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Few days ago Israeli forces attacked Turkish aid ships.
[With respect to relations] between Israel and United States, what should [the] United States do with this situation to make [the] Israeli and Turkish relationship better?
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Thank you for the question.
Two very big, very broad caveats right up front. One, I know very little about international relations. Second, I understand even less about the issues in Israel and the Middle East generally. I'm not exactly proud of this, but given the complexity of the relationships in that part of the world, I don't suspect that I'm alone in my ignorance.
E.T. is right -- several weeks ago, Israelis boarded a Turkish aid ship bound for the disputed territory of Gaza and killed a number of people on board, including an American citizen. The international reaction was outrage and anger at what appeared to be an unjustified taking of life.
And that's about the best I can do to describe the situation without making it any more political than it already is. If that's the best a clueless spin-meister like me can do, imagine how hard these issues are for our top diplomats.
E.T., my point is this: I do not have the answer to peace in the Middle East. But your question is a little bit different, isn't it? Your question speaks to America's role as a facilitator between two countries which are, well, at odds.
I am a strong believer in America's role as a global example of prosperity and good will. And after eight years of a fairly nasty cold-shoulder to the rest of the globe, cowboy-style, there is recent evidence which shows we are slowly rebuilding our positive image on the world stage. That said, the same evidence may show that Obama (specifically the president, versus America as a whole) may be less popular among Muslims in other countries. This impacts our question about Israel and Turkey.
(Check out the Liz Halloran NPR story on this data here.)
So, I'm going to break away from what I traditionally do with the "We Answer Your Political Questions" segement, which is reasearch stuff and try to present you with real evidence, fact-based stuff in which you can draw a conclusion about your question yourself.
I'm just going to kind of, well, pull a George W. Bush, ironically enough, and go with my gut.
I think that countries with problems respons best when America pays attention.
And that's pretty much it. We need to pay attention to Turkey (and the other Muslim-based Arab and African countries), and we need to pay attention to Israel. And I'm not just talking about throwing money at the problem (though money does help).
I don't mean to belittle the hours, days, months, even years and decades that countless diplomats have dedicated to Middle East peace (not to mention just about every modern president). And I don't mean to belittle the intense feelings these issues arouse in many Americans. It divides conservatives and liberals, Jews and Muslims, those who envision peace and those who think war is the only answer.
When I heard about Israel attacking that aid ship, I was disgusted. Why would they do that? Who would commit such a horrible act against civilians? To what end? And then a lot of the discussion was consumed by the spectacle surrounding the disgraceful remarks made by now-retired journalist Helen Thomas.
It was easier to vilify Thomas for her awful remarks than to carry on a frank and important discussion about Israel, Turkey, and critical and complicated relations in the Middle East. So yes, in a way I'm sort of faulting the dreaded "mainstream media" here, for missing an opportunity. This isn't a practice I'm particularly enamored with, by the way. But in this instance, it's necessary.
But the media and our own ignorance are not the only culprits: so is politics. I may not understand the full scope and depth of our relationship with Israel, but you don't need to work at the United Nations to know that A.) they are a critical and key strategic ally for us in that part of the world, B.) there are a large number of pro-Israel American Jews in this country -- and they vote. I don't mean to sound crass, E.T., but let's at least be honest. A lot of policy gets made, a lot of politics gets done because politicians respond to two things (typically): money and votes. That's politicians of all partisan stripes, by the way.
Here's my last go-from-the-gut thought on this, E.T. I think that the way Israel and Turkey (and others in the Middle East with adverse Israeli relations) come to find peace and prosperity is to work it out themselves. I believe the only realistic convening body is America.
The Israeli raid was a setback towards the peace we all want for the region. Can America still help our friends, partners and allies (and even those who aren't) in the Middle East? I don't think there's any other way towards the peaceful ends we all want.
Thanks for the question.
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