I’m sure some readers of this blog saw Elliott Abram’s op-ed published in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal August 2, entitled “Preventing Civil War in Syria.” As suggested by the title, the column was about how to overthrow the Assad regime without precipitating a bloody sectarian conflict of the kind that broke out during the U.S. occupation of Iraq (when Abrams was George W. Bush’s top Mideast aide). The answer: separate the Assad family and its closest cronies from their fellow-Alawites and make damn sure that Gaddafi is ousted in Libya so that “threats of possible military action [against Syria] to prevent civilians, especially refugees, will have some credibility.”
His argument, however, is not what really leapt out at me while reading the piece. What startled me was the following passage:
Here the Turkish government may be able to help, for they turned against Assad even before the U.S. did. The Turks were pursuing their own interests, seeking to displace Iran as the outside power most influential in Syria.
Now, compare that last sentence with the following passage by Abrams in a piece published by the Weekly Standard just over a year ago:
First, it’s obvious that our formerly reliable NATO ally Turkey has become a staunch supporter of the radical camp. In the flotilla incident, it not only sided with but also sought to strengthen the terrorist group Hamas—a group that is anathema not just to the United States and Israel, but to the governments of Jordan and Egypt. The recent photo of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad in Damascus is an emblem of this change, and Turkey’s work to undermine U.N. sanctions against Iran shows its substance. Turkey’s U.N. Security Council vote against the newest round of sanctions this past week put it in Iran’s camp against Europe, the United States, Russia, and China. That’s quite a realignment for a NATO ally.
This, of course, was written right after the flotilla incident in which Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish American on the Mavi Marmara.
So, 14 months ago, neo-conservative geo-strategist extraordinaire Abrams believed that Turkey had joined “Iran’s camp” in the Middle East, whereas today, only 14 months later, Turkey is seen by Abrams as rival of Islamic Republic. Which begs the question: when, in Abrams’ view, did Turkey decamp from its presumed alliance with Iran and become Tehran’s rival?
Or is it more plausible that Turkey was acting as Iran’s rival all along, but Abrams — no doubt furious over the sharp deterioration in relations between Israel and Turkey capped by Erdogan’s quite righteous anger at the deaths on the Mavi Marmara and thoroughly wedded to the kind of Manichean, “you’re-either-with-us-or-you-are-with-the-terrorists” worldview that is so deeply embedded in the neo-conservative movement — never really understood it?