Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Arınç's Washington visit and limits for tolerance

“Why did you ask this [question]?” Bülent Arınç, Turkish deputy prime minister, who is known as the number two figure in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, dressed down a reporter following a question on “whether he met with Fethullah Gülen,” a leader of Turkey’s largest Muslim movement, while he was in the United States.
Apart from the fact that the question appeared to be well-justified, since Gülen is one of the most discussed names in Turkey recently and the minister’s visit to New York and Washington was in close proximity to Pennsylvania, where Gülen resides, I happened to witness an unusual exchange, or more of an interrogation of a minister in front of cameras.
Arınç visited Washington this week for two days after signing a cooperation protocol between Turkish state-run TRT radio & television and the United Nations Television in New York. Arınç did not request to meet with U.S. officials before the Washington leg of the visit, but only talked with several think tanks and newspapers editors.
The AKP, and its democracy advocate top officials, for years came to Washington to talk about their freedom-oriented vision for Turkey while drawing their differences with other Turkish parties. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in his first years in office, was promising during his Washington visits that his party was serious and very decisive in moving from top-down hierarchical leadership and process to bottom-up participation as well as bringing better democratic standards as a whole package to Turkey.
When we look at today’s Washington and how the AKP delegations are greeted, we see that the narrative has greatly changed and the suspicion about the AKP’s ability or sincerity to fulfill those promises is greatly increased. Arınç, while he himself admitted that he is unsure in which city his candidacy can be submitted in coming general elections of June, if at all, had a hard time satisfying cynical questions about the rapidly deteriorating democratic standards of Turkey. After all, what sort of a standard is he defending, as one sharp Turkey observer in Washington stated, when even his candidacy for the elections is a mystery to himself, a decision that is absolutely tied to a word that will be uttered by the lips of the absolute ruler in the party, Erdoğan.
Arınç, one of the AKP’s most soft-spoken voices, spent much of his precious Washington time as a statesman not discussing how Turkey can contribute best to what is taking place around the globe, but simply digging deeper to shield Turkey’s worsening record on freedom-related issues over and again. Therefore, the visit proved once more that the latest arrests of the journalists and raids to confiscate a draft book not only stain Turkey’s image in Western capitals, but these developments also greatly impede Turkey’s ability to present itself and its foreign policy vision as an effective player in such significant meetings with policy analysts and observers.
At the German Marshall Fund, too, nobody in the audience appeared to be very much interested in listening to Turkey’s potential role related to changing world history; the majority of that audience, some of whom I had a chance to chat with, was already very much aware of the reports like the Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s latest bit on “democracy index,” which classifies Turkey as a “hybrid” democracy, one level above “authoritarian regimes,” and behind “flawed democracies” along with Uganda, Pakistan or Tanzania.
On his second and last day in Washington, Arınç invited Turkish press to the Turkish embassy where he held the press conference. Arınç first refused to give any information about what kind of questions he was asked by various places he had meetings with, a simple and basic question about the nature of any visit.
And when the second question came which was whether he met with Gülen, then an annoyed Arınç started contra follow-up questions, just like an aggressive journalist. Arınç appeared to be very much determined to reveal the intention behind that question. Arınç, who was a lawyer for 25 years in the past, justified his follow-up questions by asking more questions to the same reporter: “Do I ask you whom you met with, which streets you traveled or whose tea you drank today? I don’t. Because I don’t feel such a need. I, more or less, can understand why you are asking this question to me.”
Even though these angry exchanges were somewhat scary, I felt brave enough to do a follow-up question related to Gülen once more and asked Arınç to comment on co-president of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, Hélène Flautre’s reported statement, in which she claims that there is big pressure from the Gülen movement on the Turkish judiciary, but especially on the media. I asked him if, as a seasoned politician, he had such a feeling that Gülen indeed exerted such pressure on such bodies. Arınç said he didn’t hear about the statement, then said: “... if someone who is so high an official at the EU gives such a statement about Gülen’s pressure on the judiciary so easily..., then if there is such a worry over the issue, there things should be done to satisfy those worries,” without responding whether he, himself had any experience or impression to share about the effect of the movement after decades of experience in politics.
After a couple of questions, Arınç once more picked another fight with another reporter who started a question with the acronym of the ruling party, AKP. Arınç did not let the reporter ask the question until he made sure that the reporter got the wording right, before the question could be completed.
I, nevertheless, felt lucky to find a chance to ask Arınç why Turkey had not fulfilled its obligation to freeze the assets of members of the Moammar Gadhafi regime, as United Nations Security Council’s 1973 resolution foresees, and if he could kindly comment on it. It proved that it wasn't that easy. Arınç briskly and coldly rejected to answer my question and said a plain “no,” then moved to the next. No other explanation or reason was given for the rejection of answering my question.
Arınç, who, just a day ago at the GMF was defending his party’s record on the freedom of the press and trying to prove how perceptions about it have been misplaced, was interrogating a day later about the ulterior motives of a reporter, then snubbing another one by simply rejecting to answer, then not permitting another reporter to ask a question until his wording was in order. It was a telling exhibit for the limit of tolerance in terms of which questions can be asked and how by an AKP official.
After several other attempts, Arınç finally and unwillingly admitted that the matters surrounding the OdaTV raids and the confiscation of a book were questioned during his other meetings and that they had provided necessary information.
While history is being written in the greater Middle East region, where Turkey has a lot to be concerned about and must use every instrument to make its arguments heard, one of its top official’s visit to Washington was mostly exhausted by defending Turkey’s press freedom record before dressing down those Turkish reporters the next day, in the same city.
Many, including myself, wished to listen to Arınç, as a cofounder of the ruling pro-Islamic and conservative party in a vastly secular system, talk about, for instance, whether Islam, historically and culturally, can offer the best prospects for Western-style democracy among the non-Western-style civilizations in the world.
Instead, Washington witnessed a wasted visit by a Turkish top official who spent his time to vindicate Turkey’s now-shameful democracy records which is recognized by many reputable reports and classifications around the globe.
What a waste indeed it was for Turkey's reputation that was spent. And what a telling story of an top AKP official's tolerance to "annoying" press questions, given that he was someone who was supposed talk and convince the Washington audience precisely otherwise.

