For the last few days, the various reactions to the flotilla attack have reminded me of reactions to the short war escalated by Georgia in August 2008. Then as now, there is a U.S. ally that embarks on a military action that is certainly stupid and most likely illegal in pursuit of an unwise and unsustainable policy, the initial assumption that the ally bears the bulk of the blame for the disaster that follows is later proven to be mostly correct, and Washington predictably and reliably takes the side of the attacker. We then hear endlessly about Russian/Turkish perfidy when their citizens are the ones who were attacked first. Not only do many Americans automatically sympathize with the wrong side in these situations, but many of them cannot seem to fathom that there can be any good reason to take a different view.
“Pro-Israel” hawks often complain that others are in the habit of blaming the victim. As they see it, this is what most of the world always does to Israel, whose vulnerability and weakness they exaggerate on a regular basis to make their arguments seem more credible. Most of the people excusing or justifying the flotilla raid and the blockade have been doing nothing but blaming victims since the attack occurred.
In that op-ed I discussed earlier, Robert Pollock mocks the Turkish foreign minister for saying, “It should not seem like a choice between Turkey and Israel. It should be a choice between right and wrong.” Pollock dismisses this statement as demagoguery. What this misunderstands is the unanimity and the depth of Turkish anger over this attack. Suat Kiniklioglu was the only Turkish politician to have visited Israel since Operation Cast Lead, and as such he was probably the most sympathetic to Israel of anyone in the current Turkish government. That changed on Monday, as he explained in this column for The Christian Science Monitor:
As of Monday, Turks regard the current Israeli government as unfriendly. There is no doubt that the rift has the potential to escalate if Israel will not respond quickly and responsibly.
Turkey’s government in this case is not so much trying to whip up the crowd as it is trying to stay ahead of the public’s anger. Erdogan has engaged in some real demagoguery in his time, but at the present time what ought to stand out for Western observers is how restrained the Turkish response has been given the intense public pressure at home to take an even harder line.
Were the positions somehow reversed, we would likely be hearing something very different from Pollock. Had these been ships filled mostly with Americans en route to provide aid to members the Green movement as part of a Free Iran Flotilla and the attackers were from the Iranian navy, Americans would expect and demand the support of our allies against the state that attacked our citizens. If most Americans cannot understand why Turks expect the same, we really are more clueless as a nation than I had thought possible.