Monday, October 12, 2009

The Middle East in Mid-October: Themes and Developments

By Barry Rubin

1. The Israel-Turkey alliance is over. Obviously this has been happening for some time but the last straw was the cancellation of the planned joint military maneuvers, six of which have been carried out. Why is this different? Because it was the Turkish military—traditionally the bulwark of the bilateral relationship—which asked for the cancellation.

The military has been intimidated by the AKP government, weakened partly by EU demands for a lower level of military power in politics, and is also being infiltrated by pro-Islamist, or at least pro-government, elements. The idea that the armed forces are the protector of the republic and will intervene if the government goes too far toward Islamism does not function any more.

A final factor that might have inhibited such a cancellation in the past is Turkey’s fear that the United States would do something. While the United States pulled out of the maneuvers when Israel was excluded, the Obama Administration is perceived as too weak and even so bewitched by the AKP’s narrative of itself as a liberal Islamist regime to do anything.

The fact is that today the Turkish government is closer politically to Iran and Syria than to the United States and Israel. Washington policymakers have not even begun to face that shift. In fact, the Turkish-Israel alliance is now being replaced by the Turkey-Syria alliance.

2. Afghanistan is a disaster in waiting for the Administration. As I have noted HERE, this is the wrong war for the United States to engage in. Even the mass media usually supportive of the Obama Administration is pointing out that the situation has deteriorated and there isn’t much hope of establishing a stable Afghan military or an effective Afghan government. See here .

3. It’s sobering to think that with the first anniversary of his being president already looming, Barack Obama has basically done nothing internationally, least of all in the Middle East. There are still no increased sanctions on Iran, not the tiniest progress (or even negotiations) on the Israel-Palestinian front, and no decision on Afghanistan. The U.S. relationship to Turkey has, in real terms, deteriorated sharply. Nor has there been any particular progress on withdrawing from Iraq.

Now it’s starting to look as if the Palestinians are turning against Obama and one expects to hear a chorus soon from the Arab world that Obama is no better than Bush. Especially notable is that for an administration which claimed repeatedly and loudly it would hit the ground running on the peace process absolutely zero has been done. See HERE

4. This is an obscure story right now but might become the biggest event of the world next year. A leading South African newspaper warns that preparations for stopping terrorists from attacking the 2010 World Cup in South Africa next year are not being taken seriously by the government. Remember this one:

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