America Has Lost Its Power in the Middle East: No One Will Listen to America Anymore - By Dr. Aland Mizell

Geopolitical questions abound. Is the US facing a new challenge to its hegemonic power in the Middle East? Or is this the end of the US’s influence in the region? Can the US still maintain its dominance there? Who will be the new strategic architect for the U.S.?  Since an American strategic partnership with Turkey helps to maintain American hegemonic power in the Middle East, what effects will Turkey’s calculated jockeying in the neighborhood have on America’s policy there? Who will be the new kingpin in that significant part of the world? And who benefits from the change in the Middle Eastern order?  How can America diffuse the balance of power among Turkey, Israel, Iran, and the Arab nations? Has Turkey‘s re-emergent power and anti-Semitic stance maneuvered it into good relations with Iran, Syria, and Arab countries? How long will it take for the Muslim Brotherhood or any another Islamic group to become like the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, calling all the plays? Who is the Brotherhood party in Egypt? The party was created in 1928 as a reaction to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the colonization of the Muslim world, and the development of secular regimes, wasn’t it? Is Iran really a threat to the US? How will Arab and Ottoman history judge Turkey as a current role model in the region? Does the AKP mean Fethullah Gulen’s movement?  Is the Gülen movement not more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even Al-Qaida, because at least the world knows where the Al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood are based and what their goals are? Moreover, they are not lying about their goals but rather are frank in espousing their cause, are they?  They are not spreading around the world and have not globally infiltrated every organization and institution, have they? Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in Central Asia, has the American government not supported the Gülen movement, much like America supported Al Qaida against Russia in Afghanistan during the Cold War?  Later, however, did Al Qaida not kill more than 3000 Americans and internationals in 9/11? Why is America not a student of its own history? 

Today we live in a different global political structure than before. The timing of the uprisings in the Middle East is quite interesting. This insurrection against the West and US-backed governments has occurred under weak American presidents. For example, the Iranian Revolution against the Shah happened under Jimmy Carter’s administration. First the Tunisian revolution and now the Egyptian one are taking place under President Obama, ironically as he nestles up to the Muslim world. The influence of US dominated governments across the region will never be the same. The alliances of the last half-century are being shattered, and the old order is ending. What is next? Today the power of the people is shaking American interests in the Middle East. The US administration has found itself standing by helpless and confused. The truth is that every significant perception has shifted; many of the countries, including Turkey, are beginning to realize that there is no longer a cost to ignoring US threats, so they do not need to listen to their old ally. For example, there remains no serious cost for going against the US policy for that area. The US has lost its credibility and leadership, is unable to win the wars or engage in constructive diplomacy, and is struggling to solve its own economic problems.  A good example of the abandonment of the US is Turkey in that it no longer needs American cooperation and is able to stand against Israel. The US is incapable of even being a broker and resolving the dispute in the Middle East. Instead it was Qatar that negotiated between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government in 2008. America has not worked out a solution in Darfur, and Turkey and Brazil have set up a coalition to solve Iran’s nuclear program. Turkey says that the US sanctions on Iran are not binding for Turkey. In addition, the Turkish government has noted that its trade with Iran has risen from 1 $ billion to 10.7 billion in the past decade. Much of it comes from Iran and goes to Turkey, and Turkey provides construction materials to Iran. Iran and Turkey say they are planning to triple their bilateral trade to $ 30 billion in the next five years. Another example is that before the invasion of Iraq, the US asked the Turkish government for permission to attack from its territory in the north, as well as in the south, but an ally of 50 years refused permission, a decision that made the AKP powerful in Turkey and Erdogan very popular in the Arab world. Since then, Turkey has been moving away from America and from Israel, but closer to people of the countries where the Ottoman people ruled for centuries. But how does history judge Arabic-Turkish relations?  Were the Arabs happy under the Ottoman Empire?  Was Egypt only nominally under the Ottomans? What country first achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire? How did they break up with this Islamic government? What percentage of Egyptians or Arabs really wants to be ruled by an Ottoman kind of system?

On the other hand, the AKP and Gulenists believe that the Ottoman rule was the best system of government and the best representation of Islam. That is why they are fighting on the front to bring it back. Even some of the Gulenists believe that God has chosen Turks to represent Islam better than Arabs and other Muslim nations. Why would Turkey open Muslim missionary schools in the Muslim countries?  I understand their decision to open their schools in non-Muslims countries to spread Islam, but in Muslim countries they must feel compelled to teach their own version of Islam.

