Friedman Dabbles in Neocon Approach To Turkey

Tom Friedman is traveling again. This time he’s in Turkey, checking in to tell us that Turkey’s withdrawal from the Western orbit is all Turkey’s fault. His tack comes as no surprise to those keeping track of the neocons and their Lobby-friendly allies‘ attacks on Turkey since the Gaza War of ’08-’09 and, more recently, the Free Gaza flotilla disaster.

But because of Friedman’s wide-ranging influence, his take on Turkey might suggest a mainstream move toward wholesale acceptance of the narrative put forth by Israel’s Likud government — that Turkey, hailed as the bridge between Europe and the Mid-East, is now firmly in Iran and Syria’s orbit and, as extremists on the pro-Israel right would have it, no different from Hamas.

Another day, another enemy of Israel — and, therefore, according to the lobby’s theory of aligned interests, an enemy of the U.S.

This crude reactionary thought process is already appearing among neocon commentators, as Jim noted in a piece last week. Furthermore, it’s made its way firmly onto Capitol Hill, where Lobby stalwarts (including the Christian Zionist contingent) are releasing statements declaring “that blood is on the hands of Turkey.” MJ Rosenberg nicely sums up these developments in Washinton over at Media Matters, giving special attention to the demand that Turkey be booted from NATO and relating events to his extensive experience working in and around the Hill.

The most disturbing of these machinations is the exposure of the Lobby’s blackmail on Turkey with regards to the Armenian genocide. The talented neoconservative Washington Times reporter Eli Lake wrote a story last week which chronicled how the Israel lobby is no longer willing to help Turkey oppose votes in Congress to recognize the Armenian genocide. At Mondoweiss, Phil Weiss picks up on a story from Salon by an Armenian former L.A. Times writer who’s 2007 story on Jewish stateside political cover for the genocide got killed along with his career at the paper. Personally, my favorite account of this cynical move came from Spencer Ackerman, who wrote a great piece with a headline that sarcastically mocked the Lobby’s indignation at Turkey’s recent behavior: “I Denied A Genocide For You People!” (Oh, yes, this is the “pro-Israel” right — the ones always accusing the left of “moral relativism.”)

But that is mostly from the overt Lobby. Friedman’s scorn is more troublesome because of the sway he holds over a broader spectrum of liberals (for god knows what reason). He served as a neoconservative conduit to them in the run up to the Iraq War and seems to be doing the same now for the overwrought neocon demonization of Turkey.

But his scorn is badly misplaced, exhibiting rampant Israeli and American exceptionalism. In Friedman’s reading, these two nations, despite having pushed Turkey away, are the innocent victims.

First and foremost, Friedman’s image of Turkey, as my colleague Eli pointed out to me earlier today, is an oversimplified projection of what Friedman wants Turkey to be — “a country at the hinge of Europe and the Middle East that manages to be at once modern, secular, Muslim, democratic, and has good relations with the Arabs, Israel and the West.” Friedman places the blame solely on Turkey for failing to live up to his standards (though he does mentions that the EU rejected them for membership). Turkey’s drift toward the East (or the South, depending on which mixed metaphor Friedman is riffing on) is a cynical move by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an to get support of his mildly-Islamist base and his Arab neighbors.

Friedman is dismissive of what seem to be perfectly reasonable motivations for Erdo?an’s upbraiding of Israeli President Shimon Peres after the brutal Gaza War and, more recently, his condemnation of Israel’s assault on the Free Gaza Flotilla. Furthermore, by limiting his criticisms to the widely-acknowledged humanitarian crisis in Gaza (both as it relates to the war there and the ongoing blockade), Erdo?an’s reactions may have been energetic, but not out of line. No mention of any of this from Friedman.

“There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israel’s human rights abuses in the territories,” writes Friedman,

But it is very troubling when Erdogan decries Israelis as killers and, at the same time, warmly receives in Ankara Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloodshed in Darfur, and while politely hosting Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government killed and jailed thousands of Iranians demanding that their votes be counted.

I don’t want to make excuses for nationalism here, but Israel’s commando raid on the flotilla left nine Turks dead. Erdo?an’s relationship with Ahmadinejad and al-Bashir might be disheartening to Washington hawks, but what’s a little hypocrisy in world affairs? Everyone, in this respect, lives in glass houses, and everyone looks out more for their own citizens. Those were not Darfurians or members of the Green Movement aboard the flotilla. They were Turks — nine of them dead at the hands of the Israeli Navy.

Rather than looking at the specifics of the diplomatic rows, Friedman sees whatever he wants to. No blame for Turkish disillusionment with the West is placed on Israel or, for that matter, on the U.S. It was President Obama’s administration, after all, who slapped aside an important outreach to Iran orchestrated by Turkey and Brazil by walking back a letter that gave tepid support to the emerging powers’ efforts. That played no role, Friedman would have us believe, in forcing Turkey out of the Western orbit.

Perhaps most startlingly, Friedman callously compares Turkey to Hamas and Hezbollah. Though he immediately walks the comparison back with some of his usual cutesy junior varsity prose, he notes that he’s only “slightly” exaggerating (emphasis — or tired literary device, or schizophrenia — in original):

[…I]t is quite shocking to come back today and find Turkey’s Islamist government seemingly focused not on joining the European Union but the Arab League — no, scratch that, on joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel.

Now how did that happen?

Wait one minute, Friedman. That is a gross exaggeration, say Turkish officials.

You’re right. I exaggerate, but not that much.

I wrote a post earlier this year about how Friedman deals with Hezbollah and Hamas — the strategy amounts to collective punishment and state terror (violence against civilians to attain a political end).

Look out, Turkey.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Hey Friedman, “Suck on This”

    Funny that Israel would refuse to protect the Turks from the declaration of Genocide. I thought they selfishly wanted to protect the holocaust as a unique event with no parallel. Yet again, Israel is letting it’s temper cloud its strategic thinking.

  2. What really stands out for me here is that the Lobby was at one time willing to help Turkey avoid U.S. Congressional condemnation of the Armenian genocide. Is genocide only genocide if Jews get killed?

    Turkey ought to come clean about the Armenian genocide, just as America ought to truly confront its past treament of the Amerindians. Those in Turkey and America who perpetrated these crimes are now long dead. For decency’s sake, and for the sake of our own self-respect, we (and the Turks) should admit the truth.

    As to Friedman, what can one say? In the years before about 2000 or so I thought he wrote some good stuff. Even after that he occasionally put out something worthwhile. But like so many hugely successful people he became fat, lazy, and self-regarding. Both his prose and his thinking went into deep decline. But what he worry? The dollars are still flowing, his influence with movers and shakers is stronger than ever. A typical character of a late, decadent period. At some point he and his world view will rot away. In the meantime we have to endure the shoddy thinking and non sequiturs.

  3. How long before we start hearing about “Hitler of the Bosphorus”? Any bets?

  4. They did it more than we did,and when we did it it was for a very good reason, and because God was on our side when we did it. Not like the others who had no right to do it because it’s not the done thing given that they didn’t consider the inhumanity when they did it. But we can still do it because we call it something else and therefore it can’t be claimed that we did or still do it.
    Therefore we’re in the right and no one can claim that it was done by us because we said we would never do it. This in and of itself means we never did it….just as we know that they did.

    Political circus banality… come one, come all

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