The Obama-Erdogan Alliance

How the president is working to further the interests of Turkish Islamists.

Hurriyet Daily News, a major Turkish newspaper, reported on July 31, 2012 that a "senior US official visiting Turkey says Washington does not anticipate an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria and they favor the protection of Syria’s territorial integrity." The official, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon on a visit to Istanbul, stated that they (the U.S.) did not anticipate an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria’s future, adding that they favored the protection of Syria’s territorial integrity and explained it to Turkey in a clear way. Gordon added, “Syria has a huge priority for both of us (U.S. and Turkey). We are coordinating very well on the question of Syria. I think we have very similar interests.”

That same day, Reuters reported on a telephone conversation President Obama initiated with his friend and designated sub-contractor in dealing with the Syrian crisis, Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the talks, they discussed co-ordination of efforts to accelerate the process of political transition in Syria, including Bashar al-Assad leaving the administration, and the meeting of the Syrian people's legitimate demands.

Obama and his administration have consistently supported the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, in which elements of the Muslim Brotherhood have a dominant voice.  That support sits well with Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP), which has inspired the Islamist parties that rose to leadership in Tunisia and Egypt. For Erdogan and Turkey, the idea of an autonomous Kurdish region within a federal Syria is an anathema, and he is seeking to divide the Kurds of Syria, and scuttle the efforts to create an autonomous Kurdish region.  The Erdogan regime fears that such a move by Syrian Kurds would stimulate a call for similar autonomy by close to 20 million Turkish Kurds.

The unification of the various Kurdish factions in Syria in mid-July under the auspices of KRG President Masoud Barzani, forming the Supreme Kurdish Council, and now in control of large swaths of the border areas with Turkey, is challenging the Obama administration and Erdogan’s Islamist Turkey to reconsider the Kurds as a serious element in the future of Syria.  Until recently it seemed that one had to consider only the Alawi-led Assad regime and the largely Sunni-Arab opposition as the main contenders in the power struggle for control of a unitary Syria. The actions  recently taken by the Kurds (three million strong in Syria), who have not yet thrown their support to either side in the conflict, opens up new possibilities for a third way for Syria, a federated Syria, in which minority rights for  Kurds, Alawis, Christians and Druze would be guaranteed.

That said, it must be emphasized that the creation of the Supreme Kurdish Council is Masoud Barzani’s way to appease both Obama and Erdogan who seek to implement the Sunni-Arab agenda (supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and Turkey’s interests, and at the same time control the Syrian Kurds, and prevent the formation of a federal Syria or an autonomous Kurdish region.  According to Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, the Kurds of Syria resent the interference of both the neighboring governments and the Kurds from the region (Turkey, Iraq, and Iran),  Abbas added, “We reject any agreement that is short of federalism.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on December 6, 2011 with members of the Syrian National Council in Geneva, Switzerland, a meeting that President Obama endorsed. Absent from the meeting, however, were members of the Syrian Democratic Coalition.  The latter are Syrian expatriates including Sherkoh Abbas, who are also opposed to the Assad regime, and who seek a secular democratic and federal Syria, where minorities will be fully represented. Why this group of democratic Syrians was excluded may yet be the subject of a congressional hearing.

Obama’s pro-Muslim proclivities were emphasized in an editorial that appeared in the Turkish daily Hurriyet in April 2009, which reported on the speech he gave in the Turkish Parliament during his first foreign state visit: “But the most striking side of it was that his decency and brilliance was harmonized with the text quite beautifully. Especially as he talked about Muslims’ contributions to the United States, Obama counted himself in as part of the Muslim community living in the United States and claimed his Muslim middle name, Hussein. And it was a sincere sign of his positive approach to the Islamic world.”

In that same speech Obama elevated U.S.-Turkish relations from a “strategic partnership” to a “model partnership.”  According to Hurriyet, Obama emphasized the importance of Turkey not only for the United States but also for the world, and went on to say that Turkey will be perceived as one of the most important countries in the world, and will be treated accordingly. The United States and Turkey, Hurriyet reported, “are building kind of a ‘company’ together for cooperation and solidarity to resolve world issues.”

Obama’s trusted friend and partner PM Erdogan has an interesting background.  He was convicted by the Turkish court in 1998 for “inciting religious hatred” and was barred from serving in parliament and serving as PM following the electoral victory of the Islamist AK Party in November 2002. Erdogan has also deliberately fostered tensions in Turkey’s relations with Israel, and was behind the provocative actions of the Mavi Marmara (Gaza flotilla) incident in May 2010, in which Erdogan sought to curry favor with the Arab world by supporting the Islamist Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza against Israel.

Watching Obama’s facial expressions during his March 25, 2012 press conference with Erdogan one is struck by the exceptional warmth and broad smiles, as well as obvious verbal support for the brutal Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish PKK guerillas.  The pictures and content of the bilateral talks with Erdogan contrast sharply with the bilateral talks Obama held with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Beyond the usual platitudes, Obama did not endorse the kind of “open-ended, blank check” approach he gave Turkey in Iraq with regard to Israel’s pursuit of Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

The Obama administration has cultivated a strong relationship with Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movements in Egypt and Tunisia.  In Egypt, it has pressured the military to yield power to President Morsi, the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood leader.  Above all, Obama has found in PM Erdogan a like-minded person whose interests, Obama underscored, match his own. In the process, Obama has ignored the dangerous accesses of the MB in rhetoric and actions (against the Christian-Copts of Egypt for example, and the peace treaty with Israel), and is now seeking to curb the Kurdish aspirations in Syria.

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