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Guest - janissary
2011-04-12 20:10:10
  except, ilhan, that as you know, flautre denied making such comments and they turned out to be fabricated by cumhuriyet. maybe you should check your facts better next time you ask a question.  

Guest - Cautious
2011-04-11 17:37:49
  Good article -it's the journalist responsibility to ask the tough questions - if the govt doesn't respond or lashes out then it's the journalist responsibility to write articles saying so.  

Guest - Jeannine
2011-04-09 16:44:08
  Next time no journalist should appear to such a useless and frustrating press conference. Maybe Arinc "top Akp official" would have preferred to hand out a sheet with questions and anwers acceptable to him - so much more relaxing!  

Guest - Me
2011-04-09 02:39:03
  Typical Turkish AKP mentality. Why call a press conference if he wasn't prepared to answer any questions?

New CHP and shifting sands in Washington

A delegation from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was in Washington this week for the first time to present their “New CHP” foreign policy vision to U.S. government officials, Congressional leaders and think tank circles.
The oldest party of the Turkish Republic has come to be known as an anti-U.S. and anti-Western party in recent decades, especially in Washington. And that must be why the head of the delegation, former Ambassador Osman Korutürk, emphasized that the “New CHP” was a calculated and smart move to help give his party a renewed and up-to-date identity. While talking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, on Wednesday morning, Korutürk began his speech by making this break known once more. “We call ourselves the new CHP because we have a wider vision and we are more open than the former CHP on international relations.”
The CHP’s few-decades-late arrival in Washington came at a time that voices of concern about Turkey's democratic standards are becoming more concerted.
The latest rounds of jailed Turkish journalists, the never-ending detentions of suspects of the Ergenekon coup-plot case and last week’s police raids on daily Radikal’s headquarters to confiscate a draft book made significant impact in the both the U.S. media and governmental circles about Turkey’s direction.
Worsening standards of Turkish democracy, including whether Turkey still has the ability to hold "free" and "fair" elections, were top talking points on the agendas of the American parties the delegation met with.
Besides Turkey’s domestic issues, its “zigzagging” Libyan policy (as Korutürk stated how some of the American officials described it), also created another hot current topic for the delegation to lay out its own clear differences from the ruling party in Washington.
How, then, did the delegation of the New CHP perform in such a period when the ruling Justice and Development, or AKP, appears to be a dubious friend of Washington? Has it clearly made an alternative case for a vision that is different from the Davutoğlu doctrine?
Those who expected to hear about a clear break from the Davutoğlu doctrine from the CHP delegation would have been disappointed by listening to Ambassador Korutürk’s very diplomatic language. About Ankara’s relations with Iran and Israel, the most annoying two for Washington, Korutürk’s arguments were “more or less” (as he once himself described it) the same as the AKP’s. Korutürk, several times, had to remind his audiences at various talks that the CHP is determined not to use a foreign relations issue as an election campaign issue.
On Iran, Korutürk praised the friendship with Iran, gave personal accounts about the importance of this friendship and how past Iraq sanctions hurt the Turkish economy the most (the identical arguments of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP). At the saemt time, he also argued in stronger terms that Iran has to come forward and be more transparent about its nuclear ambitions and criticized the AKP for appearing to be a supporter of Iran in the international arena.
On Israel, Korutürk’s difference was his party's willingness and clear intention to have better relations, as in the past – something that we have hardly heard from AKP officials in quite some time.
Korutürk also used carefully calibrated words to treat Turkey’s Libyan policy, a policy that was described by moderator Bülent Alirıza, the Turkey project director at CSIS, as “effectively protecting the Gadhafi regime which is bombing its own people,” a view that is shared by many in Washington, he added.
