Elliott Abrams’ Historical Revisionism

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?

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. This is not so much a comment as a question.

    Because I am so cynical I have to believe that Israel has a hand in the situation in Syria.

    Does anyone have any info or thoughts on this?

  2. Yeah, I do. I don’t think the Israelis had anything to do with the Syrian uprising, but undoubtedly they are watching it with a certain amount of pleasure.

  3. I have a hard time believing that the Israelis are so impetuous they’d upset Assad. However, they may be so delusional, so psychotic that they may imagine he suffers from rabid Antisemitism. We know how carelessly that appellation is thrown around. If Lieberman, the foreign secretary’s role is as the title suggests, it wouldn’t surprise me. I’d hope more rational, careful people are calling the shots. Then again, the sage, cautious perspective of Mier Dagan is no longer in gov’t–so who knows.

    I think Israelis will be tearing their clothes bemoaning the loss of the Assad regime. They may not like his style, but in fact he’s been more restrained toward Israel than his people would wish.

    It appears that the Israelis appreciate Hussein of Jordan, and I believe are transferring money (along with the US and Saudis) to prop him up.

    I am a big fan of RTE and think he is a savvy, steward of Turkey. I have to reject the notion of “rivals” that even Jim articulates. Think in a more Eastern mode (or Brzezinski) that rejects this antagonistic formulation (wish I could remember his term) for the less contentious “competitors.” Whatever, Turkey’s strength isn’t in opposing anyone/any nation, but in bridging East and West. Iran can’t and won’t ever threaten Turkey and the opposite is true.

    Israel has totally lost sight of this, becoming a total pariah with only one friend in the whole world. Turkey has only one potential enemy, Israel. But Turkey’s strength comes from being able to cooperate with even them. RTE seems to understand this fully. And while asserting Turkish national interest has avoided being overly provocative. Such sage stewardship will carry them a long way–it worked for the US, till we framed the world in the “you’re either with us or again us” formulation offered by my fellow dullard Dallasite.

  4. RE: “Elliott Abram’s op-ed published in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal August 2, entitled ‘Preventing Civil War in Syria.'”

    MY COMMENT: I assume the Wall Street Journal reminded their readers that Elliott Abrams was convicted of lying to the Congress. Journalistic ethics must surely require that they disclose this.

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