Saturday, May 28, 2011

Can Turkey Unify the Arabs?

Barack Obama's approach to Arab-Israeli peace process on May 19 was ill-conceived and shortsighted. The conspicuous absence of a broader moral, demographic, and strategic calculus in Obama's call for Israel to recede within its 1967 borders is beyond belief.

There are many Christian/post-Christian states, dozens of resurgent Islamic states, and three Hindu majority states, but only one Jewish majority state. It is intriguing why Obama has asked Israel whose population density is almost 1,000/sq-mi and a territory less than 10,000 sq-mi to cede any land or stop its expansion in Jerusalem.

Israel is surrounded by a hostile multitude of 600 million Arabs, Turks, Persians, and Punjabis with birth rates between 1.9-5.1 children/woman, cumulatively higher than Jewish birth rates at 3 children/woman. The contemporary Middle-East neither has the relaxed attitudes of Scandinavians, nor the non-threatening birth rates of Japan.

As the Arab world beyond the border struggles with the inspirations and traumas of its revolution — a new notion of citizenship colliding with the smaller claims of piety, sect and clan — something else is percolating along the old routes of that empire, which spanned three continents and lasted six centuries before Ataturk brought it to an end in 1923 with self-conscious revolutionary zeal.

It is probably too early to define identities emerging in those locales. But something bigger than its parts is at work along imperial connections that were bent but never broken by decades of colonialism and the cold war. The links are the stuff of land, culture, history, architecture, memory and imagination that remains the realm of scholarship and daily lives but often eludes the notice of a journalism marching to the cadence of conflict.

Even amid the din of the upheaval in the Arab world, that new sense of belonging represents a more pacific and perhaps more powerful undertow pulling in directions that call into question more parochial notions. The undertow intersects with the Arab revolution’s search for a new sense of self; it also builds on economic forces now reconnecting an older imperium, as well as on Turkey’s new dynamism and on efforts to bring reality to what has long been nostalgia.

Its echoes are heard in the borderlands like Gaziantep, near Mr. Said’s shop, where businessman can haggle in a patois of English, Turkish, Arabic and even Kurdish. It is seen in the blurring of arbitrary lines where the Semitic script of Arabic and Kurdish tangles with the Latin script of Turkish across the borders with Syria and Iraq. It is noticed along the frontiers where Arab and Turkish nationalism, pan-Islamism and a host of secular ideologies never seemed to quite capture the ambitions or demarcate the environments of the diverse peoples who live there.

“The normalization of history,” proclaims the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government has tried to reintegrate the region by lifting visa requirements and promoting a Middle Eastern trade zone, as it deploys its businessmen along the old routes and exports Turkey’s pop culture to an eager audience.

“None of the borders of Turkey are natural,” he went on. “Almost all of them are artificial. Of course we have to respect them as nation-states, but at the same time we have to understand that there are natural continuities. That’s the way it’s been for centuries.

The thriving and occasionally vacillating Indo-Israeli partnership -- due to imperfectly aligned strategic objectives -- should be strengthened within an institutional framework which could be christened Mediterranean-Arabian-Treaty-Organization (MATO), focused on regions neighboring Mediterranean and Arabian Sea.

Core Members of MATO could be the US, Israel, Cyprus, Bahrain, and India. The European Union (EU)- and Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could participate as auxiliary members. These structural-functional steps should be supplemented with generous non-governmental charity efforts to promote one-child policy and women's education, health, and rights programs in the Sunni world to sharply arrest the ongoing and unsustainable baby boom.

India's full participation in this security structure will be constrained by its expanding need and dependency on energy resources from the Middle East as well as its 170 million-strong Muslim minority. This energy problem will have to be addressed either by a sharply expanding Russian role in the supplier mix, or some unexpected development, including a vast expansion of Thorium based nuclear power.

Obama or perhaps a more gifted Presidential successor can draw a new sustainable strategic doctrine for a diminished America under the umbrella of MATO, which will have EU-Russia securing their South, India containing its West and North, and Israel in conjunction with US Navy monitoring the East-West Axis of the emerging Islamic Spring.

I believe that in not too distant future there will be a drive towards political unification of the Arab-World as well as some security alliance in the Turko-Persian world. To what extent this geopolitical consolidation influences Pakistan's foreign policy trajectory is not easy to predict at this time.

A doctrine of containment which shuns democracy-by-gun with boots-on-the-ground impulse and relies on exploiting internal religious and ethno-linguistic contradictions in Middle East under the aegis of MATO in combination with uncontested sea and air deterrence is the only plausible approach to avoid cataclysmic financial and social crises in America and Europe.

Such an approach will salvage and secure America's socio-economic future and Israel's realm. MATO will forge solid and enduring partnerships which will carry immense strategic heft by utilizing India's enormous manpower and its prime peninsular location as a vast springboard into the Arabian Sea and Indian-Ocean.

This strategy will be global in its scope and outcomes and immensely superior compared to Obama-Brzezinski doctrine which advocates a reduced 1967 Israel. Israel should not be nudged towards making another covenant with death itself.