When I asked Korutürk whether he sees any parallels between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the Libyan operation, as many AKP top officials do, Korutürk patiently explained the differences between the countries of Iraq and Libya, discrediting the comparison arguments diplomatically, but nevertheless doing it without openly criticizing Turkey’s current national foreign policy on the matter.
The CHP delegation ultimately had a very difficult assignment in its historic visit to Washington. On the one hand it tried to strike a very balanced position that avoided taking direct shots at the AKP’s and Turkey’s current foreign affairs for national unity reasons, but on the other hand, it also had to articulate a convincing set of arguments as a viable alternative to the ruling party.
However, the timing of this difficult task was helpful for the CHP. The governing AKP, once known for its reformist and freedom-oriented posture on the international stage, is now increasingly being identified by its static and autocratic tendencies. And the delegation’s strong emphasis on greater freedoms, gender equality and more respect for human rights during the visit were important testaments for the CHP’s will to replace the AKP’s “past” reformist role.
The delegation neither missed any opportunity to hammer the AKP’s role in terms of Turkey’s retrograding democratic image in Washington, nor did it shy away from conveying publicly the American interlocutors' dismal complaints about the AKP’s performance. In addition, the delegation, while carefully selecting its words publicly, was much more candid during their private meetings with the U.S. officials, according to one participant at those meetings.
For some, Korutürk’s diplomatic line and cautious messages were “very elegant” and had a “manner of responsibility,” as one American observer stated.
I also wanted to check the delegation’s comments about U.S. officials’ high level of dissatisfaction about the AKP government with a distinguished American foreign policy expert who is very close to U.S. governmental powerhouses.
The expert confirmed the delegation’s accounts and added this: “Davutoğlu’s late night calls to the State Department wore many Turkey desk officers thin there over the last months. About every significant turn of events that relate to both countries, Turkey’s repeated objections and ‘new’ conditions were tiresome. When [President Barack] Obama went to Turkey early in his presidency and proposed a ‘model partnership,’ the expectation was that whenever the U.S. would need a favor from Turkey, it could count on it, and whenever Turkey needed a favor, it could count on the U.S. Well, things have not gone quite that way and apparently Ankara’s understanding of that partnership is very different than Washington’s. And after nine years in its governing, there should be a reason for people to still ask about Turkey’s direction.”
Yigal Schleifer, an American journalist based in Washington who follows Turkish affairs closely, explained the reason of the great heed shown in the CHP delegation by officials and Turkey watchers in Washington: “Because there's great interest among those who care about Turkey that there should be a viable political opposition in the country. I think many people were very curious to see if the CHP is starting to move beyond the dead-end politics that characterized the Deniz Baykal years. It's not so much an issue of preferring the CHP over the AKP, but rather based on the perception that the health of Turkish political life depends on there being a truly functional opposition party in the picture, and currently the CHP is the most likely candidate to play that role."
Therefore the delegation’s apparent success was mostly tied to the current environment of Washington in which one can easily find many who are irritated by the AKP’s style and foreign policy conduct.
Now the difficult period starts where the CHP has to articulate its own vision clearly – one that can compete with the Davutoğlu doctrine – while interpreting the past, judging today and picturing the future.
That is where CHP will meet with harder tests to prove it is indeed a viable rival to the current government.
Nevertheless, the delegation should enjoy its hard-earned Washington success, which was a big step for the New CHP and certainly for the future of Turkish democracy.

