Thursday, December 02, 2010

Turkey’s perception problem continues, if not worsens in Washington

Following the Turkish agreement on the NATO missile defense system last week in Lisbon, contrary to expectations, Turkey’s perception problem and questions about its direction have not ended in Washington. Instead, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stern messages to Israel from Lebanon, where he visited this week, the new matrix of Washington politics since the midterm elections, in which the Republican opposition is much more stronger, and a set of issues expected to stem from the missile shield system continue to promise a hideous winter for the Turkish-American & Israeli, or TAI, relations.
The big question this week was why Turkey’s consensual agreement on the NATO missile system did not ease the jittery relations between Turkey and the U.S. Wasn’t the biggest contemporary sticking point between the two allies just nicely resolved? Turkey’s opposition to the missile system would have indeed damaged the image of Turkey far worse than many would have anticipated. However, in the real world, Turkey had very few other options beside accepting the new NATO defense plan to begin with, as I concluded my Oct. 15 column, five weeks before the summit, “What will or can Turkey do beside support the new vision, willingly or unwillingly?” Turkey, indeed, could have not opposed the rest of the 27 members of the alliance’s decision to defend themselves just because it did not share the same concerns.
Nonetheless, despite last week’s agreement, it appears that discussions over Turkey’s position will be still up for debate for the next few months. This week, the most relevant senior American diplomatic and military officials, when asked, said that it is indeed not certain if Turkey will actually host the radar installment, and Erdoğan confirmed that the decision has not yet been determined by his government either.
Discrepancies over concerns, questions and statements about the NATO missile shield are the crisp indicators that shed light on the edgy relations between Washington and Ankara these days, and they come to the surface when one finds the audacity to compare notes and do sort of a cross-examining of the senior administration officials, as I just did this week in Washington.
For instance, at the Brookings Institution this week, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ivo Daalder, who spent years preparing for the summit, chuckled and clearly rebuked me when I repeated Turkish President Abdullah Gül's statement over Turkey’s shaping role at the NATO summit, “If Turkey was not in the summit, the summit would have been concluded within 10 minutes.” Then he snubbed another question in which I, once more, voiced Ankara’s repeated concerns over an Israeli role related to the shield; Daalder stated coldly and briefly: “NATO is requiring this capability to protect its territory. Period.”
U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis also gave a press briefing and one of my questions, a much-vocalized talking point in Turkey especially among pundits, was on which country will be making the most money out of the planned defense shield, which is expected to cost billions of dollars. The initial response by admiral, once more, was a spontaneous chuckle, then he continued: “The good news for NATO is that the United States has already borne a great deal of the cost of the research and development of the systems. For example, the Aegis defense system was developed here. That will be adapted and moved ashore. So a great deal of the costs have already been spent in the development of the R&D portion of this thing. In terms of the European side of this thing, the cost is actually relatively low, because it's a command and control system that plugs into hardware that is being offered up by the United States at this point. So the command and control side of this thing will be in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. The actual infrastructure is, indeed, in the billions of dollars, but much of those costs will be borne by the United States.”
 Before the summit, senior U.S. officials shied away from giving any kind of description about the command and control structure of the new missile shield, and simply stated that this issue will be worked out in coming months. Immediately following the summit, this week, it sounded like they have a pretty good idea of what the system should look like. According to Daalder, the issue “is actually not that complicated. ... NATO already has an integrated air missile defense system that has been operation under the single command-control system for decades, with the NATO supreme allied commander in charge. And we are going to have a very similar set up for the missile defense system.”
In brief, where the radar component of the shield will be deployed, and whether the Turkish administration will be satisfied by the described-precise command structure and Israel’s role in the whole cast, will be still the sticking points that are expected to suck a lot of the oxygen from the TAI relations during the first half of 2011.
The other significant menace for the U.S.-Turkey relations is undoubtedly Turkey’s worsening relations with Israel. I had a lengthy phone conversation with Mr. Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, a global Jewish community group, a week ago and one thing clear to me from the whole conversation was that vociferous Jewish Americans have no hope for better relations between Turkey and Israel, as long as the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Ankara.
Make no mistake: I, among many other observers, do believe that Israel owes an apology and that reparations must paid to those families who experienced losses following the flotilla incident.
However, it is also clear to me that Ankara has no interest in giving the Israeli administration the chance to step in that direction. Because it is a well-known secret that if Ankara really wants to make things better between the two, it has plenty of diplomatic skills to create that environment.
Erdoğan’s attack on Israel was met with a great enthusiasm in the streets of the Middle East, as his hero’s welcome confirmed once more in Lebanon this week. Though the same attacks met with an even greater distaste and increased hostility in the streets of Washington and worse, the halls of the Congress.
