Monday, December 27, 2010

Global anarchist changes Turkey-US relations

“An Anarchist,” said P.J. Crowley, spokesman and Assistant Secretary of State in the United States, when asked about Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, during press briefings this week. Mr. Crowley and the U.S. State Department just went through one of the toughest weeks in its history following the WikiLeaks revelations and there seem to be many more similar weeks in store for them.
On Thursday, Crowley elaborated his description of Assange: “He is a political actor. He has a political agenda. He is trying to undermine the international system that enables us to cooperate and collaborate with other governments. What he’s doing is damaging to our efforts and the efforts of other governments. He is an active player.”
Assange indeed threatens the international system and has hit the U.S. the hardest as it is the moral and military leader of that system, as well as the source of the weakness in the leak of the documents.  
Crowley, who is already doing a kind of unfathomable job of riposting questions about every single corner of the world, day in and out, found his work load doubled this week while trying to respond to the biggest and most breath-taking disruption in the U.S’ diplomatic history.
Cablegate is not a classic, one-off scandal as we know and have witnessed throughout time. It is a unique incident which promises to drag on for an unforeseeable future.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was in Washington with a busy schedule, meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other administration officials and more than a dozen members of Congress.
Prior to Davutoğlu’s visit, the climate in Washington was not friendly to him, nor to his policies on Iran and Israel. According to well-placed sources, neither did the U.S. appear too “enthusiastic” to receive Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu’s last visit to Foggy Bottom to meet Clinton came right after the flotilla incident, in which the same “cold” climate was visible, as was the meeting, according to the conventional narrative at the time.
Last Sunday evening in Washington, cables were slowly coming out so the climate was changing. Next morning the ministers exchanged remarks in front of cameras in much warmer environment. According to officials who have first hand knowledge about Davutoğlu’s meetings, including those with Clinton, about the first 10 minutes of all meetings with U.S. officials were devoted to U.S. officials apologizing and comforting the Turkish delegation.
It is relatively easy to understand how big the beast chewing the U.S. is, having observed Crowley nearly everyday this week answering more than half a dozen questions on the crisis and watching him answer scores of other WikiLeaks inquiries.
On Thursday, following a press briefing, I couldn’t help but to ask him how he is personally, given he has started his last few days not knowing what kind of a revelation or crisis he would face during the day. After taking a deep breath, Crowley brought himself to say, “Everyday feels like a groundhog day.”
While U.S. officials are scrambling into damage control, Davutoğlu seemed to be enjoying his visit continuing to smile. During speeches at the Brookings Institute, at which I was a spoiler by asking why freedom of the press is one area that Turkey seems to be lagging behind in, and at Georgetown University, he “lectured” the crowd, and divided the last 200 years of Turkish history into four restoration phases for his audience. The carefully prepared lectures were to explain to the Washington elite how Turkey has historical and cultural ties to its neighboring states, and how Turkey’s economic and political evolution up until today pushes Turkey to be pro-active in its region. It was a well reasoned speech which primarily, in my opinion, aimed to explain once and for all that his policies do not aim to change Turkey’s orientation from West to East.
Davutoğlu argued that the global order needs to be rehabilitated to become more inclusive, in which Turkey has to have a bigger role for its own set of unique qualities.
While talking about history, drawing parallels with America’s own restoration and explaining his view of what the world should look like, Davutoğlu also touched upon the WikiLeaks crisis and stated, “we don’t use dual language.” This lethal reference had to be swallowed by Crowley, even though he was twice asked about it.
While we focus on Turkey-U.S. relations and the potential repercussions of WikiLeaks, the U.S. has to deal with 186 countries around the globe. On Wednesday, when Crowley summoned foreign press members to the Foreign Press Center in Washington to answer WikiLeaks questions, I happened to learn through questions about anti-Americanism in Canada, or hear some sarcastic questions such as “what is the criteria, if there is any, for the decision of the secretary of state picking up the telephone and making a telephone call? I ask you this because in Argentina, where the disclosure has been particularly very disturbing, they’re still awaiting a phone call from the secretary of state.” Luckily, the next day Crowley informed us the secretary had called the Argentian president.
This week, the change that occurred in U.S. and Turkey relations embodied enough evidence to show how effectively the crisis grated the U.S. administration’s diplomatic teeth. For instance, it was next to impossible to hear anything nice about Turkey’s role between Iran and the West for months in Washington, as recently as last week. However, Crowley felt compelled to make a long list of compliments, including how positively Turkey’s role on encouraging Iran to accept P5+1 meetings has been, when I asked him if the U.S. administration planned to take any legal action, by merely voicing Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s angry remarks.
While the hard-earned and significant esteem of the U.S. is going down the drain, the lame-duck session of the U.S. Congress is mired in political infighting over domestic problems such as whether to let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, or whether to extend unemployment benefits again, among others.
While Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, seems to be on the list of the losers in terms of Turkish domestic politics, relations with Washington, maybe for the first time, feels much at ease. And the U.S., as Crowley’s long and sweet statements about Turkey displayed this week, feels the need to be mild in the face of the furious Turkish leaders over the insults made in the cables.
According to experts, there is very little evidence to believe that anyone can stop the releasing of the documents at this point.
Therefore the global anarchist is unsurprisingly set to demolish the only global power’s most significant asset, its diplomatic reputation and dignity in its relations with the rest of the world. And the demolishing process, which has only just started, seems to be a much more painful period than anything else that so far has been seen or experienced in world history.