The US is trying to regain its power in the Middle East and to find a new role model for the Islamic state.  During his visit to Turkey, President Obama emphasized that Turkey is the bridge between the West and the Muslim world. However, the Muslim world does not want any Western or US norms and values to be imposed on them

Some will argue that Turkey’s AKP is a good model for American interests in the Muslim world. For a long time America has supported the Gülen movement over the Iranian brand of Islam, but it does not realize that AKP is derived from the Gülen movement, and the Gülen movement is worse than Iran’s brand of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. The AKP and Gulen’s movement are wearing a democratic mask but with an undemocratic spirit. The Kurdish issue by no means has been solved; freedom of the media day by day is being strained; it has become illegal to criticize Erdogan or Gülen; and whoever does is attacked with a fine and a court date.  Many secular media and institutions have been labeled as terror-supported organizations, indicating that Turkey has a long way to go to become a fully democratic role model. In the past few weeks several Western self-proclaimed scholars have given speeches promoting Turkey as the type of democracy that the Middle East should strive to emulate. Even in the past President Bush himself stated that Turkey‘s democracy is an important example for the people in the broader Middle East. Many people still really believe that Turkey is far less repressive than any other Muslim country in the neighborhood, but Turkey is a nation with such serious problems that it should not possibly serve as a democratic model particularly because the AKP and the Gulenists, as mentioned, want to bring back the Ottoman system. Turkey’s current foreign policy has zero problems with neighbors, yet its diplomatic ambition is to make Turkey a regional power by playing peacemaker. Turkey has raised its voice for Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak to leave office, as it tries to burnish its credentials as the regional, democratic model with Islamic values, not the least of which is its anti Israel position. Turkey is spreading its home grown narrative that advocates change.

Egypt should have its own model, because Arabs and Turks are not the same. Egypt has a larger population than Turkey; it has the biggest middle class; and it has been an Islamic center for centuries. Egypt has more Christian minorities, even though their conditions could improve--Muslims and Christians could live together; and it could focus on these conditions to accelerate democratic principles, but it is naïve to say that Turkey is the best model because all Muslim nations have one model, and that is Mohammed’s first Islamic state. That system will work for all Muslims, but the reason that it has been delayed is that it is just not the right time to bring about the global Islamic State.  When Muslims get economic independence, then it will come, so let’s not waste time saying which model is the best for Egypt. President Obama said that an orderly transition must begin now. What does that mean? Who is going to be the leader? How orderly is the American foreign policy toward the Middle East? Was America well prepared for this?  If America does not stand for something soon, it will stand for anything. American foreign policy is leftover from the Cold War, and in the Middle East it rested on the old Arab order. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey are no longer strong allies of the US The US is not financially in good shape and cannot afford to maintain its role of policing the world. The US government refuses to develop a smart, strategic partnership with Iran to restrain Iran and to develop relations with Iran rather than with Turkey, because none of the Sunni Muslim countries want Iran to become a powerful player in the region. Iran does not have a good relation with Saudi Arabia or even with Turkey. Perhaps it is crazy, but it is real politics. President Obama and previous administrations lacked a coherent foreign policy in the region.  These actors are not the best actors, but they seem to have a better prepared and more strategic game plan than the United States. There is no question that national interest plays a fundamental role in any state’s policy-making; however, American policy in the Middle East is problematic because of the difficulty in identifying that policy. Turkey calculatedly stands against Israel to gain legitimacy in the region as part of Turkey’s gamble to reclaim leadership of the Middle East after a long time following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the flotilla incident was not the trigger, but the climax of a shifting policy. I think the US has to negotiate a more diffused balance of power among Turkey, Iran, and some Arab states. The United States should have a coherent and consistent policy toward the Kurds in the region; in the end only two nations could be long-term friends for the US—the Israelis and the Kurds. It seems that Turkey has simply become more important to American interests in the region than Israel. As a result, Israel will grow more isolated, and while remaining an ally, will gradually lose its relationship as well.  Uncritical support of the Kurds to become socially, politically and militarily independent from any neighbor countries such as Iran, Turkey, or Syria is important because in the end Americans will use them as a card for their national interest, so it is better for America to learn a lesson from the past and get it right this time.

Dr. Aland Mizell is with the MCI. You may reach the author via email at:

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February 11, 2011
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