Monday, January 04, 2010

Why is Namık Tan being sent to Washington?

Former Turkish Ambassador Nabi Şensoy's abrupt resignation has caused much speculation and has changed some of the dynamics in the Turkish diplomatic world during the last few weeks. It has also forced Ankara to make a more careful choice for the Washington post, taking newly emerging equations into consideration.

Şensoy felt compelled to submit his resignation following a row between him and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu – an unfortunate incident that occurred in front of several people in the White House.

According to common knowledge and expectations, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leadership was already planning on sending a new appointee to Washington, D.C., after Şensoy's tenure ended during the first half of 2010.

According to one source, who is well positioned to follow the developing story, before and during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Washington visit in December, the AKP wanted to send its own political appointee to Washington because it thought the most important foreign envoy post in the world ought to be in tandem with the administration more enthusiastically than it had been in the recent past.

After Şensoy's shocking resignation, I, along with others, reported that the AKP was not happy with his service even before the incident happened, for Şensoy was viewed as a representative who wasn't particularly sensitive to the developments that were working against the AKP administration's agenda in the U.S. capital.

When one looks at some of the meetings that took place in Washington just before Erdoğan's visit, one could see that there were few episodes that really irritated the AKP's strategic team in Ankara, who are always very keen to pull strings in Washington because of their past links.

For example, the presence and presentations in Washington of a British journalist, Mr. Gareth Jenkins, who has been residing in Istanbul for the last two decades, about the Ergenekon investigation at the U.S. Congress and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advancement Studies, or SAIS, was one of those episodes that raised eyebrows among pro-AKP, conservative media and other circles close to the AKP.

In those presentations, at one of which I also was present, Jenkins painted a picture in which the Ergenekon investigation sounded almost like a fairy tale as he repeatedly pointed out the overwhelming procedural and factual mistakes of the last two years of the investigation and depicted the AKP administration as becoming more and more authoritarian.

A couple of days or so before the AKP entourage arrived at the Oval Office, a group of journalists were also invited to Congress to testify as witnesses in a hearing about Turkey. Among those present were Mr. İhsan Dağı, a columnist from daily Zaman, Mr. Hasan Bülent Kahraman, a columnist from daily Sabah, Mr. Sedat Ergin, a columnist for Hürriyet and the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, and Mr. Rıza Türmen, a columnist for daily Milliyet, who is also reputable former European Human Rights Court judge.

This hearing apparently also made the AKP’s top leadership very upset, as Erdoğan angrily referred to them during his speeches in Washington and likened them to part of a “grand campaign” against the AKP. Erdoğan was not alone; many other Turkish columnists also joined in on the act quickly.

While these various meetings were occurring – in which some of the columnists who have given staunch support to the AKP administration were also present – the AKP leadership thought the Turkish Embassy, intentionally or unintentionally, was ineffective at doing damage control.

On the contrary, as covered and reported after Erdoğan, Türmen was hosted by Şensoy at the embassy's residence, even though Türmen had heavily criticized AKP for its increasing authoritarian tendencies, especially in recent years. This latest episode, according to many, was a tipping point before Davutoğlu finally confronted Şensoy just next to the Oval Office.

Therefore, before the Turkish delegation arrived in Washington the AKP was already preparing to make a political appointment, by sending someone with much more familiarity with the AKP agenda and one who can also relentlessly ward off attacks against the administration that might come from many different fronts, including the discussions which are regularly held in various think tanks and editorials which appear in the mainstream American media. Also important in the job is maintaining good working relations with different lobby powers.

However, all those plans had to change with Şensoy’s resignation. With his resignation, the tension between the AKP administration and the career diplomats in the Foreign Ministry became more visible and made it even harder for the AKP to push for a political appointee to replace a career diplomat. Therefore, the decision was tilted to send a career diplomat to ease the already jittery relationship between the "mon chers" and the AKP.

In light of these developments, Ambassador Namık Tan, who had already served twice at the embassy in Washington in the past, suddenly seemed a much more preferable choice.

Since his past tenures, Tan has maintained special and strong relationships with many of his old colleagues in the U.S. capital and enjoyed a great working relationship with some of the most important lobbyists in Washington. In addition, Tan's good relationship with the AKP leadership got him the nod instead of other possible leading candidates, Mr. Feridun Sinirlioğlu, undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs, and Ünal Çeviköz, deputy undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs.

After the embassy was excluded from the preparations and arrangements of Erdoğan's last trip to Washington, and most programs were organized specifically by the Prime Minister’s Office, the goal was to prove that the team in Ankara is better positioned to know the capital's dynamics than the embassy in Washington, according to at least one Washington source in the U.S. capital.

However, the Erdoğan trip went rather unnoticed when the American mainstream media skipped covering it, Erdoğan's speeches mostly lacked universal tones and were filled with some of the old, harsh words.

All in all, the Washington visit did not bring any tangible results, and this time the same circles started to blame the embassy staff for this seemingly failed visit. On top of everything, the visit ended with a resignation scandal that has been long absent from the world of Turkish diplomacy.

As a result, this chain of bad incidents gave birth to one great occurrence, and that is new Ambassador Tan's arrival to Washington. He is expected to resume his mission within weeks and it seems that all of Turkey's friends in Washington are already anxiously waiting to see their old friend back.

Tan, according to the backstage talks, is already preparing a proactive team for Washington who can deal with the intricacies of the politics of the capital and who will represent Turkey adequately.

And Washington is waiting for him as well!

4 Comments       PRINTER FRIENDLY
Guest - clash (2009-12-30 05:57:48) :

what is beneath all this is a deep friction btw the ideas of the "elected" leaders vs. the career diplomats on how to run nitty-griddy of FP. There are always in any country some sort of discrepancy exists, but these are times for TR where the differences are too major, the parties too stubborn in their own ways, and not willing to listen or compromise. Too bad turkish FP suffers from all this beyond repair very is the depth... where is the strategy? We had higher expectations from prof. davutoglu.

Guest - Halep (2009-12-29 22:28:42) :

I agree with PINAR, we must pour millions into media all over the world so everyone we see how wonderful and amazing we are and that everyone who denies that is cursed and arrogant. We must insist that everyone agrees with us and finds us agreeable because we are the best nation in the world and follow the plan and destiny of the great Ataturk!

Guest - wolf (2009-12-29 11:04:07) :

@Pinar. Why on earth would we do that? Dont you think we have more important things to do in our own country and better ways of spending out tax payers money than trying on infiltrate the entire media of US?

Guest - PINAR (2009-12-29 06:34:05) :

Turkey needs to send 500 turkish students every year to top american universities like harvard and colombia to study american history, american politics, american law, american journalism. Turkey needs to send these turkish students to intern in american media companies like fox tv, abc tv, nbc tv. the only way to influence american policy is to flood american media with Turkey' s perspective

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