Friday, July 30, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on Wednesday morning titled “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction: Implication for U.S.-Turkish Relations.”
The chairman of the Committee, Mr. Howard Berman, in his opening statement described the meeting as “the first full-committee hearing devoted exclusively to Turkey” because of questions “about Turkey’s orientation and its ongoing commitment to strategic partnership with the United States.” Therefore, the hearing was in essence to discuss whether Turkey is changing its direction from west to east, a claim that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has vehemently opposed.
The hearing was only the latest testimony about how bad the anti-Turkey or anti-AKP climate in the U.S. Congress is following a host of issues in recent months. The committee’s leader, Howard Berman, does not have a good reputation among Turks, especially since the management style he displayed during the Armenian genocide resolution vote in early April, at the same committee.
The New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman told a group of Turkish journalists and experts in Washington last week that he also has some real issues with some of the Turkey’s foreign policies, such as “zero problems” following an interview for the Studyo Washington. Friedman argued that North Korea’s dictator or China’s foreign policy makers, too, can deliver the zero problem policy. Friedman stated while elaborating his analysis that, Turkey should promote a set of values in its neighborhood as a Capitalist Democracy and invite its neighbors to join Turkey on the same road instead of letting anyone do whatever it wants and giving away roses.
Along the difference over the Iran nuclear policy, Turkey’s strained relations with Israel has been the second biggest crack in the relations between the U.S. and Turkish administrations. Following the flotilla raid, various protests and condemnations proved that the Israeli government has been isolated further in Europe and many other corners in the world, and it felt compelled to ease the blockade on the Gazan people. And the AKP government has been isolated further in the halls of the American Congress and snubbed by the leaders of both parties.
When one looks at the power balance of the current U.S. Congress, it can be safely noted that the AKP government has lost its PR war against Israel badly.
President Obama learned his limits when it comes to the tough love policy against Israel in recent weeks. It remains to be seen whether the AKP administration will change its Israel policy, following a long pandering period of the U.S. Congress through signed letters which have urged Turkey to repair the relations with Israel repeatedly and given stark statements that Turkey has had to endure.
Since the flotilla crisis, it is the Republican opposition party leaders and members who have reacted the most fervently against the Turkish foreign policies, a party that has been traditionally enjoying more comfortable relations with Turkey. Therefore, it seems that the problem will not be disappearing anytime soon with the November elections when one considers it is not only the Democrat Party ranks that the Turkish administration is going through a sour relationship episode.
For example, the Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Florida lawmaker who could become the next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee if Republicans win in November, quickly issued a press release declaring, “Instead of giving more undeserved gifts to the PLO, it’s time for us to kick the PLO out of the U.S. once and for all, and move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, where it belongs,” as a reaction when the State Department announced it was upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s Washington office to a “general delegation” as a symbolic gesture, a similar status as in Europe. “The unrepentant, unchanged PLO deserves no U.S. concessions,” such as flying “the so-called ‘Palestinian flag,’” Ros-Lehtinen added. One wonders how would such strong right-wing rhetoric of her chairwomanship at the committee fare when it comes to the relations with Turkey in the future.
According to current committee leader Berman’s testimony in the same hearing, “evidence of a negative foreign-policy shift by the AK Party government has been clear at least since February 2006, when Turkey invited Hamas leader Khaled Meshal for a visit. Concerns about Turkey hit a new peak with the flotilla incident, the apparent ties between the AK Party and the Hamas-associated nongovernmental organization İHH, and then the Turkish vote against U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, the historic sanctions resolution aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.”
Soner Çağaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was one of the four witnesses for the committee hearing and stated in his testimony to the committee that, “now with Al Qaeda pursuing a war between the "Muslim world" and the West, a gray area in which Turkey can position itself no longer exists; it must become an EU member and part of the West, or else fold into the Muslim world, as per Al Qaeda's vision.”
Çağaptay argued that “it is time to signal to the AKP that its anti-Western policies have a cost. To this end Washington should deny the AKP political access ― this will cost the party prestige that matters greatly in Turkish politics.”
Amb. Ross Wilson, on the other hand, as another witness, said Turkey, “stronger than at any time in a couple hundred years, is now inclined to try to influence events on its periphery in ways that it [has] not in the past.” Following a summary of Turkey’s relations with Iran, Iraq, Middle East and Caucuses that he prepared for his remarks, Wilson asked “is there another ally that has such a large stake in how so many problems that are so important to us get addressed?” Wilson’s recipe to repair the damaged relations with Turkey to the committee members is, “no choice but to work with it [Turkey] and work with it and work with it.”
When asked about the current anti-Turkey climate in the Congress, a high level Turkish diplomat stated that “Berman’s particular anti-Turkish stance has been clear since the passage of the Armenian genocide resolution."
However, the official stated that there will be a difficult time ahead for Turkey in the Congress before the November elections, when the domestic politics and its calculations on the part of the members for re-elections are flying high.
Though the official accepted that the bad climate for Turkey in the Congress is negatively affecting the U.S.-Turkish relations, he argued that there is hope that this hostile climate should disappear once the November midterm elections are over.
"If not," the official concluded, the anti climate in the U.S. Congress would become a serious crisis between the U.S.-Turkey relations.
We will see if the AKP leadership offers any policy changes to recalibrate its expectations from U.S. and Israel or if it continues to unnerve the West and urge the U.S. administration to change some of its policies regarding Iran, Israel and the wider Middle East.