A new order in greater west Asia: AfPak to Palestine

Published on open Democracy, by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, 14 July 2010.

A decade of wars has produced a strategic shift very different from what Washington and its allies intended – less towards unipolar order than the complexities of multipolar disorder. This poses a challenge to policy-makers and analysts alike, says Arshin Adib-Moghaddam … //

… A Turkish lesson:
Turkey’s repositioning within the greater west Asian area is the most prominent example of this emerging regional order. True, the reorientation of Turkish foreign policies towards the Arab and Muslim worlds has a lot to do with domestic changes within Turkey, primarily the emergence of a new middle class that is sensitive to issues affecting the umma (Islamic nation). This is the constituency that in 2002 brought to power Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP). 

But three broad regional trends have also “dragged” the modern Turkish state away from its historic orientation towards US strategic interests:

  • * the transnational threats of Kurdish separatist movements, which have provoked the Turkish armed forces to repeated incursions into northern Iraq by in pursuit of PKK militants
  • * the human suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza, which has become a rallying-point of Turkey’s Islamist media. The Israeli commando-raid on the aid-flotilla bound for Gaza on 31 May 2010, in which Turkish activists were killed, is only the most high-profile incident reinforcing Turkey’s engagement with the Palestinian cause. It is notable that prime minister Erdogan has repeatedly designated Hamas both the democratically elected government of Palestine and (as in a speech in the traditionalist city of Konya) a “resistance movement” (see Kerem Oktem, “Turkey and Israel: ends and beginnings”, 10 December 2009).
  • * the unresolved crisis over Iran’s contested nuclear plans, which both frustrates Turkish efforts to forge even closer business links with Tehran (especially in the hydrocarbon sector) and encourages Ankara to pursue closer and more sympathetic dialogue with its eastern neighbour. Erdogan joined the presidents of Iran and Brazil, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in an attempt to pre-empt a further round of United Nations sanctions; their “Tehran declaration”, announced on 17 May 2010, is clearly a rebuff to the United States (see Mariano Aguirre, “Brazil-Turkey and Iran: a new global balance”, 2 June 2010). Today, it is Erdogan even more than Ahmadinejad who challenges Israel on the issue of Palestine.

The Turkish case is but one example of how the “greater west Asian” area has its own regional dynamics that go beyond the unipolar logic. This has both strategic and analytical consequences (see A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and Them beyond Orientalism [Columbia University Press / C Hurst, 2010]).

In strategic terms, it means that the United States can assert its diplomatic authority only as one player amongst many. The foreign-policy preferences of the country are not the determining factor of what is happening in the area.

In analytical terms, it requires a shift of attention to the realities “on the ground”: including the people, movements, activists and intellectuals who affect the mindset and political culture of their societies far more than those from a far distance can do or claim to do. It is “they” who have so far won the fight for hearts and minds. So let “us” start to listen and learn more carefully. (full text).

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