As always, you present your analysis with valuable historical perspective. (For other addressees: see Graham Fuller's essay below my comments).
However, I question one premise that you offer almost as if it were a foregone conclusion : "if the Middle East truly moves towards more democratic governance --- which some day it surely will --- "
Nothing in the current situation strikes me as justifying that optimism, even if one posits a timeframe of several decades. Political trends in the region suggest to me that the most optimistic scenario we can look forward to is a period of increasing disillusionment with the competence and effectiveness of Islamist extremism as a system of governance. I see this phase being replaced, however, not with democratic institutions, but with regimes more closely resembling the authoritarian and repressive Arab nationalist dictatorships that you and I grew up with in the 1950's and 1960's. (Today's worst case scenario would of course be precipitous descent into widespread regional chaos. Neither of us is contemplating such a thing immediately ahead.)
That being said, I certainly agree with your expectation that a regional situation will evolve
independently, within what you call its own natural geopolitical pressures and constraints, whereby relations between the Muslim world and Israel will no longer be "played through some Washington prism whereby everything is distorted and the normal workings of geopolitics are suspended." Your focus on the current Turkish-Israeli experience is a very appropriate and instructive example to study.
Regarding Washington's relations with Israel, I foresee a future in which the United States (under any administration, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative) will also begin to conduct America's bilateral relationship with Israel in a much more balanced and objective intellectual and political context. Indeed, that very trend, if it does continue at its present steady pace, promises more progress toward the moderation of Muslim hostility and the development of more congenial and constructive relations between Muslim societies and the Christian West than any other single influence I can imagine. (It is obvious to the rest of us that this would be of "existential" benefit to the security of Israel itself, of course, but that is apparently difficult for many Israelis to comprehend.)
Current trends within Israel itself certainly provide plenty of reasons why Americans are beginning to see their so-called Special Relationship with Israel as more of a practical liability than an asset if the context is broadened to include America's other vital strategic relationships in the region and beyond --- another perspective to which many of our Israeli friends seem oblivious or emotionally resistant.)
Difficult as it is to confess, Graham, I'm afraid I lack confidence that there is a natural impulse within all of Adam's descendents to choose something vaguely called "democracy" as the best way to manage their societies.
Thanks and warm regards, as ever,
P.S. Aren't you more pleased every day that you moved to Canada? (If I were an Israeli, by the way, I'd be doing the same thing just as fast as I could!)
Date: Mon, 09 Feb 2009
From: Graham E. Fuller
The emergence of Turkey as a major player on the Middle East scene is a
fascinating phenomenon. It entails an evolution that needs to be seen not
in the perspective of five or ten years, but of over one hundred years of
change-- as we watch the gradual closing down of a Turkish Ottoman Empire
deeply involved in ME affairs, its total absence from the ME affairs
entirely in the wildly abnormal geopolitical position of Turkey from 1945
to 1975 or so ("loyal ally of America"), and then the gradual, logical
inevitable return to ME involvement as imposed Kemalist values recede into
more normal perspective in Turkish politics. (That "receding" is actually
what Turkish politics is all about today. This whole cycle of Turkey's
involvement in, then withdrawal from, then return to the ME is the main
theme of my recent book _The New Turkish Republic_.)
I venture to say that the position of Turkey on the role of Israel today
is actually the "normal" view one would expect from most Muslim countries
towards Israel-- a view which under normal conditions we would see across
the entire ME today. But of course the conditions today are not normal.
Indeed they are highly artificial with dictatorial regimes that are so
insecure that they cling to a Washington life-line -- especially Egypt,
Jordan, Saudi Arabia which prevents them from adopting a predictably
"normal" attitude towards Israel. I argue that such a normal attitude
towards Israel in the region is most likely to be something like the
Erdogan position--at least for a moderate democratic Muslim governments.
And of course at the same time, we have other dictatorships not supported
by Washington which attempt to establish their questionable legitimacy
through adoption of a radical position towards Israel and the Palestine
problem-- hence Syria, Iran, Saddam, Qaddafi in an earlier era, even Yemen
on the margins.
If the ME truly moves towards more democratic governance--which some day
it surely will -- it will be much more outspokenly critical of Israel and
particularly such events as the latest massacre in Gaza. It is
inconceivable that most Muslim governments would have maintained full
diplomatic relations with ambassadors in place in Israel during such an
So it is clearly in Israel's interest (Washington too?) _not _to see
democracy come to the ME, where Muslim public opinion will demand a
tougher position towards Israel-- and will elect officials who do so. That
does not have to mean war. But it does mean a regional situation evolving
on its own within its own natural geopolitical pressures and constraints
and not played through some Washington prism whereby everything is
distorted and the normal workings of geopolitics are suspended.
Thus we should not look at this issue as a special Turkish-Israeli dynamic
but rather part of a broader ME-Israeli one. It just happens that Turkey
right now is the only such state that has a normal democratic govt, is
subject to normal democratic pressures, and thus really represents such a
"normal," if quite moderate approach to Israel, with all its quite
justifiable anger at the gross disproportionality of killing and blood in
the recent Gaza war and the crushing of the Palestinian population.
The world may be lucky to have a Turkey in this respect -- a state that
can voice profound regional revulsion at events, yet keep the broader
issues in perspective and continue to work for a regional settlement. Iran
can't do it, the craven Arab kings and presidents-for-life don't dare do
it -- but the Turks could. Normal democratic Arab regimes would not
tremble before Hamas as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia do-- out of fear of
the radical power of mass popular anger that will eventually dislodge
those rulers; normal democratic Arab regimes would rather work with Hamas,
as Turkey does, as a genuine political force reflecting democratic
Palestinian opinion, but a force that needs to be calmed, moderated,
channeled and negotiated with.
Turkey may start to look awfully good to the West as the region continues
to lurch into ever greater ugliness and confrontation and blind refusal to
acknowledge each other's existences-- "no interlocutor."
Graham E. Fuller