Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Turkey Needs Disenchanted Ex-Officials to Talk


The United States has just wrapped up a historic week ushering in Barak Obama as its new president through another peaceful transition of power, in Washington DC. People, who follow American politics closely, now are in line to read more of ‘what happened’ during the last 8 years. In America, it has become almost a tradition for former high officials to talk about the administrations in which they served. When they criticize their own administration’s past policies, we learn more in a retrospect perspective, and when they support any policies that were implemented, we pay attention to their arguments and the circumstances they were in. And in some cases, the juicy, secret revealing remarks suddenly open the doors of unknown relationships or dynamics that otherwise would have stayed behind closed doors. Of course another incentive for writing books or giving interviews is, they do not only serve for the public interest, but the writers also earn a large sum of money to take care of their families, probably for the rest of their lives.

One of these recent examples is former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. Mr. McClellan was Press Secretary of the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign, and later on replaced Ari Fleischer as White House Press Secretary in 2003. During his tenure as a White House Press Secretary, McClellan vigorously defended many policies and actions of the Bush administration such as invading Iraq, the CIA-Plame scandal, and the aggressive surveillance program. Though, once McClellan quit the job, it turned out that he was secretly against these policies that he had defended to the press corps for years.

The book that Mr. McClellan wrote titled “What Happened” tells the story of the events leading up to Iraq’s invasion, and accuses the Bush administration of managing state affairs in a partisan way with a self-deception. The book was not well received by the Republicans one might expect and faced many counter points, rebuttals, and harsh criticism. In the end, the American people had a chance to read different approaches to what happened in those important times prior to the some of the most important decisions that were being made. At any rate, the result of these discussions was a victory not for any particular political party, but for American democracy, people and history.

Ex-officials who talk and write are viewed with differently according to the topics, manners and times they talk. In some cases they are seen as heroes or unselfish individuals, in others betrayers or money hunters. Contra to US tradition, in Turkey, leave aside any criticism, even hearing simple observations of the ex-officials is vastly difficult, if not impossible.

One of the founding fathers of AKP, Mr. Bulen Arinc, a former head of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey is nowhere to be seen at AKP’s second term. On the one hand, he was distanced from Erdogan’s close policymaking circle; on the other, he kept losing his power within the party. Mr. Arinc endured the most difficult times of the party at the beginning and faced many struggles on the way, and now should be the time to enjoy the good days. However he has been sidelined by Erdogan, and now is out of sight, out of mind, and acting as a simple MP.

Another founding father of AKP party is Abdullatif Sener. Mr. Sener was a State Minister during AKP’s first term. He became very popular with his warm and tolerant approach to the ‘secular’ part of the society. However he decided not to run for a second term, though this sparked some speculations. When the Turkish Constitutional Court didn’t close AKP contrary to expectations, Sener found his new party establishing effort as an unexpected bomb in his hands and was accused of stabbing the old partners in the back. One of the Turkish Islamic newspapers had a headline that ran as ‘History of Betrayals in Turkish Politics’ with Sener’s picture underneath. It is not a joke that Sener, who was founding his own party, was being accused of being a traitor.

Turhan Comez, former close adviser to Erdogan, is another causality. Especially after being linked to the Ergenekon allegations, he is out of the country and on the run. Whether he has any reasonable links to the gang or not, one thing is for sure that Comez became a great illustration for future generations: once one starts criticizing the leader, he better run. The list is long, former close confidantes and advisers, Ministers, MPs or many former high officials. None of these former senior officers published any book or gave any accounts about the administration they served for a long time.

Former high-officials should come forward and start a tradition of sharing the past accounts of their experiences with the public. We cannot even explain this muted behavior as last year’s much discussed ‘neighborhood pressure’ theory of Prof. Serif Mardin. It seems there is much more there to intimidate them. One of these intimidations is a danger of being labeled as a ‘traitor’ as happened to Mr. Sener. However the real reason is since today’s political parties cannot draw the fine line between religion and politics, or intentionally maintain that line blurred, to average people, many times it seems that criticizing an Islamic political party also means criticizing Islam itself. Thus, disapproving AKP’s policies or leaders in many cases seem like discounting and wounding the ‘dava-cause’. Of course there are other reasons as well; for example, such a criticism gets an unproportioned reaction from leaders, like the one was used against the chief pro-AKP journalist, Fehmi Koru. Is this the political tradition we want in Turkey?

Winston Churchill once said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Today, if America’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell had not talk about the period prior to the Iraq invasion, if former chief counter-terrorism adviser at the White House Richard Clarke, or CIA’s former director George Tenet did not write books about what their experiences, or feelings they had, before and after the 9/11, America’s democracy and the institution of accountability would have been weaker, not stronger.

Any administration, isolated against criticism from its own, cannot rethink or analyze the unwise policies they once implemented in the past. Ruling the country with this comfort and sluggishness make the politicians keep going on with getting into new adventures without any kind of public scrutiny. When people who served in the highest levels in the past are hesitant to comment, write, or share, because of being afraid to get caught in a witch-hunt, then the country has a bigger chance to lose its right mind to follow a liable course of actions. Serving country and talking openly about the policies and criticizing them means you do care about your country and your country’s democracy more than false loyalty. “Betrayal can only happen when you love.” The Turkish people have right to hear it out. Till then, we have another reason to be sorry for the Turkish democracy

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