U.S. Middle East non-policy: Nonsensical stay-away



It is not for nothing that President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel and Jordan is described with concern from Beirut to London as nothing more than political tourism.


“Even those well-disposed towards Obama say he’ll be coming to Israel as a tourist, seeing the key sights and shaking a few hands, with no initiative to launch, no plan to unveil,” wrote Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. Elsewhere, American officials seem busy lowering the expectations on concrete steps.

No matter how substantiated the arguments behind the current choices of the US’s regional policy, it would not be far-sighted to foresee worrisome consequences of the passivity, which may be visible sooner rather than later.

It is bound to have an impact not only on Palestine and an increasingly restive Egypt but also on the escalating developments in Syria, whose crisis now is spilling more and more over into Jordan and Lebanon. On the third front looms Iraq, where incurable disagreements are arising between Kurds and the central government of Nouri al-Maliki. The visit marks a time of extraordinary discord between the American administration and the governments of Israel and Turkey, not to mention Egypt. It also marks a period of time in which that administration displays indifference to pregnant changes in such a critical geography.

Let us leave the Israeli visit aside for the moment and ask: How will Ankara and Washington’s disagreement over Iraq affect the ongoing — and so far positively developing — negotiations between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)? Where does the US really stand regarding attempts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to further break away from Baghdad? What sort of link is there, if any, between its Iran policy and the Iraqi Kurds, who are already vulnerable prey for Tehran?

As elsewhere in the region, there is something that does not add up in the White House’s positioning. “This land of 5 million people [Iraqi Kurdistan] is seen by Washington as something of a distraction, undermining its official ‘one Iraq’ policy. And the Baghdad regime of Nouri al-Maliki, the beneficiary of that policy, is doing all in its power to ensure matters stay that way,” wrote Dov Zakheim, a former undersecretary of the Defense Department and a prominent Republican, in the National Interest after a recent visit to Arbil.

Here are some points he raises that further stress the questions I posed above:

“In contrast to its raw relations with Baghdad, the KRG has managed to preserve a fine balancing act between its Turkish and Iranian neighbors. Turkey’s political and economic influence continues to grow, especially in Erbil, but its economic activity consists mainly of contracted projects, notably construction, rather than investment.

“At the same time, the Kurds are strong supporters of [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s negotiations with jailed PKK leader [Abdullah] Öcalan to resolve Turkey’s long-standing conflict with that Kurdish rebel group. The Kurds are convinced that a Turkish settlement with the PKK will result in an influx of Turkish investment funds into their region.

“Despite the friction with Baghdad, and in contrast to the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan is both peaceful and relatively prosperous. It is, in fact, an island of stability. Yet the [US] State Department applies the same travel advisory for Kurdistan as for the rest of Iraq, with the result that many investors have shied away from the region. It is as if Kurdistan is being penalized for sectarian tensions that are constantly flaring up in the rest of Iraq. Washington’s bias could not be more obvious.

“Washington’s support for the increasingly dictatorial Maliki makes little sense. He has backed Assad in Syria, and has positioned his country squarely within Tehran’s orbit. It is not clear that he views the United States as much more than a source of arms…

“Washington should take a second look at its policy toward Kurdistan. Betting on Maliki at the expense of the Kurds is unlikely to pay off in the long run, or, for that matter, in the short run.”

So, as Obama prepares for his visit, we can ask once more: What does his administration expect to happen amidst a “no-show” of regional policy?

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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