Monday 24 September 2012

Mideast playmakers waiting for a reelected Obama

Obama and Turkey's Erdogan (top) and Iran's Ahmadinejad greeting Egypt's Morsi in Tehran

Like many other regional leaders, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohamed Morsi are biding their time, waiting on news of Barack Obama’s most likely re-election.
The Turkish premier and Egyptian president realize that before the United States president wins a second term on November 6, he won’t let any foreign policy issue interfere with his reelection campaign.
Frida Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, wrote in a special comment for CNN last month: “If Barack Obama could make three wishes, he would probably ask for the crisis in Syria to go away…
“Unfortunately for Obama, and tragically for the people in Syria, history has brought the American presidential campaign and the Syrian revolution to the same pages of the calendar. That means Obama will do whatever he can, for as long as he can, to keep the carnage in Syria from interfering with his reelection plan.
“That means the killings in Syria could go on longer than if the uprising had erupted during a nonelection year…
“The Obama administration has put other major foreign policy issues on the back burner in order to avoid giving Republicans fodder for criticism, to prevent new risks to the economy, or simply to avoid stepping on a landmine while moving along a dangerous global landscape.
“A report in Britain's Sunday Times claims that the White House asked Israel to delay an attack on Iran until after November. Many fear that a war with Iran would send oil prices skyrocketing and hurt Obama's reelection prospects. Sometimes history has lousy timing. And presidents don't get to make three wishes…”
Turkish columnist Gökhan Bacik, writing for Today’s Zaman, says some six weeks before the U.S. presidential elections “Middle East politics has fallen perfectly silent.” It’s the sort of quiet you would expect in a waiting room.
Comparing the political lull in the region to an interval between the death of a pope and the election of his successor, Bacik notes that “all actors are waiting for the results” of the U.S. presidential vote. And “Turkey is no exception.”
Erdogan, he says, wants to retrace five issues with a reelected Obama: Syria, Turkish-Israeli relations, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Islamism in the region, and Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.
On Syria, some suggest a reelected Obama could take a strong leadership role to bring about regime change there. Others believe he could “at least help Turkey create some sort of security zone in northern Syria. Expectations vary, but there is one clear point: Ankara's first demand from Obama in his second term is to revisit the American position on Syria.”
On relations with Israel, says Bacik, Ankara expects the new Obama administration to prod the Jewish state to apologize to Ankara “for the deadly Mavi Marmara flotilla raid.”
Concerning the PKK, the anticipation relates to military matters. “In this area,” Bacik explains, “it is vital for Turkey to obtain more sophisticated technical support from the U.S. Ankara’s particular demand is for U.S.-made Predators that would help Turkey overcome its intelligence deficit in its struggle with the PKK. Similarly, serious military reform is needed, as there has been no substantive technological purchase in the last 10 years. Turkey is without even the necessary number of Cobra helicopters. Ankara knows very well that its military arsenal is far more limited than is ideal...”
Fourthly, “Ankara hopes Obama would help Turkey oust Nouri al-Maliki from office in Baghdad. For Ankara, Maliki has become the biggest structural threat to Turkey's regional position… Purging Maliki from politics is a main goal of Turkish foreign policy...”
Finally, according to Bacik, Ankara hopes a new Obama administration would continue supporting the legitimate participation of Islamists in the region’s political power play, “as in Egypt.”
While it seems fair to say no world leader has a greater stake in Obama’s reelection than the Turkish prime minister, can the same be said of Egypt’s Islamist president?
Leading Lebanese political analyst Sarkis Naoum, writing for Beirut’s independent daily an-Nahar, detects signs of a disconnect developing between Obama and Egypt’s Islamist President Morsi.  
Asked if he considered Egypt an ally of the United States, Obama balked earlier this month. “You know, I don’t think that we would consider them an ally but we don’t consider them an enemy,” he said in an interview after protests outside the American Embassy in Cairo.
The State Department later reaffirmed somewhat awkwardly that Egypt is an ally. Egypt was designated by Congress in 1989 to be a Major Non-NATO ally along with Australia, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand.
Naoum sees Morsi perhaps seeking to establish a foreign policy that is independent of Washington. “He has taken important steps that have already raised eyebrows in Washington.”
Among such steps, says Naoum, “were his visits, first to China and then Iran, and his participation in the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran… when the U.S. is on a sharp collision course with the Islamic Republic” over its nuclear ambitions.
Wondering if Morsi would normalize relations and restore diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic broken in 1980, Naoum writes:
“No one knows for sure. He might, especially if he felt Iran was prepared to abandon ambitions of becoming the region’s national, religious and economic hegemon and disown Syria’s Bashar al-Assad…
“But before taking such a step, Morsi has to take the following into account: (1) Iran won’t be feeding his country’s poor, or about 20-to-30 percent of his people, now living on average per capita income of two U.S. dollars per day (2) Iran won’t return tourism to Egypt (3) Iran won’t solve Egypt’s internal problem of sectarianism (4) Iran won’t settle mounting differences between Egypt’s moderate Islamist and Salafists (5) While Obama did not believe Egypt was an ally, Washington might end up designating it an enemy.
“Can Morsi bear such enmity?”