Friday, September 17, 2010
Since it came to power in 2002, the leadership of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has been craving more attention for Turkey and made it clear that it wants Turkey to be the center of gravity in its own region.
Turkey’s ambitious foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as the engineer of the new proactive Turkish foreign affairs, along with the “constant winner,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, called for a regional power role for Turkey at every possible stage. According to some Turkey experts in Washington, they finally got what they wanted.
“Turkey now is a center of the gravity,” said a source who has been participating in some of the behind-the-scenes meetings in Washington in recent weeks in which Turkish affairs are being examined in detail at the highest levels.
“However, it is an open-ended question as to whether the new center role has been for the good or the bad,” said the source, whose voice receives considerable hearing in the U.S. State Department as well as other main political actors in Washington.
“The current U.S. administration has two different policy tracks that are reserved while handling Turkey affairs,” the source said. “On the short-term track, the U.S. administration decided to treat Turkey as friendly as ever and has offered renewed goodwill following some difficult times in recent months. This can even be called a new honeymoon. However, the honeymoon will be short-lived if this new goodwill on the U.S. administration’s side is not reciprocated by the AKP administration. And this wait-and-see period will constitute the long-term track. The AKP’s policies regarding Iran and Israel will occupy the large room,” the source, who is in direct contact with many U.S. military leaders, said.
The person also believes that the AKP administration understood the damage that had been created since its vote at the United Nations Security Council opposing the U.S.-led sanctions on Iran, and that the Turkish administration “wants to put the relations back on track.”
Another well-placed source in Washington, also in daily contact with U.S. administration officials who have a voice over Turkey affairs, said before the referendum last Sunday, in which the constitutional changes were voted on by the public in Turkey, that the U.S. was not expecting a wide margin between the “yes” and “no” votes. “They were surprised,” the source said, “and showing off more strong public support behind them, the AKP has proven that it will stay and must be managed diligently.”
These two analyses, based on first-hand observations, were reflected in a speech this week by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, who oversees European and Eurasian affairs, about the German Marshall Fund, or GMF. The secretary commented on a new transatlantic public opinion survey, a yearly study that takes the pulse of how the world public views the still-the-only-power of the world, America.
According to the report, the Turkish public still has an unsatisfactory opinion of the Barack Obama administration. While the U.S.’s other European allies reversed their opinion on the U.S. and approve of how Obama handles foreign affairs, the Turks seem to have not forgiven the U.S. since the Iraq war started.
Gordon, at the same talk, was recorded as admitting that there must be a lot more done in order to earn better favor from the Turkish public. Gordon just a couple of months ago invited an AP reporter and gave stern warnings in which he questioned Turkey’s leadership and challenged them to prove its alliance with the West before the Toronto meeting between Obama and Erdoğan. During the talk at the GMF, Gordon said he believed Turkey was close to the West and that he and the U.S. did not believe that Turkey was drifting away.
As one of the most frank and direct-talking state officials while talking about and to Turkey, Gordon avoided criticism this time and showed great restraint and diligence in his responses to questions regarding Turkey.
At the beginning of his speech, Gordon recalled how bad the relations between the U.S. and its allies around the world were when Obama first came to office more than 20 months ago. Gordon admitted in the same speech that the American public was aware of the fact that their country and president were not well received around world, and this sentiment contributed to their successful climb to power in the first place. This is why, obviously, the State Department sent one of its highest officials to the GMF event, to display how much it cares about public opinion around the world now.
Public opinion today is taken into consideration in about all democracies around the world, and the administrations, whether they are more authoritarian or less, tend to respond to their constituencies. The U.S. adds another layer to this modern democracy necessity and tries to respond to and accommodate other nations’ public opinions more heavily.
Turkey, in Washington, has become a significant portfolio recently. Turkey’s portfolio has been examined and discussed by the most capable U.S. foreign affairs actors. The White House’s National Security Council appointed a permanent staff who will solely work on Turkey issues last month.
Though the U.S. administration proves these days that they are quickly becoming mature enough to handle Turkey, how the projected big losses in the upcoming November elections will play out still remain to be seen.
The climate in the U.S. Congress, as many reported, has been gloomy for Turkey. Last week, when the U.S. Congress had just returned from its summer recess, Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent letters to other members to ask support for the Armenian genocide bill, HR 252. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) sent another letter to the same congressional members to sign another bill that calls for “Protection of Religious Sites and Artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus.”
The readers of this column heard such a resolution on northern Cyprus is coming to the agenda of the U.S. Congress weeks ago. However, neither leaders of the Turkish community nor Turkish diplomats believe these resolutions will go anywhere. Instead, they think these resolutions are merely for these members to send signals to their constituencies just before the November elections.
Though the climate in Congress on Turkey is at its worst on both sides of the aisle, the Turkish Embassy in Washington has increased its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill by arranging happy hours, making inroads to the halls of Congress and gaining face time with members of Congress to explain Turkey’s positions on several issues that have irked the same members in recent months.
Turkish officials in Washington are trying hard to draw a positive image and narrow the gap in Washington at a time when some of the most critical policy approaches on both sides are significantly far apart from each other.
The international diplomacy season has kicked off following a busy summer for Turkey. Every indication shows that Turkey will continue to attract more attention. It is hard to predict at this moment if the attention this time will be for better or for worse.