Saturday, January 29, 2011

America the Neutral: Israel? Turkey? But Everyone Can't Be Right, Right?

By Barry Rubin

The U.S. government doesn't play favorites, even when it should. Israel came out with a report under international auspices on the Mavi Marmara/Gaza flotilla incident that corresponds to the evidence. The Turkish government had a report for which there is no evidence, accusing Israel of massacring Turkish citizens even though there is videotape showing that it isn't true.

So how did Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley respond, obviously reading from guidance produced by the State Department?

As a journalist asked, "How do you view Turkish report on the flotilla crisis, which basically [is] contrary to Israeli report right now?

Crowley responds that both countries have "worked seriously and responsibly to get at the facts, and both have made important contributions to the work of the [UN] Secretary General’s panel." He seems to give the UN inquiry the main role giving "the international community the opportunity to fully review the circumstances surrounding this incident." Aside from abrogating any U.S. stand, that "international community" isn't too trustworthy in matters concerned with Israel.

A reporter follows up, "But it seems like the relationship between these two allies of the U.S. in the region, two of the most important allies in the region, are getting worse, not for better."

And Crowley answers: "What is of equal importance to us is the longstanding ties that we have to both Israel and Turkey....And we hope that both countries will continue to seek opportunities to move beyond the recent strains in their own bilateral relations....Turkey has been a significant player in helping to resolve issues in the region related to the pursuit of Middle East peace. And we would hope that in the future that effort can continue."

Now of course both countries are important to the United States and the diplomatic language here is understandable. On the other hand, the Turkish government has not been too helpful lately, including its support for Iran against the United States. While obviously the U.S. government does not want to antagonize the Turkish regime unnecessarily it might be appropriate to give it a bit of a nudge.

It is also significant that that government has accused Israel of carrying out a massacre. A bit of support for Israel would be welcome in clearing its name and beginning to put a stop to the anti-Israel and often anti-Jewish hysteria sweeping the globe.

But the Obama Administration doesn't do that and this kind of response is all too typical:

1. Acting as if the most important goal is not to offend hostile regimes.

2. Failing to take the side of an ally in a dispute. Yes, both countries are  U.S. allies but the current Turkish government isn't.

3. A refusal to show leadership.

4. Putting decisionmaking into the hands of international organizations, not only abrogating the U.S. role but also giving power to groups that are often at odds with both truth and U.S. interests.

5. Predictably, the radicals then take the first four points as a sign of American appesement. The pro-regime Turkish media is crowing about how the United States supports their version of the issue, which will stir up more anti-Israel hatred and hysteria in Turkey. Even if this is not precisely what the U.S. government said, the bottom line becomes: Even the Americans admit that we are right.

True, the report in Hurriyet is quite fair but highlighted the statement to make it seem like an endorsement of the Turkish report. The Islamist Today's Zaman says that the U.S. government was forced to admit that the Turkish report was accurate, thus vindicating the blood libel charges against Israel.

The clearest manifestation of that right now is the opening of a Turkish film, "Valley of the Wolves," in which Israel is depicted as doing what the Turkish report claimed. In the end, the Turkish agents kill Israelis. So, in Turkey will the U.S. statement be taken as endorsing that version and thus justifying the murder of Israelis?

This is the kind of stuff you need to think about before taking an official State Department position.

Incidentally and equally predictably, the Egyptian government is now saying that the United States has endorsed the revolt there though the uprising seems to be anti-American, at least in large part.

And by the way, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey to be the worst offender on this issue.

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