Israel is losing a former ally, as Turkey continues its Islamist slide. But the most important factor behind Israel’s diplomatic isolation, it seems to me, is the current American administration. Imagine that Dubya or John McCain were president. Would the flotilla incident have occurred? I doubt it. When Bush was president, Israel’s enemies knew with certainty that the White House would support Israel’s right to defend herself against provocation. American strength not only guaranteed Israeli freedom of action, it deterred a lot of devious behavior. ~Matt Continetti
Greg Scoblete says this claim is proof of Continetti’s “historical amnesia,” and that’s partly right, but it’s also proof that there isn’t much to support the argument that Israeli security is enhanced by unwavering, uncritical American support. What we saw between 2001 and 2009 was arguably the most reflexively supportive U.S. administration since the founding of Israel and at the same time a steady, fairly rapid deterioration of Israel’s international standing and extensive damage to Israel’s strategic interests. Just because one happened after the other doesn’t necessarily mean that reflexive, uncritical U.S. support had to lead to Israel’s international isolation, but there are quite a few reasons to believe that it did. We can observe something similar in U.S.-Georgian relations. Strong expressions of support and backing for an ally, including the promise of future NATO membership, did not result in greater security for Georgia, but instead encouraged the Georgian government to embark on a disastrous war that severely damaged its economy and ensured the permanent loss of the territories it was trying to take over. What Continetti and the like think is a deterrent against attack is usually a provocation inviting international condemnation and an invitation to allied recklessness.
Concerning Lebanon and Gaza, Bush’s stalwart support and encouragement allowed Olmert a free hand to pursue his policy of overkill and disproportionate response. This is an approximation, but my guess is that these two operations by themselves did roughly 60% of the damage to Israel’s international standing. The blockade and the flotilla raid account for another 30%. These two operations were responsible for more of the bad blood between Turkey and Israel than anything before the flotilla raid itself. The Bush administration enabled or allowed those operations, and publicly defended them against all critics (remember Condi Rice’s “birth pangs of a new Middle East” remark?), but the main contribution to Israel’s isolation has come from Israel’s own excessive military actions. Had Obama been even more unswervingly in lockstep with Israel on every issue, that wouldn’t have eliminated the causes of Turkey’s alienation from Israel, and it wouldn’t have deterred anything. It simply would have identified the U.S. more closely with whatever action Israel took.
As for the flotilla raid, if Bush or McCain had been in office, U.S. support for the Gaza blockade would have been unyielding and U.S. indifference to Turkish interests and concerns and to Palestinian grievances would have been even greater. Something similar would have occurred, and it is possible that it would have been far worse. It is likely that the Turkish government would have been more resistant to requests from Bush and McCain to prevent the flotilla from departing for Gaza than they were to Obama’s requests. At least Obama had made some minimal attempt to repair U.S.-Turkish relations that Bush had done so much to wreck, so there was a small chance that Erdogan would pay more attention to Obama, but Obama had just gone out of his way to humiliate and slap down the Turkish government on account of the nuclear deal with Iran.
Had McCain been President when the nuclear deal was announced, we can’t rule out the possibility that he would have launched a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, and he might have floated the idea of expelling Turkey from NATO. We should understand that a McCain administration would be filled with people who think that Turkey is in the wrong in this episode. Thanks to its poor response to the raid, the Obama administration is making a mockery of the “model partnership” it wanted to cultivate with Turkey, but had McCain been in office there would have been no rapprochement to sabotage. It is foolish to think that Turkey would have been intimidated into stopping the flotilla by an administration filled with people who are intensely and fundamentally hostile to Turkey’s more independent foreign policy.