Friday, June 18, 2010
Following a historic "no" vote at the United Nations Security Council, or UNSC, the other week, the relationship between Turkey and the U.S. has been going through a difficult patch. Prior to the vote, through different channels, the U.S. administration officials and various Congressional members reflected their pre-anger mode to the Turkish side, if the Turkish side were to go against the sanctions. Some seasoned foreign policy experts also reflected this anger and stated repeatedly that a 'no' vote at the UNSC against the U.S. might bring serious consequences to bear.
However, the most powerful component of the Washington policy making body, the White House, has chosen to stay quiet, at least publicly, after the Turkish revolt in New York. Both run up to the UNSC vote, and its following hours and days, the U.S. Administration officials cautiously treated the situation and avoided making angry remarks.
The White House senior administration officials summoned the Turkish press members to the White House to explain the U.S. position clearly, right after the UNSC vote. The officials seemed relaxed or even careless while responding to the questions of the Turkish press about what just happened and what others might follow. When I talked to another White House official on the same day that the meeting was conducted, the only thing I heard from this official was that "the White House is frustrated" and does not know what to make of Turkey's stance.
A week after the flotilla crisis and a few days before the UNSC vote on the sanctions package against Iran, I talked to another senior White House official who has been closely involved with matters regarding Turkey day in and out. The Senior official told me that "Turkey's Iran policy should not be over-analyzed." The official went on saying that "Turkey, like the U.S., also does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons... Friends sometimes can disagree." Talking with a senior White House official on the phone, who tells me that Turkey's Iran policy should not be over-emphasized, was pretty shocking.
So, how is it possible that on the one hand the U.S. administration officials have been extremely cautious and calm while commenting on the relations between the U.S. and Turkey, but about every other indication in Washington signals the exact opposite of this "calming" posture?
The answer lies mostly on President Obama and his never understood Middle East policy. Obama has changed his tones radically throughout the sixteen months of his presidency while directing the Arab-Israeli peace process as well as the policy on Iran.
Obama, on the Arab-Israeli front, first tried to push back the right wing Netanyahu government, hoping that it would either compromise or collapse. When the White House saw neither is happening, then it started to backpedal only to run over the Abbas government this time.
Obama's Iran policy also sounds like another backpedaling story. Obama, who just could not decide whether to try for more diplomacy or to work harder to bring heavier sanctions against Iran, intentionally or not, misled the Turkish party.
I asked Mr. Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, whether there were any mixed signals that came from the White House run up to the UNSC vote that might have misguided Turkey. Mr. Gibbs, instead of giving direct answer on this "mixed signals" question, stated simply that the White House disappointed Turkey's stance at the Council vote.
Apart from sending just too many mixed signals to the outside world, the Obama administration is also in a place that cannot afford to loose a Muslim ally. Obama, and the Democrats, for years, accused the former administration for mishandling the relations with the Muslim world. Now after 8 years of "mistaken" policies, how can the Obama administration elucidate loosing the U.S.' one of the oldest Muslim allies in the world.
Though the president's silence does not necessarily stop leaders and members of the U.S. Congress to whip and threat Turkey. Some of the Congressional leaders already began talking about bringing the Armenian genocide resolution, which passed at the House of Foreign Affairs Committee a couple of months ago, back to the House floor soon. It must be noted that there is no strong break left In Washington these days to prevent such resolution reaching the House floor and put on a vote eventually. The most used argument for Turkey's importance is its "strategic alliance," or "importance" to the U.S. These days nobody in Washington talks about these attributions anymore.
The BP rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and oil leak that has been following for two months, which became the biggest environmental catastrophes in American history, has weakened the Obama presidency dramatically. Obama, who once gave the most exhilarating messages of our times through his magical speeches and words, suddenly became another politician with very limited powers, who is even not being able to "plug the hole." And weak standing, also would make it very difficult for Obama to interfere in Congress, particularly if there is a strong consensus on any given matter.
When I talked to another Senior White House official on Thursday and told him that statements that came from the U.S. Congressional members during the week leaves no other choice but to write some terrible scenarios for the relationships between the U.S. and Turkey. The senior official told me that he has nothing to add to this analysis!
While the Turkish delegation was in Washington, the head of TUSIAD, Mrs. Umit Boyner was also in Washington and met with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday late afternoon for about 40 minutes. Following the meeting, Mrs. Boyner gave a press conference and stated that their meeting with Clinton was dominated by the Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Turkish problems. The Turkish Parliamentary delegation could not secure an appointment with Mrs. Clinton, instead, grudgingly, they settled for a meeting with Mr. Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.