Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Does now US think "increasing authoritarianism" is just an "internal matter" now?

Update: comments by Turkey expert Howard Eissenstat added at the end of the post:

US State Department's new spokesman John Kirby's Turkey remarks continue to be interesting. Yesterday, Monday August 24th, Kirby first responded Turkish FM Cavusoglu's remarks in which FM claimed "technical talks with US have concluded." Kirby said those talks continue, then, when asked about Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's criticism against Turkey, Kirby did this passionate defense of Turkish efforts, pushing back Secretary Defense's complains:

QUESTION: So it’s ongoing. The second question is: Friday, last Friday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated that Ankara needs to step up its efforts by the Syrian border against ISIL, whereas you have been sounding here kind of – U.S. is content with Turkey’s effort. Is there a different approach to Turkey?
MR KIRBY: No, I don’t think there’s a different approach here. We – all nations in the coalition can continue to improve and to do more, everybody. And we’re mindful, as are the Turks, that the border remains an issue, and they’re taking steps. And they have contributed, and they continue to do so. I mean, here we are just talking about finalizing some details to get them up in the air flying missions against ISIL. That’s not insignificant. But every – all nations in the coalition, when you’re up against a resilient, determined enemy like ISIL, can – you always want to self-assess and make sure that you’re doing all you can. And oftentimes you find out in military operations – and I don’t want to get into a discussion too much here about military operations – but oftentimes you find out you can always do better. There’s no difference. There’s no difference.
I find it interesting that we continue to have this discussion about Turkey. I mean – and I don’t mean to – I’m not trying to sound flip. I’m not. But here’s a nation that has 2 million refugees that it’s taking care of inside Syria, significant security concerns of their own with the – a foreign terrorist group like the PKK continues to attack them, as we saw throughout the weekend. They’ve allowed us to use airbases now. They’re going to soon be flying in the coalition air tasking order, inside the coalition planning cycle for air ops. And yet I continue to get questions up here like, “Why aren’t they doing more? Why aren’t they doing enough?” Everybody can do better, including the United States.
But I think it’s fair to say that every member of this coalition – and it’s a coalition of the willing, and it can’t be a willing coalition if you’re being dictated to by everybody else what you have to do. You contribute what you can, where you can, when you can, and you spend as much money as you can. And maybe you shed as much blood as you can. Those are sovereign decisions that members of a coalition have to meet and make for themselves in accordance with the desires of their government and their people, and the Turks are doing that.
QUESTION: Yet many U.S. unnamed officials, they – and they are talking about how Turkey is not doing enough. Do you think there is something for U.S. Government to reckon with?
MR KIRBY: I think I answered that question just a minute ago.

Then an American journalist followed up Turkey questions with the following one:

QUESTION: On Friday, President Erdogan said that there would be likely snap elections in November after his party was unable to form a coalition government. This is pretty unprecedented, because the party has had a pretty absolute majority for over a decade. Is there concern that this political uncertainty could potentially alter or complicate the U.S.-Turkish relationship at this critical time?
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I’m going to – as I am in many other cases here, loath to discuss internal political matters in another country. What we’ve said is that we’re going to – Turkey is an ally and a partner, and we’re going to continue to work with whatever Turkish government is in place. And I’m not going to get into characterizing the internal political issues.

The same journalist was insistent:

QUESTION: Are there concerns that this could lead to kind of a more authoritarian system? I mean, he’s already said he wants to institute a presidential system in Turkey that could increase his own powers. I mean, does this not create any concerns for the U.S. as far as that relationship?
MR KIRBY: I think we’re – we’re watching this just like we watch political developments in other places around the world. I think our stance, again, around the world for inclusiveness and representative government; fair and free, credible elections – it’s ironclad. We make that case everywhere around the world. But I’m not going to talk specifically about internal matters inside Turkey. What we want to see is Turkey continue to be the strong ally and partner that it is, and we’re going to – again, we’ll watch this closely and we’ll work with the Turkish Government going forward.

Kirby even though mentioned "inclusiveness and representative government; fair and free, credible elections – it’s ironclad," as some of the values US continues to standby, though his dismissing of "authoritarianism" concerns as "internal matters" sounded very problematic.

Now I wanted to follow up with Kirby on the last question. Did I hear it right? US State Department Spokesman declined to comment on a question in which an ally country's democratic deficits mentioned? Is 'increasing authoritarianism' is something that can be classified as "internal matter"?

QUESTION: Just follow-up on the same question. The question was about the authoritarianism, increasing authoritarianism in Turkey. So as the U.S. Government, you take this question as an internal matter? As far as we know, authoritarianism --
MR KIRBY: I’ve answered the question. I’ve answered the question and I’m going to leave it at that.

Yeah. I guess the US Administration thinks that increasing authoritarianism in an ally country, which means at the same time backsliding of democratic institutions, weakening the principle of separation of powers etc. are just some matters that only belong to internal matters? 

Last time I checked these are universal values and not leave up to individual states.


Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University, who is also very active on Twitter with @Heissenstat, thinks that US is not much worried about antagonizing Erdogan, and doesn't shy away showing its disagreements pretty often:

"At this point, the US knows very well what is going on in Turkey.  For State, the question is what impact their statements might have.  I don’t think they are too worried about antagonizing Erdogan per se.  Their frequent disavowals of statements made by Turkish officials and the snap withdrawal of Patriot missiles make that clear.  What they do not want, however, particularly as we move towards new elections, is fodder for Erdogan’s favorite role, that of besieged patriot, standing up to Western pressure.  In other words, I think these comments reflect less a writing off of Turkey’s deteriorating democratic institutions than a desire not to strengthen Erdogan at this crux moment."

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