US SECRETARY of State Mike Pompeo speaks on Thursday to students at the American University in Cairo.
(photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/REUTERS)
American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s major address in Cairo, “A force for good: America’s reinvigorated role in the Middle East,” laid out a new American vision in sharp contrast to President Barack Obama’s speech 10 years ago.
Pompeo described Obama’s vision as distancing America away from its traditional allies, Israel and the Sunni Gulf States, his goal being a path to a new relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran that culminated with the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal). Notably absent from Pompeo’s speech was any mention of Turkey as an American ally.
How significant this speech will be as a turning point in America’s engagement with its allies and adversaries in the region remains to be seen. According to the New York Times
, Pompeo “vowed to increase the pressure until Iran halts... its ‘malign activities’ throughout the Mideast.” Critics have claimed the speech lacked details and was hyper-partisan.
Although National Security Advisor John Bolton and Pompeo mean what they say, it is ultimately the commander in chief who will decide American policy. One speech will not reassure America’s allies in the region, especially after the president decided to take the advice of President Erdogan of Turkey over his own foreign policy team regarding withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
The continued mixed messaging, even after Bolton said the Syrian policy had changed to a conditional withdrawal, has left allies unsure whether they can rely on US assurances in planning for their future security. Keeping your enemies guessing is a legitimate strategy, but it is unhelpful to do that to your allies and your own foreign policy advisers.
In his Cairo speech, Pompeo said, “We grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism,” while praising Egyptian President Sisi for confronting this threat.
But this begs the question; does the administration also realize that Turkey under Erdogan is no different from the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology that Sisi overthrew?
Clearly, Iran is enemy number one for this administration, but how concerned is the President about Turkey’s nearly twenty-year Islamist rule that has been undermining our security interests?
As Tom Rogan wrote in the Washington Examiner, “Where Turkey was once a reliable Eurasian center for free trade, the rule of law and secular democracy, Erdogan has built an Islamist authoritarian state driven by corrupt patronage... At present, Turkey is extracting the benefits of its alliance with America without any responsibility.”
Erdogan may feel immune to any consequences for his behavior, because he believes the United States needs Turkey as a counterweight to Syrian President Assad, and to reign in ISIS and al-Qaeda aligned militias.
SO DOES a president who values transactional negotiations see Erdogan as a friend, an enemy or something in between, a frenemy?
Erdogan’s public humiliation of Bolton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Dunford, by canceling their scheduled meeting, was a slap in the face to America. Perhaps it should be the tipping point to re-evaluate the stability and reliability of the relationship.
Getting this relationship right is crucial for stability in the region. Turkey has the second largest armed force in NATO, houses a pivotal but not vital American air base in Incirlik, is a crucial part of the production line for America’s next generation F-35 fighter, yet still desires to purchase the Russian S-400 anti-missile system. If Turkey incorporates a Russian system into NATO defenses, this relationship’s status will rise to the level of a crisis for American security.
In theory, Turkey as a Sunni state should be helpful in confronting Iran, a Shi’ite state, that like Turkey harbors grandiose desires to control the whole Middle East. But Turkey has gotten into bed with Russia and Iran, whose primary goal is to undermine American interests. Turkey has also pledged to destroy America’s only true ally in Syria, the YPG Kurds.
Pompeo said, “President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the (Iranian) regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal, with its false promises.”
The question going forward is, will the president end our “willful blindness” to the dangers of an Islamist Turkey?
Trump needs to tell Erdogan that it’s time for Turkey to choose which side it is on, and act accordingly.The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network™), and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, foreign policy advisers, Knesset members, journalists and organizational leaders.
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