One day after Israeli military forces raided the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing 8 Turkish citizens, Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said “this bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse.”
The Turkish-Israeli rift has set off the American right wing, many of whom have been claiming that Turkey is drifting away from the West (despite its application for inclusion in the European Union). Liz Cheney last week said the “Turkish-Syrian-Iranian axis” is working together to ostracize Israel. Yesterday, she even went so far to suggest that Turkey has “threaten[ed] to destroy Israel.” Today on Fox News, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) picked up on Cheney’s talking point:
CANTOR: What the president I believe should be doing is standing by our ally Israel. Everyone understands now that the international community has gone in uproar over this and the point that’s been missed is the fact that Israel’s enemies really are aiming to destroy Israel. Those voices start in Iran, Syria and what seems to be now Turkey is throwing in with those voices.
It’s important to note that Turkey is a member of NATO, and the United States has signed a treaty pledging to defend Turkey if it is ever attacked. Moreover, it’s naive to suggest that Turkey and Israel are enemies and that Ankara has aims to “destroy” Israel. In fact, Erdogan recently referred to Turkey as Israel’s “best friend” in the Middle East.
Simply because Turkey is a predominantly Muslim nation doesn’t mean that any disagreement with the Jewish state of Israel should be interpreted as Turkey allying itself with al Qaeda, Iran, or Syria. The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss wrote recently that — in their quest to drive up fears of a new “Islamist” Turkey — the neocons’ overly simplistic analyses of Turkey and the wider Middle East have trouble making this subtle distinction:
Much like the United States, Turkey is a fairly religious society. It makes perfect sense, then, that as Turkey has become more democratic, and political participation has expanded beyond an elite, Euro-centric core, that religious conservatives have become more visible, and issues relating to Turkey’s Islamic identity have come to the fore. There’s nothing necessarily to be feared about this — a similar debate is a central feature of American politics, too (or didn’t you notice our presidential candidates meeting with one of our most prominent clerics on television?)
But this type of fear-based knee-jerk facile thinking has been a key feature of the neocon foreign policy circuit for quite some time. And as Duss noted, they “haven’t let their disastrous misreading of modern Iraqi society and culture deter them from a similar misreading of Turkish society.”