The Nov. 2 midterm elections reverberated the Israeli lobby’s power in Washington and made it even stronger; however, the Netanyahu government appears to be isolated in many parts of the world. As Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, wrote on his blog on Thursday: “Netanyahu is telling various close friends that he has the U.S. Congress in his pocket and can largely ignore the White House. ... Netanyahu wants to bring down President Obama, when it is Obama who should be destabilizing the far right coalition of the Netanyahu government.”
Some commentaries appeared this week in the Turkish press which suggested that the Turkey-U.S. relations are going through the toughest period in the last 40 years. I have not been around that long and cannot echo the statement fully. What I am afraid is to predict sadly that the TAI relations might be entering into one of the most gruesome winters of recent history.
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Guest - ilker/cyprus
2010-11-29 11:34:02
 The Netanyahu might have Obama in his pocket but he hasnt got Erdogan in his pocket.Its no secret that Erdogan dislikes Netanhayu and that relations with Israel is on hold while he is in power.Weither relations with America stay stable is up to the Americans. 
Guest - NoBS
2010-11-28 02:32:41
 Come on, it's not Netanyahu who wants to bring down Buraq Hussein Osama, but exactly the opposite. Recep the Arab Erdogan himself has also stated that he would like to bring down the current Israeli government and help replace it with one that will lick his own bedouin sandals when told to do so. 
Guest - George
2010-11-27 23:13:51
 The problem is that Ataturk failed to truly secularize Turkey. His act of injection of extreme nationalim in the lives of the Turks has ironically now helped the return of political islam and watering down of Ataturk's secular state. Proof to that is PM Erdogan and his blind doings. 
Guest - Ben Yacob
2010-11-27 22:08:15
 To all those who think and write that Israel should apologize or pay to those families who experienced losses following the flotilla incident I suggest one thing, to read the full report of the Mavi Marmara incident in The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. To express sorrow yes, to apologize, why ?. 
Guest - dickerson
2010-11-27 19:55:38
 FROM HAARETZ, 11/26/10: The United States Embassy in Tel Aviv has informed the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks was planning on releasing hundreds of thousands of American diplomatic cables, some of which might deal with Israel-America relations. wikileaks has lots of leaks for Turkey-America relations and sure they will rock the boat.. winter starts this weekend^^ 
Guest - Octothorpe Asterisk
2010-11-27 17:15:47
 The ruling AKP, its supporters and the Turkish media are currently in the same mood as Obama, his supporters and the American media in the run-up to the 2008 elections. The Turks have a leader who can read his fans' mood, tell them what they want to hear and make them feel proud of moving toward the East. All that will keep him in power and garner praise from the likes of Libya but it will not work in the long term. Mid-East players have a way of turning against anyone with too much influence. They all want to maintain their own power and have a high disdain for meddlers. So while it might work at home, like it did in USA for Obama, it will cause some parts of Turkish society discomfort and it will fall apart. I believe, like Faza, the AKP worked behind the scenes with militants and terrorist-linked organizations to force Israel's hand in dealing with the Mavi Marmara. On the other hand, Israel's military should have forseen that possibility and had a plan to deal with it. 
Guest - Cautious
2010-11-27 17:15:00
 It's nice to know that at least one author admits that Turkey prefers conflict over resolution and would prefer that Israel not apology or give compensation. The constant stoking of the fire of discord has long term consequences that outweigh the short term benefits of pandering to an extremist support base - that's the core issue that concerns Washington. 
Guest - Yaacov
2010-11-27 17:04:58
 The AKP regime of religious fanatics is leading Turkey to ruin and ruination. It is not only their continuing scathing criticism of Israeli, it is their fumbling away of Turkey's EU prospects over the asinine issue of Cyprus, their botching of the Armenian relationship, the coddling to Isran, Syria and HAMAS, angering Greek-Americans over Aegean disputes and on and on. Davutoglu was glowingly praised in the Turkish media 2 years ago, but in fact he's the worst FM in Turkey's modern history. He's mishandled nearly every major foreign policy item he's gotten involved in. And Erdogan and his unrestrained rhetoric are destroying whatever goodwill the US had towards Turkey. 
Guest - Faza
2010-11-27 12:24:57
 I think the Turkish people should be the ones to make the apology on behalf of their extremist government who incited,supported and ideologically backed the militant aggressive Hamas supporters who quite clearly were using weapons with the intent of causing harm or death. The other ships in the flotilla carried the humanitarians , that is why there was no violence on those ships. Just the Mavi Marmara carried these violent militants. The whole world saw what happened. We know the truth. 
Guest - babadog
2010-11-27 04:46:48
 Ofcourse Netanyahu has got the American congress in his back pocket and can even dictate to Obama in the White House.This is why the Zionist Israelis can kill and maim with impunity and steal and colonise as much land as they see fit and to completely take over Jerusalem, the holy city of all religions. The USA has in essence become a colony of Israel.If I were an American I would be ashamed and would want to take my country back. Turkiye has dumped the so called Jewish lobby in congress after realising they are nothing but a bunch of control freaks who indulge in blackmail as their daily sport.We are not concerned what congress votes for as far as the Armenian issue was concerned so the Jewish lobby is obsolete and thus history.Its futile targeting the AKP in Turkiye with negative propoganda because a nuclear bomb cant dislodge them from the centre ground of Turkish politics.Israels best bet is to apologise and make repairation payments to the relatives of the 9 Turks murdered. 
Guest - dude
2010-11-27 00:35:18
 "Make no mistake: I, among many other observers, do believe that Israel owes an apology and that reparations must paid to those families who experienced losses following the flotilla incident." In other words - Let me keep my job, I am on the AKP side

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