eager opportunism than the Turkish prime minister. A serious question is emerging as to whether our government understands this dynamic and its grave consequences. My conversations with State Department officials reveal at best only dim understanding. President Obama, delivering his first address to a foreign parliament in Ankara in April 2006, praised Turkey as a "true partner." In the first giddy flush of Obamamania, this may have been understandable hyperbole even though Erdogan had stabbed the U.S. in the back as long ago as 2003 by denying our forces entry into northern Iraq. But self-delusion in the White House as to critical U.S. interests is no longer rational, as increasing numbers of foreign policy experts -- many of them Obama supporters -- recognize that Turkey has decisively exited its alliance with the West.

Tom Friedman observes in the N.Y. Times: "Maybe President Obama should invite [Erdogan] for a weekend at Camp David to clear the air before U.S.-Turkey relations get where they're going -- over a cliff." German editor Joseph Joffe writes in the Financial Times: "The real game is about dominance at the expense of America, which U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to grasp." Our most astute analyst of the Middle East, Professor Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shi'a, writes in the Wall Street Journal that "Turkey courts Iran and turns its back on its old American alliance." And listen to the ultra-liberal Washington Post pose the pertinent question to the White House:

Erdogan's crude attempt to exploit the Gaza flotilla incident comes only a few weeks after he joined Brazil's president in linking arms with Ahmadinejad, whom he is assisting in an effort to block new U.N. sanctions. What's remarkable about his turn toward extremism is that it comes after more than a year of assiduous courting by the Obama administration, which, among other things, has overlooked his antidemocratic behavior at home, helped him combat the Kurdish PKK and catered to Turkish sensitivities about the Armenian genocide. ... Will Mr. Erdogan's behavior be without cost?

Erdogan has allied with all the genocidal factions in the region -- Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Sudan (whose President al-Bashir was invited to Turkey while a fugitive from indictment by the International Court of Criminal Justice). This appears comparable to what Mussolini did in 1936 when he allied with Hitler, believing that the German Chancellor would become master of Europe. Like Mussolini, Erdogan commands a people who can be proud of their historic civilization. Turkey is a NATO ally, and Italy was an American ally in World War 1. Italy had understandable grievances against its former allies, and Turks are entitled to resent the oafish behavior of European politicians regarding Turkish membership in the EU. Erdogen is emulating Mussolini in undermining his country's democratic traditions. Turkish friends warn me that our communications are surveiled and they are subject to government retaliation. Friedman writes, "I've never visited a democracy where more people I interviewed asked me not to name them for fear of retribution by Erdogan's circle."

Like Mussolini, Erdogan is an outsized orator. It took several meetings before I realized that Erdogan's counter-factual eruptions (in a September, 2009, meeting at New York's Plaza hotel, he wildly inflated Gaza casualty statistics and likened Hamas terrorists to "boys throwing stones") are not spontaneous, but carefully calculated to inflame his Islamist electoral base. Erdogan's oratorical demagoguery is escalating as he faces a significant electoral challenge from a secular party. In 1998, a Turkish court sentenced Erdogan, then a candidate, to ten months in prison for inciting religious hatred; he served four months. The lesson Erdogan learned from this was to use Turkish law to intimidate and punish opponents. Kasimpasha, the Istanbul district where he was raised, is known for crude and blunt talk.                              

Kemal Koprulu, scion of an eminent Turkish family and founder of a think-tank for promotion of civil society, warned in a recent article in the Brown Journal of World Affairs of "unhealthy trends of polarization and intolerance combined with anti-Westernism" that are "becoming a chronic problem and wearing down the Turkish public." Pro-western Turks cringe with embarrassment over Erdogan's rhetorical excesses as democratic Italians did over Mussolin's. Skillful Turkish diplomats over the course of many years built friendships to counter the influence of Turkey's traditional detractors (Armenian-Americans and Greek-Americans).  Erdogan has systematically shattered these friendships in a few months. A group of retired Turkish diplomats issued a measured statement last week warning of damage from Erdogan's "adventurous foreign policy." Turkish diplomats and a cabinet under-secretary with whom I've recently met try to argue that Turkey can help America by improving relations with Muslim neighbors. But it's obvious that Turkey undermines American interests by opposing Iran sanctions, hailing Hamas as a legitimate resistance movement, and holding joint military exercises with Syria.

Our country has huge interests in common with Turkey, including our Incirlik airbase and sharing NATO intelligence. Turkey played a key role in NATO in the Cold War and later in Kosovo and Bosnia, but today maintains only a non-combat force in Afghanistan. Congress is beginning to understand that Turkish alliance with Iran and Syria is inconsistent -- to say the least -- with NATO membership.

Franklin Roosevelt was reluctant to challenge Mussolini's alliance with Hitler. But seventy years ago this month, when Mussolini invaded France, Roosevelt memorably said, "The hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor." Turkey has already struck several dagger blows against the U.S. It's time the White House addresses this with clarity and determination equal to the gravity of the reality that Turkey is now an ally of Iran and not of the United States.
The Middle East has its Hitler wannabe in Iranian President Ahmadinejad. His nuclear weaponization program has accelerated over eighteen months while Obama's "engagement" is being rebuffed with contemptuous defiance from Tehran. Like Hitler in Mein Kampf, Ahmadinejad has made clear his belief that the Jews of Israel should be annihilated.

Every Hitler needs his Mussolini. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan -- a man I know well -- is enthusiastically volunteering for that role.            

The Hitler analogy should be viewed in terms of the late 1930s rather than the wartime 1940s. By the time Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, he had contemptuously resisted limitations on German rearmament and achieved his territorial aims in the infamous delivery of Czechoslovakia at Munich. He accomplished this while England slept -- in John Kennedy's famous phrase -- without firing a shot.

