Friday, October 8, 2010
How much damage have Turkey’s Iran and Israel policies caused so far to relations between it and the United States? This is the question many experts have been trying to analyze and assess for sometime. Most of those observers appear to conclude these days that there is indeed a big gap opening between the U.S. and Turkey’s decades-long relations.
Readers of this column are no strangers to hearing about the negative repercussions of Turkey’s Iran and Israel policies, especially in Washington. The strange development is to see some of Turkey’s foreign policy pundits coming to terms with the reality somewhat belatedly.
It is a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion, that Turkey’s Western image has been dented badly in recent times in Washington and other Western capitals following its “no” vote against the Iranian sanctions at the U.N. Security Council and its exchange of heavy barbs with the Israeli government.
It is well known fact that those organizations and lobbies which represent the interests of various minority groups such as the Armenians, Greeks and Jews are the most effective actors in bringing Turkey’s foreign policies – which seemingly run against to those of the U.S. – to light in Washington.
Nevertheless, the ever-growing presence of the American-Turkish community in the U.S. and its strong showing in various occasions in the U.S. capital and other states is the most effective vaccine that seems to have the promise of protecting Turkey’s interests in the U.S. capital.
Only last Sunday, two blocks away from the White House, thousands of Americans witnessed and enjoyed a rather enriched and expanded annual Turkish festival in the latest testament to the growing Turkish presence in Washington.
The American-Turkish community, through its leaders, is trying to be actively involved in the U.S. midterm elections at this time, organizing fund-raising events for those candidates that are believed to be prospective supporters of the Turkish cause in the future.
The Turkish think tanks, which have affinity with either the Turkish administration or the Gülen Movement, have planned or already functioning bureaus of Turkey’s political parties, increasing representation of various business associations or groups and those plain entrepreneurs from Turkey who have opened about a dozen new Turkish restaurants in Washington within only one year, makes the loudest statement of this reality.
This active and vibrant Turkish presence helped the Congressional Turkish Caucus reach a record number of 123 members last week, following much better situated and experienced ethnic groups of the Armenian Caucus 150 and the 141 of the Hellenic Caucus.
The Turkish embassy is another venue in Washington to fight against the worsening perception of Turkey nowadays. Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Namık Tan, had two talks this week, one at the Potomac Institute, an independent NGO policy group in Arlington, Virginia and the other was at his residence in Washington.
Tan explained repeatedly to his audiences in both occasions, in which many retired generals, active lieutenants, Middle East experts, former high diplomats or just plain young American professionals were present, that Turkey’s neighborhood is very much different and more difficult than the one in which the U.S. is situated.
Tan appealed to his American audience at the Potomac Institute that in order to understand Turkey’s policy adjustments toward Iran, they should imagine themselves on the streets of any Turkish city which are affected by the developments in Iran directly and immediately, instead of ten thousand kilometers away in the U.S. Tan stated his Washington audiences that “Turkey is not in a love affair with Iran” and that “Turkey’s policy toward Iran is not driven by cultural or religious affinity [but] by geopolitical realities.”
Tan bluntly stated that Turkey still stands in the same place and “Israel should apologize and compensate the losses incurred by the families of the victims” and “until Israel wakes up to the call that it is about to lose one of its closest friends in the region and acts accordingly, we will not be able to put our relationship back on track.”
Professor Raymond Tanter, a former member of the National Security Council in the Reagan-Bush White House and currently President of the Iran Policy Committee in Washington stated over the phone that “as a friend of Turkey... it pains me to see Iran’s Bank Mellat freely operating in Istanbul although it is listed by the U.S. Treasury as a financial institution of proliferation concern because of a proven role in helping to finance nuclear operations of Tehran... I trust that Ankara understands that if sanctions fail, military force against Iran will be as devastating to Turkey’s economic interests as the Iraq War. Hence, it is in Turkey's security interests to enhance the credibility of sanctions so that military strikes are not necessary. Even if sanctions are unable to bring about a termination of Iran’s nuclear enrichment, it is critical that Tehran realize that there is a united front against it and that further enrichment might produce a military response.”
Gary Hufbauer, a Senior Fellow at the The Peterson Institute for International Economics and expert on the international sanctions law, including the sanctions against Iran, also said to me in an interview that “not only Turkey but countries like China and Venezuela are also not very enthusiastic about the sanctions against Iran... Current sanctions against Iran are pretty strong and they make it harder for Iran to sell its oil and also make life in Iran less pleasant than already is.”
Hufbauer, who possesses decades of experience over the subject, believes that it is a slam dunk case that Iran has been trying to acquire nuclear weapons for about the last 20 years as opposed to the Turkish political leadership’s opinion of disbelief.
“If the Turkish political leadership doesn’t believe Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” said Hufbauer, it confirms that “politicians say things that are logically true and complete their story lines in the moment… It seems that Turkey certainly does not want to gain Teheran's hostility, wishes to maintain its economic ties with Iran and does not want to create a problem that runs against its friendly neighborhood policy in the region.”
Richard Sawaya, another international sanctions law expert at the National Foreign Trade Council and director of USA-Engage – overseeing in that capacity the advocacy efforts of the coalition to promote alternatives to the use of costly and ineffective unilateral U.S. sanctions – said: “What if the U.S. State Department makes it necessary to open inquiry and find out that some Turkish companies are trading with Iran in ways that violate the U.S. sanctions regime? In such case the president would have the final say and certainly he would have flexibility over the policy course,” said Sawaya: “However, it is a million dollar question” how tense the relations between the two countries would become, he said.
The members of the U.S. Congress and also the White House was working hard to turn the tide of the elections these days.
Once the dust settle, it will be easier to test and see whether the stronger and better organized Turkish presence, and its ability to attract ever more crowds in the streets of Washington or passionate arguments in various shapes and locations articulated by the Turkish officials – essentially the new Turkish vaccine – is effective enough to defend the Turkish administration’s unusual and controversial foreign policy steps in Washington.