It is slowly taking place before our eyes. It will be more torturous than Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib and promises to be much more lethal than the drones that hit militant groups around the globe. It has been already more humiliating than the diplomatic language it used to snub other states for such a long time.
What did the U.S. do to deserve this abasement?
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Guest - Dinos of Ellas
2010-12-05 16:02:49
 @Emre - You could have a better view on this but my basic understanding is that it's the US military to be blamed for this snafu. The US diplomats are under the State Department and the leak occurred at the Department of Defense (DOD). The fact that a simple soldier was able to download on a disk information which was meant to improve field performance and interdepartmental info sharing goes to show you that it was sloppiness on the military's part. The systems used by the US State Department are unbreakable and the truly top secret information is well protected. The Wikileaks are nothing more than a report card on many countries and are not damaging to the US at all. The leaks are damaging to the US military which by now has a record of carelessness starting with the McCrystal article on Rolling Stones magazine last summer. 
Guest - rpc
2010-12-05 14:12:47
 Diplomats dual purpose is to represent the government's position to the host country and to report their observations of the host country. American diplomats have to agree to represent views with which they may disagree as a condition of employment. Sometimes the diplomat may have to present a policy with which he/she disagrees. As for being polite in person but being critical in private, that is little different than a store worker being polite to a rude customer but thinking the person is a jerk. The reports of corruption in Afghanistan are essential to inform Washington about the extent and depth of the problem. Anyone who has followed how many journalist have been killed in Russia know it is not a true democracy. If you don't like being called corrupt, stop taking money for acts that should be decided on merit rather than dollars. And, can you imagine what some foreign diplomats might have said about the US, say President George W. Bush? 
Guest - Igor
2010-12-05 11:07:46
 Murat and Cautious. I guess that the truth is somewhere in between. There have been a couple of events lately which have received some attention, in particular Turkey's (together with Brazil) initiative on Iran, Turkey's refusal to allow US to use Turkish land during the Iraq war and of course the Mavi Marmara/Israel issues. Other than that we do not read very much about Turkey, and it is certainly no where near from example China, EU, Afganistan and Iraq. PS Murat, not that it matters all that much, but the magazine The Economist is British, not American. 
Guest - emre
2010-12-05 04:37:38
 The U.S.A. has no diplomatic reputation worth protecting. No, its assets are its M&Ms: military, which Wikileaks does nothing to dent (though the ragtag Taliban are doing a great job) and media, which is working overtime to play down and deflect attention from the leaks. At this point, the only people who aren't quite sure that the U.S.A. has committed war crimes are the Americans themselves, and they are too apathetic to hold their leaders accountable. When was the last time you saw an American president convicted for war crimes? It just does not happen. *** One interesting tidbit I gathered from the leaked cables is that Turkey really is a den of spies. All the activity takes place here for some reason. The conspiracy theorists got that much right! 
Guest - Hammad Sethi
2010-12-05 03:51:24
 At the end of the day, Western Christians are the real rivals and the competitors of the Muslim world. Pillocks and small-timers such as Isreal and India do not really matter. West understands this fact, and is trying to contain the Muslim world from all directions. Israel and India are just two worthless pawns. It is down to the Muslims to wake-up and prepare for a healthy and worthy competition. 
Guest - Murat
2010-12-04 20:51:44
 @Cautious; I beg to differ on one point. I can not remember a single DAY that I do not read something about Turkey in NYT, Times, Economist etc. Not just politics, but economics and travel. It was pointed out that word "Turkey" was found in the released documents more often than "Afghanistan". Not that all exposure is good, but still... 
Guest - Dinos of Ellas
2010-12-04 19:38:03
 @Murat - We seem to finally agree on something, so I am not going to spoil the occasion. I would also agree that there is nothing embarrassing for Turkey as a state so far either, but there is plenty of material damaging to AKP as a political party. In fact this Wikileaks thing is nothing but a giant gift for CHP. It's now up to CHP to use the material prudently and wisely and thus prove wrong the cables contention that the "opposition in Turkey is ridiculous". 
Guest - Cautious
2010-12-04 18:48:24
 The USA public is more concerned about the lack of security which allowed the leak rather than the content of the leaks which appear to be honest/reasonably accurate assessments of people/events. Few of the disclosures are considered real news to people who tend to keep up on World events. The USA isn't focused on Turkey and anyone who reads USA newspapers knows that even finding an article on Turkey is pretty rare. 
Guest - Murat
2010-12-04 18:00:32
 I agree, there is not much here US should be embaressed about. If anything, some of the leaders who were described in less than flattering terms should be the ones worried. That is how they really look to others. Naturally a US diplomat will be looking at all events and personalities in terms potential benefit and harm to their national interests. Nothing strange about it. Can you imagine what lurks in the diplomatic vaults of other nations? I did not think there is anything really enbaressing for Turks either. So USA thinks their diplomacy is overreaching, whats wrong with that? Is it not better than their military stretching thin? Aside from general unfairness to USA which is singled out here, in general very little of this is helpful. Diplomacy can not exist without confidentiality. What is the alternative to diplomacy? 
Guest - Dinos of Ellas
2010-12-04 01:45:07

 Actually the winners of Wikileaks are the US and its diplomats. Why? Simple: Be revealed to have been working hard behind the scenes to do the right thing. If there is one over-arching message to the Wiki-spill it is that for the most part, in most places U.S. diplomats and senior officials have been doing an admirable job. The US' first diplomat, Thomas Jefferson, said that he "never believed there was one code of morality for a public, and another for a private man." Diplomacy necessarily involves secrets and deceptions, but an acid test of diplomacy and diplomats is whether what is done privately stands up to public scrutiny. So far the leaked cables for the most part show professional diplomats doing their job with intelligence, wisdom, candor and even humor. 

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