What does this have to do with Ahmadinejad? The Iranians know that once they possess nuclear weapons, they will have achieved hegemony over the Middle East, with all its energy resources, without firing a shot. As the evidence accumulates that Obama lacks the will to take action to stop the Iranian quest, the countries of the Middle East are compelled to come to terms with the reality that the United States will not use its power to defend its own interests and will settle for trying to "contain" a nuclear Iran. In the pitiless sunlight of the Middle East, reality is harshly defined. A nuclear-armed Iran means that the United States is a big loser. And that Iran is a decisive winner.

No Middle Eastern leader grasps this reality with more eager opportunism than the Turkish prime minister. A serious question is emerging as to whether our government understands this dynamic and its grave consequences. My conversations with State Department officials reveal at best only dim understanding. President Obama, delivering his first address to a foreign parliament in Ankara in April 2006, praised Turkey as a "true partner." In the first giddy flush of Obamamania, this may have been understandable hyperbole even though Erdogan had stabbed the U.S. in the back as long ago as 2003 by denying our forces entry into northern Iraq. But self-delusion in the White House as to critical U.S. interests is no longer rational, as increasing numbers of foreign policy experts -- many of them Obama supporters -- recognize that Turkey has decisively exited its alliance with the West.

Tom Friedman observes in the N.Y. Times: "Maybe President Obama should invite [Erdogan] for a weekend at Camp David to clear the air before U.S.-Turkey relations get where they're going -- over a cliff." German editor Joseph Joffe writes in the Financial Times: "The real game is about dominance at the expense of America, which U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to grasp." Our most astute analyst of the Middle East, Professor Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese Shi'a, writes in the Wall Street Journal that "Turkey courts Iran and turns its back on its old American alliance." And listen to the ultra-liberal Washington Post pose the pertinent question to the White House:

Erdogan's crude attempt to exploit the Gaza flotilla incident comes only a few weeks after he joined Brazil's president in linking arms with Ahmadinejad, whom he is assisting in an effort to block new U.N. sanctions. What's remarkable about his turn toward extremism is that it comes after more than a year of assiduous courting by the Obama administration, which, among other things, has overlooked his antidemocratic behavior at home, helped him combat the Kurdish PKK and catered to Turkish sensitivities about the Armenian genocide. ... Will Mr. Erdogan's behavior be without cost?

Erdogan has allied with all the genocidal factions in the region -- Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Sudan (whose President al-Bashir was invited to Turkey while a fugitive from indictment by the International Court of Criminal Justice). This appears comparable to what Mussolini did in 1936 when he allied with Hitler, believing that the German Chancellor would become master of Europe. Like Mussolini, Erdogan commands a people who can be proud of their historic civilization. Turkey is a NATO ally, and Italy was an American ally in World War 1. Italy had understandable grievances against its former allies, and Turks are entitled to resent the oafish behavior of European politicians regarding Turkish membership in the EU. Erdogen is emulating Mussolini in undermining his country's democratic traditions. Turkish friends warn me that our communications are surveiled and they are subject to government retaliation. Friedman writes, "I've never visited a democracy where more people I interviewed asked me not to name them for fear of retribution by Erdogan's circle."

Like Mussolini, Erdogan is an outsized orator. It took several meetings before I realized that Erdogan's counter-factual eruptions (in a September, 2009, meeting at New York's Plaza hotel, he wildly inflated Gaza casualty statistics and likened Hamas terrorists to "boys throwing stones") are not spontaneous, but carefully calculated to inflame his Islamist electoral base. Erdogan's oratorical demagoguery is escalating as he faces a significant electoral challenge from a secular party. In 1998, a Turkish court sentenced Erdogan, then a candidate, to ten months in prison for inciting religious hatred; he served four months. The lesson Erdogan learned from this was to use Turkish law to intimidate and punish opponents. Kasimpasha, the Istanbul district where he was raised, is known for crude and blunt talk.                              

Kemal Koprulu, scion of an eminent Turkish family and founder of a think-tank for promotion of civil society, warned in a recent article in the Brown Journal of World Affairs of "unhealthy trends of polarization and intolerance combined with anti-Westernism" that are "becoming a chronic problem and wearing down the Turkish public." Pro-western Turks cringe with embarrassment over Erdogan's rhetorical excesses as democratic Italians did over Mussolin's. Skillful Turkish diplomats over the course of many years built friendships to counter the influence of Turkey's traditional detractors (Armenian-Americans and Greek-Americans).  Erdogan has systematically shattered these friendships in a few months. A group of retired Turkish diplomats issued a measured statement last week warning of damage from Erdogan's "adventurous foreign policy." Turkish diplomats and a cabinet under-secretary with whom I've recently met try to argue that Turkey can help America by improving relations with Muslim neighbors. But it's obvious that Turkey undermines American interests by opposing Iran sanctions, hailing Hamas as a legitimate resistance movement, and holding joint military exercises with Syria.

Our country has huge interests in common with Turkey, including our Incirlik airbase and sharing NATO intelligence. Turkey played a key role in NATO in the Cold War and later in Kosovo and Bosnia, but today maintains only a non-combat force in Afghanistan. Congress is beginning to understand that Turkish alliance with Iran and Syria is inconsistent -- to say the least -- with NATO membership.

Franklin Roosevelt was reluctant to challenge Mussolini's alliance with Hitler. But seventy years ago this month, when Mussolini invaded France, Roosevelt memorably said, "The hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor." Turkey has already struck several dagger blows against the U.S. It's time the White House addresses this with clarity and determination equal to the gravity of the reality that Turkey is now an ally of Iran and not of the United States.

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