Blaming Turkey

flotilla

Last year, Lauren Rosenberg was walking across a four-lane highway in Utah when she was hit by a car. Now she’s suing Google for $100,000 in damages because Google Maps told her to take that route.

The lawsuit is patently absurd. If she had come to an edge of a cliff that Google Maps said was the shore of a lake, would she have dived in? Honestly, people will do anything to avoid the difficult task of taking responsibility for their own actions.

As with people, so with countries. I was astonished to read an editorial in The Washington Post this weekend about the Israeli commando raid on the humanitarian flotilla heading to Gaza. Israel kills nine peace activists and the Post blames…Turkey! Israel showed “poor judgment” in its “botched execution” of the raid. But, according to the Post, we should really be worried about Ankara for its support of the flotilla and its reaction to the raid.

Entitled “Turkey’s Responsibility,” the editorial was full of inaccurate statements. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a “turn toward extremism.” He is guilty of “linking arms” with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The victims of 9/11 were “genuinely innocent” in comparison to the victims of the flotilla attack.

Turkey and Israel have actually had a long alliance that has continued into the Erdogan era. But Turkey rightly condemned Israel’s 2008 attack on Gaza and this most recent commando attack. Turkey’s “linking arms” with Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, was an attempt at mediation to resolve the current nuclear impasse. And Turkey’s close relationship with Iran predates Erdogan by several decades.

Also, The Post scandalously suggests that the victims of the flotilla attack were somehow guilty and perhaps even deserving of what they got. Would they have passed similar judgment on civil rights protestors in the United States?

“Critics of the flotilla are partially correct in observing that the purpose of the voyage was not just to deliver badly needed aid, but to ‘provoke a confrontation,’” writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) senior analyst Stephen Zunes in Israel’s Latest Violation. “This, however, is part of the great tradition of nonviolent direct action. For example, civil rights activists in the 1960s were similarly criticized for provoking confrontation by sitting in at lunch counters, marching across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, and demonstrating in downtown Birmingham. It was only through such confrontations, revealing the brutality of the oppressor, that change was made.”

But it wasn’t just the inaccuracies of the editorial that were exasperating. It was also the failure to assign responsibility where it’s due. Yes, Turkey supported the flotilla. But it was the United States that has consistently supported Israel’s military. The Post neglected to mention that the United States continues to supply Israel with weapons, support its operations in Gaza, and handle the right-wing Netanyahu government with kid gloves. Washington issued nary a criticism of Israel after the recent tragedy at sea.

“Pressured by the U.S. refusal to allow its ally to face the global outrage, the UN Security Council failed to condemn the Israeli attack,” Phyllis Bennis writes in an Other Words commentary. “Instead, the Council issued a presidential statement (which doesn’t carry the force of law) condemning ‘those acts’ resulting in deaths, without identifying Israeli responsibility. The Council decision was another indication that so far, the Obama administration remains more committed to protecting Israel from being held accountable for its war crimes than it is committed to international law, human rights, and the principle of accountability.”

Sure, there’s plenty to criticize in Turkey’s conduct. It’s still conducting an air war in northern Iraq, it has a Chinese-style inclination to work with dictators of all stripes, and it refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915. There is also a self-serving element in its criticisms of Israel, for Turkey’s reputation in the Arab world has risen accordingly.

But Turkey is also jeopardizing a great deal by taking a principled stance against Israel’s aggressive policies. The two countries have a thriving trade relationship, including arms sales, that increased 145 percent over the last eight years. Criticizing Israel also brings Turkey into conflict with the United States.

Up until recently, Turkey was using its longstanding connection to Israel to attempt to advance Middle East peace. “Turkey sponsored indirect talks between Syria and Israel, acting as the go-between because the two sides were unwilling to directly engage each other,” writes FPIF contributor Saif Shahin in New Power Brokers in the Middle East. “Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured in the 1967 war, was on the table. But the talks hit a dead end when Israel launched its Gaza onslaught in December that year.”

Yet, the Post tries to make Turkey out to be an evil puppet master. The editorial comes on the heels of Liz Cheney’s creation of a new axis of evil — Iran, Syria, Turkey — targeting Israel. The Post then followed up with an analysis that poses the question: Is Turkey turning away from the West?

Honestly, why isn’t anyone asking whether Israel is turning away from the West? After all, it attacked a vessel coming from a NATO country. Its policymaking has been hijacked by religious extremists. It has openly challenged the United States with its settlement policy. The Post, alas, is too busy pointing fingers in the wrong direction to ask this more disturbing question.

Name and Blame

The United States talks a lot about international law. So why do we spend so much time and energy avoiding its jurisdiction? The most salient example is the persistent U.S. refusal to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“Evading ICC jurisdiction raises questions about the legitimacy of U.S. global leadership and fuels anti-Americanism,” writes FPIF contributor Rob Grace in U.S. vs. ICC. “In contrast, U.S. submission to the ICC would be a powerful act of global leadership.”

kwangju memorial

For 30 years, the United States has evaded responsibility for its role in suppressing the Kwangju Uprising in South Korea. Veteran journalist and FPIF contributor Tim Shorrock has been digging up documents that link Washington to the actions of the South Korean dictators. Documents he obtained “from the Defense Intelligence Agency demolished the official U.S. story on the deployment of the Special Forces,” Shorrock writes in The Lasting Significance of Kwangju. “For years, the U.S. government had held that it had no knowledge of Chun’s decisions to use these forces. But the DIA cables showed otherwise: U.S. officials were aware long before Kwangju that the Korean military was planning to use Special Forces against unarmed student and worker protests. Those findings were crucial because two brigades of those Special Forces were later held responsible for the killing in Kwangju.”

Finally, FPIF contributor Alejandro Nadal sees the specter of Chernobyl in the oil spill in the Gulf. “When Unit 4 in Chernobyl exploded on April 26, 1986, it not only caused the worst disaster in the history of nuclear technology,” he writes in Gulf Oil Spill: America’s Chernobyl. “It also shattered the technological prestige of the Soviet Union, boosted concerns about the nuclear safety of the remaining plants and forced Soviet authorities to be less cryptic. Ultimately, Chernobyl ushered in the demise of the Soviet Union. Perhaps the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon will open the way for a new era of accountability and the end of corporate capitalism in the United States.”

John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.