China: A Distant Target?

The United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently told Naval Academy graduates that the Asia-Pacific region would be one of the main focuses for the new generation of America’s naval officers. While all the attention in the world is fixed on Iran and Syria, it might be difficult to make sense of Panetta’s speech. However, this political stance, coming from the highest executive mouth and reaching the new generation” officers, shows us that we are almost at the end of the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia and went on from Egypt to Libya, from Yemen to Syria. Thus, we can easily assume that we are witnessing the beginning of the end” in the Middle East, with the Syria and Iran questions getting resolved in one year at the latest.

One should keep in mind the cause and effect relationship in this strategic directive by Panetta regarding the Asia Pacific region. It is not possible to explain the popular movements of the Arab Spring only in view of demands for democracy and liberty. These developments are of close and strategic concern for Turkey, while signifying at the same time strategic steps of the U.S., which still hopes to retain its position of global leadership” in the reform processes in the Middle East in coming decades.

In this strategic outlook, the main target is neither Libya, nor Syria nor Iran nor any other Middle Eastern country. The U.S. strategic thinking in the Middle East views China as its ultimate target. The aim is to keep China away from the area’s energy and natural resources, to limit its transportation capabilities, and to prevent China from setting up bases in places closed to Western markets. The U.S. strategy in the region assumes that Western economies will not withstand the competitive advantages of China – which would be multiplied through its new proximity to Western markets – should China manage to plant new geopolitical roots in the region.

This struggle has now emerged from obscurity on two levels. First, when the Soviet threat was over, the U.S. and NATO were involved in a new search to legitimize their existence. The transatlantic alliance created for itself new global security missions” by tracing correlations in its main interests in the Middle East and in its security concerns regarding the diffusion of global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. This ultimately meant the underdevelopment of Islamic countries and inadequate and anti-democratic governments in those countries. The second area of struggle was at the level of the United Nations, as the supranational organization moved to commission certain interventions in Balkans and the Middle East. In the National Security Strategy documents of President Obama dated May 2010, as well as those of the Active Engagement, Modern Defense” NATO Strategy that were accepted in NATO’s Lisbon Summit, new global security missions” were included for the next ten years, using different expressions. The case of Iraq was another example of U.N.-sanctioned NATO missions in the form of pre-emptive strikes” and interventions in failing states.” In this context, Henry Kissinger noted in his article published in the Washington Post titled Syrian Intervention Risks Upsetting Global Order,” saying: The diplomacy generated by the Arab Spring replaces Westphalian principles of equilibrium with a generalized doctrine of humanitarian interventions.” In a way, this doctrine justifies new security missions and their motives.

Turkey is trying very hard to secure an active role in a very difficult game. With this inexplicable appetite, Turkey, on the other hand, allows the possibility of the U.S. and Israel to easily muster their forces against Iran. In fact, Turkey’s eagerness in the developing political situation in the region indicates that it has not learned any lessons from its recent past, such as its contributions to protect the Kurdish people in northern Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Turkey also seems to be overlooking the prospect of new political formations by the Kurdish people in Iraq, Syria and even in Iran, potentially triggering something like a Kurdish Spring in the region.
Making matters worse, Turkey, having declared itself a party to Syria’s internal affairs, has put itself in a position of giving a blank check to enabling humanitarian interventions by outside forces. On the other hand, an external intervention with the probability of covering the Kirkuk-Lazkiye axis in Syria seems to be gaining popularity as a dignified exit” for al-Assad. The consensus over this argument depends mainly on collaboration between the U.S. and Israel, despite their differences of opinion on how to address the Iranian question, which is the real issue in the region. The U.S. has got two objectives in the Iranian theater. Although the apparent objective is the destruction of its nuclear installations, the real objective is to bring the Iranian public up to the point of saying, that’s enough” to their government. To that end, the U.S. and Israel might expand their implicit operations and cyber attacks to further targets in Iran, with the aim of bringing the Iranian population into a civil rebellion.

What about Turkey? Its new foreign policy outlook emerged with an attempt to have zero problems” with neighbors and to play the role of a regional power. Today, we see that both of these principles have ended in total fiasco. While saying zero problems,” Turkey has actually reached a point of having zero neighbors,” as it has found itself in a helix of problems with almost all of its neighbors. In the near future, the current situation is bound to take the country towards an atmosphere of military conflict with her neighbors, with external and internal dynamics shaping the political preferences of the country’s leadership in the area. In short, in the triad of Syria, Iran and Iraq, if one losing actor becomes Iran, the other may well become Turkey.

That’s all very well, but within all these complex problems, haven’t we forgotten China? Actually not. China is just waiting for its turn to play a principal role in the Middle East. Heartfelt thanks to Panetta for having reminded us of that…

About Ali Er

Brigadier General (Rt)