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Guest - Cautious
2011-04-02 18:26:38
  Washington doesn't view the opposition party as having any substance - no one is going to care about their shifting foreign policy positions.  

Ankara's Libya missteps

The fight in Libya proved to be much harder to deal with for countries both in the West and East. Turkey has been no exception to that, especially as a Muslim member country of NATO which has aspirations to lead the Middle East at the same time as having extensive interests in Libya.
“We welcome Turkey to the world of double standards as a regional leader,” said one Washington-based Turkey observer this week when I asked him to comment on Turkey’s approach to Libya. According to this expert, someone who sat and talked with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently, Turkey’s sharp and abrupt oppositions to the sanctions on Libyan regime, then the NATO involvement and any foreign intervention mostly stemmed from Erdoğan’s “emotional reactions.”
Indeed, Erdoğan’s “What has NATO got to do in Libya?” inveigh will not easily fade from memories, when we observe now that same Turkish administration contributing the largest fleet to implement a naval blockade of Libya in support of the United Nations' arms embargo.
Another Turkey observer in Washington described Turkey’s Libya policy in the following fashion, “From the beginning of the Libyan crisis, Turkish foreign policy has resembled a car that is going in the wrong direction at 200 kilometers per hour, at the same time trying to convince the other cars that they are going in the wrong direction.”
At the start of the crisis, Turkey articulated extensively about its immediate concerns in Libya, pointing to its tens of thousands of citizens, along with billions of dollars in investments. Ankara’s legitimate concerns were well understood in Washington in those weeks, and its cautious steps also appeared justified in the first period. After all, Ankara had every right to look after its own interests as a foreign state, like any other.
Though Ankara's real issue, along with its knee-jerk sharp opposition to intervention calls, was its inability to adjust its position according to rapidly changing international public opinion that gained momentum against Gadhafi over the weeks. Erdoğan, following the military operation, finally stated at beginning of this week that he privately told Gadhafi to step down three weeks ago to alleviate mounting criticism against his administration’s soft take on Gadhafi’s ruthless actions.
Turkey also missed the chance by not taking a lead role to rally behind the United Nations Security Council resolution vocally, when Gadhafi forces were taking back other cities and getting closer to Benghazi to wipe out the rebels.
Instead of emphasizing this imminent and clear humanitarian situation and taking an active part with the coalition forces as an aspiring regional power, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s top foreign officials mounted very vague accusations against the West for it is pursuing its own “oil interest” and also failing to overcome its Orientalist mindset.
Erdoğan’s top foreign policy adviser İbrahim Kalın’s recent columns in Today’s Zaman open a wide window of opportunity to read Ankara’s ideological stand point on the matter. Kalın’s “Overcoming Orientalism and Eurocentrism in the Middle East” piece especially argues this mindset and states that “the soft revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the uprisings in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other places have one thing in common: Arabs do not want to be ruled by dictators. This is the first lesson for Arab Orientalism.”
The real dilemma here is for Kalın that it is Washington, and Ankara's nowadays much disfavoring capital Paris, who took the initiative to stop dictator's forces at the outskirts of Benghazi, with starting its aerial bombing campaign while Turkey’s foreign minister was calling for “no foreign intervention.”
Another argument used by Ankara is that it is Nicolas Sarkozy, an unpopular French leader who appears to be trailing other presidential candidates in his country, who pressured U.S. President Obama to start the air strike campaign last weekend, when actually Turkey was working on a diplomatic solution.
When I conveyed this argument to a Washington expert who was familiar with the decision-making process that went on at the White House’s National Security Council last weekend, he chuckled and stated, “Nobody in the world would pressure a U.S. president into a conflict that he is not entirely comfortable with the reasons, particularly at a time when there are two wars to handle.”
