This piece originally appeared at Mondoweiss:
Barack Obama may have taken the helm of the White House, but neo-conservative influence, disastrous as it was during the Bush years, has certainly not been swept away in Washington, D.C. This fact was on display yesterday morning at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing titled “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction: Implications for U.S.-Turkish Relations.”
Two of the four testimonies were given by representatives of hawkish, pro-Israel neo-conservative groups: the “AIPAC cutout” (as M.J. Rosenberg put it) group called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the American Enterprise Institute.
Not surprisingly, given that the Committee on Foreign Affairs head is Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, a self-professed Zionist, a good portion of the testimonies focused on Israel/Palestine and Turkey’s role in the Gaza aid flotilla. The fact that Turkey is asserting its independence from Western hegemony and taking a stand in support of the Palestinians is worrisome to pro-Israel neo-cons. The hearing follows a stampede of anti-Turkish sentiment expressed by neo-conservatives and by mainstream media stories that have demonized Turkey and the Turkish aid group IHH.
In prepared testimony, Berman said:
Is Turkey moving away from the West?… And how crucial is Turkey to us as an ally?… although we can’t compel Turkey to view Hamas as a terrorist group – Prime Minister Erdogan has labeled it a ‘resistance’ group – we should expect Ankara to respect the terrorism list of an important ally, namely, the United States.
After Israel killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American aboard the Mavi Marmara, Turkish-Israeli relations hit a new low, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted Israel for committing a “bloody massacre.” Turkey has threatened to cut ties with Israel unless it issues a public apology for the killings, agrees to an international investigation into the incident and changes its policy towards Gaza.
Soner Cagapty, the director of the Turkish Research Program at WINEP, used alarming language on Turkey and called on the U.S. to “deny the Erdogan government the influence and prestige that comes with being promoted as a regional mediator.” Cagapty also said:
Now, with the EU pushing its boundaries into the Balkans up to Turkey, and with Al Qaeda pursuing a war between the “Muslim world” and the West, a gray area in which Turkey can position itself no longer exists; it must become an EU member and part of the West, or else fold into the Muslim world, as per Al Qaeda’s vision.
But suggesting that Turkey is about to align itself with “al Qaeda’s vision” seems particularly strange given that Turkish police recently arrested 120 suspected members of al Qaeda.
Then there was Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq during the Bush administration who has called for the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who told the committee:
Prime Minister Erdoğan, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have changed Turkey fundamentally. They do not simply seek good relations with their Arab neighbors and Iran. Instead, they favor the most radical elements in regional struggles, hence their embrace of Syria over Lebanon and of Hamas over Fatah, and their endorsement Iran’s nuclear program.
What’s it going to take to throw the dangerous neo-con worldview out of positions of power and influence? The disaster of the Iraq War should have, but apparently Rep. Berman, who invited discredited neo-cons to testify, hasn’t learned that lesson.