In the military context, the word “retreat” means “the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position”. In a broader context, it is defined as “an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable”. [i] For obvious reasons, the word is anathema to politicians. They prefer expressions like “revision” or “updating” of policy. But in Türkiye, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) avoids even using such expressions as they might be conceived as an admission of error. It prefers to refer to its foreign policy reversals as “normalization of relations”. How we ended up having an abnormal state of relations with others is not an issue.
President Biden’s trip to the Middle East took place against the background of Arab-Israeli disenchantment with the Obama White House, the Netanyahu-Trump relationship, the uncertain future of the Iran nuclear deal, the far-reaching consequences of the war in Ukraine, the strategic competition with China and Russia, and his plummeting approval rates at home.
The so-called “Friends of Syria Group”, now history, held its first meeting in Tunis on February 24, 2012. On April 1, 2012, it met for the second time in Istanbul.
Later that month in 2012, Turkey’s Foreign Minister delivered a major foreign policy speech in the parliament. Emphasizing the genuine desire for change underlying the Arab spring, he declared that attemptsto explain the current developments with plans imposed from abroad and external conspiracies were primarily an insult to the honorable peoples of the region.
In late October Turkish news outlets reported that fifteen individuals suspected of spying for Israel were arrested as part of a security operation. Reportedly, the suspects were spying on senior Hamas officials based in Turkey who were given Turkish citizenship, as well as some foreign students. The network allegedly relied on Palestinian and Syrian nationals living in Turkey. The allegation, not entirely far-fetched, was largely ignored by Israel.
With the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire taking hold last Friday, the 11-day Gaza conflict is hopefully over.
By and large, this latest episode also conformed to the pattern of Gaza confrontations. There were clashes at Jerusalem’s holy sites; Israel reacted with force to Hamas rockets; Gaza suffered devastation; divided Palestinian leadership called for an end to subjugation and occupation; UN Secretary General and some countries urged de-escalation; Arab governments expressed indignation; and a senior US diplomat traveled to the region to help achieve a cease-fire.
In my last post I tried to highlight the roller-coaster pattern of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In his New York Times article of May 14, titled “Arab World Condemns Israeli Violence but Takes Little Action”, Eric Erlanger started off with the following:
“The Arab world is unified in condemning Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and the way the Israeli police invaded Jerusalem’s Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Governments have spoken out, protests have taken place, social media is aflame.
“But by and large the condemnation is only words, not actions — at least so far.”
Palestinians remain more than frustrated with the status quo and in the absence of any progress towards the two-state solution their discontent usually hits the surface in the form of some violence. And whenever there is violence, Israel says that it will not tolerate incitement, terrorism and reacts with disproportional force; Palestinian leadership calls for an end to subjugation and occupation; UN Secretary General urges calm; Arab governments express indignation; they remember the Arab League; the Quartet issues a statement advising restraint; the EU expresses concern: finally, either the US Secretary of State or some other high official travels to the region to find a way out because such violence always puts Washington on the spot by virtue of its unique relationship with Israel. And a roller-coaster pattern of violence goes on.
From the very beginning of his presidency Mr. Trump’s principal foreign policy target was the Iran nuclear deal, described by many as his predecessor’s “signature achievement”.
Thus, the US announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018. A month later, on June 12, 2018 Mr. Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Following the summit, he held a press conference and said, “My meeting with Chairman Kim was honest, direct, and productive. We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time, under very strong, strong circumstance. We’re prepared to start a new history and we’re ready to write a new chapter between our nations.”
With inauguration safely behind, President Biden would now start addressing America’s polarization, Covid-19, and a wrecked foreign policy. He has a far heavier agenda than many of his predecessors.
Among his major tasks in the international arena would be restoring confidence in the Washington’s foreign policy steadiness and charting a reasonable course in relations with China and Russia. Washington’s traditional Western allies, disillusioned with the Trump presidency, would give Mr. Biden more than a warm welcome while anxiously watching domestic developments in the US. Because according to a CNN poll, 47% of Republicans still say the party should continue to treat Trump as the leader of the party. And remains to be seen whether going ahead with a second impeachment, though more than justified, was a politically wise decision.
The main foreign policy topics of the past decade have been China’s ascendancy, relations between the West and a resurgent Russia, the rise of authoritarianism, democracy’s decline, the failure of multilateralism and climate change. With the Trump White House, most of the questions raised in recent years focused on Washington. People started asking “what went wrong?” to use the title of Bernard Lewis’s remarkable book on the clash between Islam and modernity in the Middle East. Pundits in the West, including the US, started talking about Washington’s external military interventions and their political/diplomatic/economic cost, racism, gridlock. Some of the questions raised went beyond the Trump years. With major foreign and security policy challenges and 251,000 new coronavirus cases recorded last Friday, Mr. Biden will not be moving to a dream house on January 20.