Friday, October 1, 2010
One of the most hostile U.S. Congress sessions when it comes to dealing with Turkey affairs is finally coming to an end. It closed its curtains this week so the American public can make mid-term changes. However, as the U.S. Congress went into recess for the November elections, Turkey was nastily stung twice, which coincided with the visit of the Turkish parliamentary delegation to Washington, assembled by five Turkish parliamentary deputies.
Congress’ last Turkey sting came just before the recess, from Senator Sam Brownback, who placed a hold on President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Turkey, Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, in the beginning of August. A Republican from Kansas, Brownback is not running for re-election in November, instead aiming to win the Kansas gubernatorial race.
To resolve the “hold” impasse and convince the senator, a meeting was finally arranged last week between the senator and Ambassador Ricciardone by the U.S. State Department. When I talked to the senator’s office this Thursday afternoon to ask how the meeting went and whether the senator was considering lifting his hold, I was told by the senator’s press secretary that the senator was not ready to lift his hold.
According to one expert who watched the process closely, Ricciardone’s appointment to Turkey, at this point, has “collapsed,” even though the president certainly has the right to make a "recess appointment" (without a Senate confirmation).
However, it is not expected that President Obama will resort this choice, nor that Ambassador Ricciardone will accept such an appointment to go to Turkey, a significant ally and strategic partner, possessing less than the full confidence of the U.S. government.
If the administration succeeds in appeasing or pressuring Brownback to lift his hold after the recess then Ricciardone could be confirmed, of course assuming no other senator places a new hold. Both D.C. insiders and State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley confirmed during August that there are other senators who also have issues with Ricciardone, besides Brownback.
If there is neither a recess appointment nor the senator’s change of heart about the ambassador’s record after the Christmas break, then the new Congress will convene around mid-January. In that case, all appointments and bills will have to be resubmitted from scratch. Obama, at that point, will either resubmit Ricciardone's name to the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee or will submit a fresh candidate for Turkey. If it is Ricciardone again, Brownback is no longer in the Senate to place a hold once again.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee would then hold a hearing all over again in which Ricciardone will have to come in front of the committee, present his testimony once more and the committee members would then question Ricciardione in oral and written form, as was the case before. If the majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes for him and no senator places a "hold," Ricciardione would then be confirmed by the full Senate, assuming that the majority of the Senate would vote for him.
Would the president risk resubmitting the same candidate and going through another painful process once more to see if the candidate sails through for the second time against a Senate potentially more hostile to his administration or would he change his nominee? At any rate, it seems that unless something dramatic happens, Ankara is left without a U.S. ambassador for another while, at a time when some big changes are occurring rapidly in one of the U.S.’s most significant democratic allies in the world, Turkey.
The second bite to Turkey from the U.S. Congress this week was Florida Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who sponsored a resolution calling “for the protection of religious sites and artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus as well as for general respect for religious freedom.”
The bill was brought to the House’s floor bypassing the House Foreign Relations Committee, because the chairman of the committee, Howard Berman, and the ranking member of the opposition party, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, consented. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approved invoking the “suspension rules” to hasten the passing of this resolution as well. The heavily-worded resolution calls on Turkey to “immediately halt the destruction on religious sites, illegal archaeological excavations, and traffic in icons and antiquities... cease all restrictions on freedom of religion for the enclaved Cypriots.”
There is only about a month left until the mid-term elections, and it is a sure thing that the Republicans will sweep the House, almost certainly grab the speaker-ship, dominate the chairs of various House committees, invoke subpoena power often, block the Obama appointments even more so and give a hell of another two years’ time to the Obama administration.
The idea of creating and sending the Turkey-U.S. Inter-parliamentary Friendship Group to Washington sounds like a commendable idea on the part of the Turkish side. Though its usefulness certainly open to a debate these days.
The delegation, which was headed by Suat Kınıklıoğlu from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was able to meet a total of five members of Congress during its visit.
During one of its think-tank meetings, according to a source who participated in it, the delegation received some surprising looks from the audience when Iran’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was described by a member of delegation as “a much better person in his private life than the public appearance,” and explained to this audience that Ahmadinejad sharpens his public rhetoric only because of Iranian domestic politics. “Let us handle him,” was the approach articulated by the Turkish delegation, who added repeatedly that “Turkey doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, either.”
The delegation also met with the White House National Security Council’s Turkey staff as well as with a State Department official. Two members of the opposition parties in the delegation were mostly quiet and when asked, appeared to be in line with the administration’s Iran and Israel policies, to the surprise of many.
According to some observers in Washington who had close contacts with the Ankara administration, the parliamentary delegation seemed to be “going out of its way by requesting and meeting with the U.S. administration officials” and “risking creating a cacophony” over some of the “very sensitive Turkey foreign policy issues between the administrations and endangering the nuances.”
Turkey, from the Armenian issue to its Iran and Israel policies, has received much bickering, condemnations, protesting letters and anti-Turkey committee or general assembly resolutions from the 111th U.S. Congress’ Second Session in 2010.
Many newcomer members for the 112th are expected to be much more conservative and most likely be open to the influence of those conservative, neo-con, pro-Israel think tanks and hawkish Israeli lobbies. And it is a well-known fact that these forces are gearing up to clash with the Obama administration in the coming years even more pointedly. The notion that “Turkey is turning East,” is being widely accepted by these conservative forces and it is expected that the discussions around this notion will be promoted and preached to these newcomers more intensely and will be well-received by them in return, most likely.
In brief, if the AKP leadership takes a deep breath because a brutal U.S. Congress session is ending, my humble recommendation to them is this: think twice!