Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future PDF Print E-mail

Stephen Kinzer. Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future. New York:
Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2010, 274 pages.

The point of Stephen Kinzer’s book, Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s
Future is straightforward: rather than continue moribund bilateral relationships
with Israel and Saudi Arabia, the US should embrace a new
“power triangle” consisting of the US, Iran and Turkey (p. 12). The
United States should “build an ever-closer partnership with Turkey and,
in the future, with a democratic Iran” and also “reshape relations with
Israel and Saudi Arabia in ways that will serve their long term interests
and those of the United States—even if they protest” (p. 13). America’s
strong support of Israel and Saudi Arabia was perfectly appropriate during
the Cold War, Kinzer argues, but in the post-Cold War period, a
new strategy is called for. This new approach calls for the United States
to reset American foreign policy and to re-align itself with Turkey and

Kinzer provides a very interesting overview of modern Turkish and
Iranian history, demonstrating that in both countries there has been a
strong desire for democracy. The contrast with his discussion of Israel
and Saudi Arabia is marked. While Kinzer speaks in glowing terms
about the rise of the Turkish Republic under Atatürk and Iran’s efforts
toward democracy, his description of Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s history
is sketchy and somewhat sinister. For example, in a very compressed history
of Israel, he surprisingly focuses on the involvement of Jewish organized
crime figures, and entertainer Frank Sinatra, in the effort to provide
funding to Israel during its war for independence. His discussion of
President Truman’s motivations for supporting recognition of Israel is
woefully compressed, emphasizing the role of Eddie Jacobson, President
Truman’s close friend, in influencing Truman’s pro-Israel policies, but
ignoring, among other important factors, the impact of domestic American
politics and the internal political maneuverings involving Truman
advisor Clark Clifford and Secretary of State George Marshall.

As for Saudi Arabia, Kinzer describes the negative influence of Wahhabi
Islam and how Saudi money has shaped US foreign policy; he finds
it “unsurprising” that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis
(p. 173). For Kinzer, Iran and Turkey’s longing for democracy make
them “good soul mates for Americans” (p. 11). As for Israel and Saudi
Arabia, for Kinzer, a completely new approach is needed.

What is perplexing is why Kinzer completely gives up on Saudi Arabia,
a close American ally; instead, without any concrete basis, he hopes
for a resurgence of democracy in Iran and an Iranian alliance with the

United States. In light of Iran’s current moves toward becoming a nuclear
power, it is precisely Israel and Saudi Arabia that can act as a bulwark
against this dangerous development. It was recently reported that Saudi
Arabia tested lowering its radar in anticipation of the possibility of an
Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites. The US Administration has proposed
a $60 billion arms package to Saudi Arabia, which is in large part
intended to counter Iran. The fact is that Israel and Saudi Arabia are
close and reliable allies of the United States, and that precisely because
of Iran’s actions, both of these allies of the US may be called upon by the
US to respond to a palpable Iranian threat.

Given the brutal suppression of democracy in Iran and its belligerent
actions throughout the world, how can Iran serve as an ally of the United
States, as Kinzer proposes? Kinzer provides nothing more than his hope
for such a development. As for Turkey, there is good reason to hope that
America’s ally—a NATO member and a major regional power—will
continue to ally itself with the United States. Recently, however, this is
somewhat doubtful, given Turkey’s “no” vote in the UN Security Council,
opposing sanctions against Iran (supported by President Obama and
all of the other permanent members of the Security Council), and the
support of the Turkish leadership for Hamas. The overwhelming victory
of the Turkish government in the recent referendum will hopefully
lead to a march forward to democracy, but might have the opposite result.

The United States can and should have strong and vibrant relations
with Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the US does not need to abandon
its strong support for Israel and Saudi Arabia for a new power triangle
with Iran and Turkey, as Kinzer suggests. The Iranian prong of his
US-Iran-Turkey triangle is one that, in light of the current regime and
its policies, has no likelihood of leading to an alliance with the US. On
the contrary, the US should be able to count on Turkey, Israel and Saudi
Arabia to counter Iran’s future nuclear ambitions.