The Conversation

On Netanyahu's apology to Turkey

It used to be that President Barack Obama would take foreign trips to "apologize" for America. Now he takes trips to make our allies apologize for themselves.

On Friday, it was revealed that Obama urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize by telephone to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the deaths of Turkish citizens that occurred in the Gaza flotilla raid in May 2011.

Israel was in no way responsible for the deaths. Turkey's ruling party had given its blessing to the flotilla, whose lead boat, the Mavi Marmara, was packed with Islamist radicals who promptly attacked the Israeli commandos who boarded it (other ships in the flotilla surrendered without incident). Even the UN took Israel's side--something that almost never happens, especially when the Palestinians are involved.

Netanyahu's apology was purely about rebuilding relations with Turkey as both nations struggle to contain the fallout of the civil war in Syria and the threat of a nuclear Iran. It was also about appeasing Obama. And perhaps Netanyahu's apology was the price of the public green light Obama gave for an Israeli attack on Iran.

Earlier this week, I wrote that Netanyahu had stood up to Obama and won. He did--but there was a price, and this was part of it. There are still lessons for the GOP in Netanyahu's courage--but also in his compromise. In negotiation, a good trade is when you give away something that costs you little for something that benefits you a lot--especially if what costs you little is very valuable to your adversary. Apologizing to Turkey was rather painless, but a green light on Iran--and possible Turkish logistical support--is of great value to Netanyahu.

Likewise, Republicans can afford to give Obama something he wants very much and which costs them little--but should only do so in exchange for something very valuable in return. Getting to that point requires a willingness to stand up to Obama and not back down--something the GOP has shown only rarely.


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