This expert added, “It took hours at the NSC to work on that decision when Obama's Latin America travel plans were ongoing.” Obama also risks big with this intervention, an operation that appears to have a real potential to drag into the open-ended conflict, while he was supposed to end the wars and solve budget woes.
As a Muslim member of NATO, and with its heavy ties with Libya, Turkey had a big stake over the affairs related to Libya, and its long hours of diplomacy especially on Thursday in Brussels ought to be respected. Turkey’s cautions about civilian causalities in Libya also is very dignified and makes a lot of sense when considering civilian death news reports in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Now that the decision has been reached by NATO members to take charge of the no-fly zone imposition over Libyan airspace, and there is a real possibility in the coming days of also taking over the mission of protecting civilians against the Gadhafi regime, Turkey’s role will be equally crucial with regard to use of force if necessary to deter Gadhafi forces from slaughtering rebels.
At any rate, Turkey once more has become an actor within NATO to threaten to block a major decision, following the Lisbon NATO summit in late last year where Turkey had serious issues with the concept of the missile defense shield and also previously had serious objections during the appointment process of current NATO chief Rasmussen.
Ankara's pointed statements about the West’s intentions on Libya also continued to draw a picture of Turkey in Washington that is increasingly at odds with the Western interests and general understandings with the world affairs.
Whether the pattern of Turkey’s opposing posture at stages like NATO is a signal of changing ideologies of the country, plain unpreparedness before the rapidly evolving Arab world or pure conflicting national interests is up for a debate. The answer well maybe a mix of all three.
 Even in case of a greatly disturbed dictator who openly threatens to show "no mercy" on his own citizens, the AKP foreign policy team ran to borrow good old “Orientalism” arguments, in addition to fueling lots of conspiracy theories to catch fires among the Turkish public and foreign policy writers.
It is true that no living creature in the world is able to predict what the next step in Libya is. Though the revolt fever appears to be catching in Syria, Erdoğan's great friend’s land, and promising to get even closer to Ankara’s heart without any sign of an end in sight.
For region and Turkey’s salvation, it can be only hoped that Libya missteps would give Davutoglu’s team a good wake up call to work on a comprehensive foreign policy principals that can respond and support Arab peoples' universal demands in clear terms even if every country that is dealing with revolts has its own set of circumstances.
TESEV survey in Washington
On Thursday morning, the Center for American Progress, a think tank that is closely aligned with the current Obama administration, hosted Dr. Mensur Akgün and the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, to present their survey, called “the perception of Turkey in the Middle East 2010.” The survey follows last year’s first-ever survey taken in seven Middle Eastern countries, plus Iran.
The survey was taken before the wave of revolts began, and with a sample size of on average less than 300 people in each country. TESEV’s survey puts Turkey’s favorability rate among Arab people at 80 percent in 2010, following 75 percent in 2009.
According to the same survey, Turkey’s “Muslim background” is the most important reason for Arabs to consider it as a model by 15 percentage points, followed by its economy, then democracy and vocal support for Palestinians cause.
It is known that Turkey’s Foreign Ministry was quite happy with the results of the survey, which consists of high favorability rates as well as other remarkably high perceptions towards Turkey.
The next survey will be definitely very telling about Turkey’s performance when it comes to the big Arab Spring of 2011.

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Guest - Libyan
2011-03-31 19:31:50
  Libyan people are very skeptical and cautious about Erdogan, even more so than they are of the West. They think he has neo-Ottoman designs on us, already proven by the billions of contacts paid for inferior quality construction projects. Turkish business will not be welcome in a free-Libya due to his gross disregard for Libyan lives.  

Guest - mok10501
2011-03-28 07:33:33
  @Yacoov; Do you want him to get in front of the wall and shake it?  

