Monday, March 13, 2017


Lately Turkey has been able to alienate most of European democracies. It has almost jeopardized its relevance in the EU and NATO. Some start to be of the opinion that it might be better to push Turkey back into its maniacal president's lap before it further undercuts the consensus in alliances which might be better off without it. Of course Ankara is a gifted strategic blackmailer who can move many regional assets on the chessboard. This only derives from a "still-life" perspective, which is the more misleading in that everything in the larger Middle East is in flux. Ankara's bluff needs to be countered!

President Erdogan's "hubris" can still be matched by more imaginative alternatives. The EU adhesion charade can easily be stopped, the more so in that it has never left the tarmac. Germany still tries to manage this wild card but Berlin's patience is running out of steam. That Erdogan dares to throw Nazi dirt at the Netherlands and Germany is out of order and demands "reparation". NATO does not need an unreliable, deceptive partner in its midst. True, the strategic importance of Turkey is a fact.  Its loss would be a major event but, given Ankara's rapprochement with Putin, its volte face could hardly come as a surprise. Maybe one could reconsider parts of the former CENTO (the 1958 former Baghdad pact) with a different membership.  Other regional powers, such as the Gulf states, Jordan, the Saudis, and why not Iraq, might not be impervious. Baghdad comes over as a power which is torn between two competing magnets: Iran and a shy tilt in direction of the Sunnis. Iraq might, after all, be a better bet in such a revision since it still carries past memories of King Faisal II Hashemite times. It could also be relieved to create some space between Baghdad and Tehran, whose embrace is too close for comfort.  Iran is a regime without an overwhelming mass following. The Iranians comprise an often educated, conscious critical mass which is cautious while at the same time remaining informed.  President Obama's deal was far from perfect but it was intelligent insofar that it left open a window for reversals inside Iran. The art of the conduct of foreign affairs lies also in the recognition of redemption. 

After the coming elections in Western Europe, revisiting existing flash points should receive priority.  One should not be afraid to consider exploratory moves in an unstable environment of shifting alliances. Under the surface Israel and the Sunni states are already co-operating. Iran has an under-covered face, a more open mindset than it allows the world to see. Hamas and Hezbollah are not the monolithic forces of yesterday. The Kurds, who do well, have to be sheltered from Turkey which lives in a permanent state of coups and paranoia. Syria is a permanent drama, with too many actors and too few rescuers. In the short-term the main problems for the West are an American diplomatic apparatus on leave of absence and a US president who shows little interest for imaginative statesmanship.  He might well get rid of President Obama's achievements, just out of spite. The Europeans are stuck in a Brexit headache and electoral quagmires of their own making. Those negatives will be hard to overcome.

Under Dr. Kissinger or de Gaulle, major political bets were made. They often came at a price, in the case of the American secretary of State: an immoral covert action (Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam). The French president played the more overtly cynical card (NATO, Algeria, EU, China). I am afraid that Rex Tillerson, America's new secretary of State by stealth, will not be a man of challenging initiatives, as Dean Acheson or Dr. Kissinger were. Neither will he be the patient pursuer of a glimmer of hope (Middle East) or of a historical move (the Paris agreement, Cuba) as John Kerry was.

Diplomacy has to be more than just a janitor or a concierge. It is an exercise in smart risk and at the end of the day it is basically a denial of pessimism. In Lazarus Takiwara's words: "Diplomacy in leadership is winning the war on behalf of both sides".

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