Friday, November 12, 2010
For over a week, the White House team of policy actors has been in Asia for meetings and visits at a time Washington is going through a post-midterm election rehabilitation session.
One of the results of the historic midterm election earthquake that just happened is to bring President Barack Obama’s policy and legislation making limits under the spotlight, at the same time the administration is stepping back from its solid campaign promise not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
On the other hand, even though the NATO summit will be held in Lisbon, Washington has been occupying itself with countless discussions and panels to analyze possible scenarios.
In that sense, if nothing else, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, unpredictable foreign affairs posture when it comes to deciding on big issues brought a mixed amount of surprise and unexpectedness to Turkey’s image and also makes the country relevant to many other wider U.S. foreign policy discussions that are not directly linked to the bilateral ties of the U.S.- Turkey.
A considerable amount of this mixed of unexpectedness has been injected into the U.S.-Turkey relations as well, which consequently elevated the relations to a roller coaster ride in 2010.
This week, at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, while assessing the future of the U.S.-Turkey relations, three of the panelists who were arguing different points of views over Turkey, agreed on one point, namely that of the improbable posture of Turkish foreign policy heading to the Lisbon summit.
During the discussion, Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, compared the AKP’s democratization path to a mixed bag, in that on the one hand the AKP administration had enabled Turkey to live through the best democracy ever in its history, but on the other, that authoritarian aspects constantly hang over the country, as evidenced by the administration going after political opponents using the Ergenekon investigations or levying inexplicable tax fines on the outspoken press.
While Cook stated that he found Turkey’s mixed bag is “positive” overall and has a potential for better days as a democratic country ahead, another panelist at the same discussion, Soner Çağaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, repeatedly argued that the new constitution, which the AKP promises to produce, would be a litmus test to prove if indeed AKP is for liberal democracy and the country is indeed going in a positive direction.
Çağaptay, while analyzing the referendum results, pointed that the 42 percent of dissent in the country cannot be digestible or wished away by the other chunk. Therefore, for Çağaptay, the new constitutional discussions could be a launching pad for the new social contract in which all parts of society can be represented.
Michael Werz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank that can be described as the think tank most closely linked to the current White House, painted a very favorable picture of Turkey’s “mixed bag.”
Werz noted the tremendous changes that are occurring in Turkey. Werz concluded that these changes are not about the Islamic revival in the country, but have merely resulted in a large amount of energy being “unleashed” after it gathered within Turkey during the Cold War. Werz insisted that most of today’s power struggle in Ankara was due to newly rising Anatolian entrepreneurs, who now want more say in the ruling class, as well as more foreign markets to expand in the Levant.
While the Lisbon summit looms, this week I also sat down and talked with Daniel Fata, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy from 2005 to 2008, who was a key advisor to both secretaries of defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates in that capacity and was responsible for developing and executing earlier version of the NATO missile shield.
Fata argued that a new “strategic concept” that tries to illustrates who the threats that NATO alliance will face over the next decade and is expected for approval by the member states has some uncertainties to handle. The Afghanistan situation, how to approach Russia and continuing financial crises are some of the monumental issues that Fata argued makes it extremely difficult for the alliance members to concentrate on the strategic concept on top of sharp budgetary constraints.
Fata, as one of best experts over the old and new missile versions of the NATO shield, defended Turkey when answering a question about Turkey’s dealing with Iran.
“Turkey is approaching Iran and its nukes problems very realistically. They are living in the neighborhood. They avoid saying or doing anything that would make them a target. However, Turkey also does not want Iran to go nuclear. So they are trying to find a constructive role preventing a crisis from happening that would threaten them, concern them. However the Americans did not like some of the new Turkish rhetoric,” Fata said, adding that some of Turkey’s activities over the year seemed to block the P5+1 negotiations getting a better and more effective result.
Fata, when asked to make a prediction what Turkey would do next week, said that according to his interactions with people who are involved with the discussions or know about them, “things are going in the right direction,” meaning that Turkey is getting ready to be part of the shield. However, Çağaptay, argued at the CAP panel that even though the AKP may approve of the plans, during the system’s implementation phase, the AKP most likely would bring bureaucratic difficulties into play to not deploy the system.
Iran and P5+1 talks
At the State Department this week, P.J. Crowley, assistant secretary and spokesman for the State Department, had to encounter quite a few tough questions about Turkey’s role in upcoming Iran and P5+1 negotiations. Dodging several questions on Iran's offer to resume talks in Turkey, Crowley finally had to leave the door ajar for a potential role for Turkey to play.
“If we are successful in getting a process going, not just one meeting but a series of meetings and a serious engagement on the nuclear issue and other issues, we can envision that there will be many potential locations for this series of meetings,” Crowley said.
So, just a week before the Lisbon NATO summit, a very small light at the end of tunnel has appeared for Turkey to play a hosting role for the P5+1 meetings.
It was also obvious in Washington this week that the U.S. officials do not want to bring Turkey into the talks.
Iran's request to include Turkey into the meetings could be a critical step, yet the beginning of a very slippery road, in which Turkey can be cast as an "enabler" actor for the Iranian nuclear program in the longer term, once more.
Though in the short term, if Turkey hosts even some of the West vs. Iran meetings, that would be a big victory for the Turkish side.
We will just watch and see in the coming weeks how determined is Washington not to let Turkey grab this role.