Guest - mok10501
2011-03-28 07:29:58
  Apparently the interest of Mr. Sarkozy and the party who joined him in a very quick pull of the trigger was more important than the Turk's monetary interest. None of them however were careful enough like the Turks who were strongly stressed the possible casualties( the west calls it collateral damage) when you bomb a country like this. Who's going to pay for the damages?  

Guest - katie
2011-03-27 20:07:57
  What is this word 'missteps' , where does it come from because it is not used by the English, maybe it's American or a quaint Turkish error? Surely the word you're all using should be 'mistakes' ?  

Guest - expat tr
2011-03-27 17:55:39
  @Gerard, sorry, religion has nothing to do with this situation except for those that try and make it a rallying point. Moral right is moral right, human decency, treating your fellow man like you want to be treated. All great religions truly see it this way, so no argument, religion has nothing to do with this as they all agree on it. Just do the just thing, stop this tyrant dictator, and then move on to help those in Syria next and get rid of that tinpot murdering dictator too.  

Guest - Gerard
2011-03-27 14:57:30
  A well written and well balanced assessment of the political situation in Turkey. As an American, I can sympatizie with the difficult role that a Muslim country has in balancing its international role with religious sentiment in the Middle East. Westerners are frequently confused by the seemingly contradictary statements made by AKP politicians and it is right that this author criticises these confusing positions.  

Guest - TurkishBelgian
2011-03-27 00:14:52
  Who cares anyway what you have to say? Things have changed in a little short time as 6 days, Turkey played this NATO card in its advantage and put France in its place. Thats the LATEST news. Erdogan and Davutoglu made missteps, but those are old news in todays Libya politics.  

Guest - Troy21
2011-03-26 17:12:25
  Turkey's flip-flop in connection with Libya is proof of its extremely weak position that falsifies the proverb that "you can bring a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink." The coalision allies will still do their thing, no matter what Turkey's objections are in NATO.  

Guest - Yaacov
2011-03-26 13:44:19
  You put your left foot in, you take your left foot out, you put your right foot in and you shake it all about! You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around, and that's what it's all about! I'm describing FM Davutoglu's method of developing Turkey's foreign policy, of course. Another day, another fiasco!  

Guest - Cautious
2011-03-26 11:55:59
  Spot on article - Turkey hasn't had a single foreign policy success - jumps from on photo op press conference to the next - time to fire the FM and all of the current advisers and bring in a professional. Time for Erdogan to quick acting like an emotional/petulant child and stop talking about Turkey being a regional leader and actually do some leading for a change.  

Guest - foo bar
2011-03-26 08:43:54
  quite a silly anti Erdogan article that provides no insight whatsoever.  

Guest - Christoph
2011-03-26 03:36:26
  Turkey's missteps and miscalculations are easy to understand when you recognize that FM Davutoglu doesn't have a clue what he's doing and as a consequence stumbles from policy disaster to policy disaster. He has presided over an almost unbroken series of foreign policy screw-ups since he assumed office. Any other FM would have been fired long ago, but Davutoglu embraces the one requirement that PM Erdogan values more than any other-he's a devout Muslim. That trumps his atrocious job performance, at least in Erdogan's eyes. The AKP party will probably easily win reelection in Turkey, but they have already been relegated to Persona Non Grata by europe-and probably NATO. Watch for Turkey to continue the drift away from europe, the EU and the west in the next AKP administration. Next stop, Sharia-light.  

Guest - H.KEMAL
2011-03-26 00:37:17
  I think the title is misleading and it should read "Sarkozy Libya missteps". This is a man, who is the president of one of the major EU countries . Who has acted like a rank amateur, firstly he misjudged Tunisia uprising then topped that bit of French foreign policy cock up, by doing much the same in Egypt . He then further compounded his mistakes, by mistiming the call for Gadhafi exit from Libya. He then had to resort to desperate measures in bombing Gadhafi troops when they rolled up outside the gates of Benghazi . All in all we can safely claim, the French president has even outdone himself in playing, the role of the emperor without any clothes . He has made himself look ridiculous and has tainted the reputation of France. In short a complete disaster .