Stephen KINZER GUARDIAN
US foreign policy is stuck in a cold war mindset of imperial dominance. It's time to listen to allies like Turkey and adjust
The dramatic rise of Turkey in the councils of world power was one of the main geopolitical developments of 2010. Iran's emergence as a serious regional power was another. They are harbingers of what will be one of the main trends of global power in coming decades: the rise of middle powers.
This era is an exciting one for rising countries. Their drive to assert themselves, though, poses an inevitable challenge to powers accustomed to dominating the world, chiefly the United States
One of the immutable patterns of history is the rise and fall of great powers. Those that survive are the ones that adapt as the world changes. Thus far, however, the US shows little sign that it is willing to accommodate the rise of middle powers. American leaders are frozen into denial and caught in a straitjacket of policies shaped for another era. Unless they can become more nimble, the US risks losing both global influence and domestic prosperity.
In the Middle East, Washington is pursuing policies shaped to fit a cold war security environment that no longer exists. Saudi Arabia and Israel have been America's closest partners there for the last half-century. Yet Saudi society has nothing in common with western societies, and some long-term Saudi security interests, like promoting radical Islam around the world, run counter to western interests. Israel gives signs of careening toward self-destruction, taking steps that undermine the regional stability that is its only guarantee of long-term security.
Alliances and partnerships produce stability when they reflect realities and interests. In the Middle East, the US should stop acting as if it, alone, knows what is best, and instead, seek a Muslim partner. Turkey is the logical choice. It is a longtime Nato ally and booming capitalist democracy, and has unique influence around the Islamic world.
Turkey has been urging the US to change its approach to Iran by abandoning its policy of threats and sanctions. It suggests an approach based on rational self-interest rather than emotion: offer unconditional talks, not limited to the nuclear issue but aimed at a "grand bargain" that would recognise Iran's new role and give it a stake in regional security. India has recently made this same appeal to Washington. Yet the US, locked into outdated paradigms, continues on steady course even as global conditions change.
Iran bets on Middle East forces like Hamas and Hezbollah, which win elections. The US bets on the Saudi monarchy, the Pharaonic regime in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and increasingly radical politicians in Israel. The future will require interest-based partnerships that meet the needs of a new age.
One could be a "power triangle" linking the US with Turkey and Iran. These two countries make intriguing partners for two reasons. First, their societies have long experience with democracy – although for reasons having to do in part with foreign intervention, Iran has not managed to produce a government worthy of its vibrant society. Second, these two countries share many security interests with the west. Projecting Turkey's example as a counter-balance to Islamic radicalism should be a vital priority. As for Iran, it has unique ability to stabilise Iraq, can also do much to help calm Afghanistan, and is a bitter enemy of radical Sunni movements like al-Qaida and the Taliban. Contrast this alignment of interests to the dubious logic of western partnerships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, so-called allies who also support some of the west's most violent enemies.
Adroit geo-strategists take new realities into account as they try to imagine how global politics will unfold. In the foreign policy business, however, inertia is a powerful force and "adroit" a little-known concept.
Reconceiving entire regions of the world is not a pursuit at which government bureaucrats excel. Yet, this is not all that American leaders must reconceive. The new century requires them to question the assumption – central to American strategic thinking for generations – that that the world is a dangerous place in need of management, and that the United States must do the managing. A better course for the 21st century would be to withdraw from adventures and listen more closely to friends.