Friday, December 3, 2010
“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?