Turkey's Best Friends in Washington
Turn Into Its Harshest Critics
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Just when the euphoria of a quick U.S. victory over Saddam's regime in Iraq
seemed to relegate Turkey's lack of cooperation into oblivion, three
high-ranking Turkophile American officials made abundantly clear last week
that they had neither forgiven nor forgotten the betrayal by their much
Using uncharacteristically harsh language, the Deputy Defense Secretary Paul
Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman, and Pentagon's
influential Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle went on Turkish TV to
denounce the Turkish government and, even more incredibly, the country's
staunchly pro-American military leaders.
The U.S. officials who tried to couch their blunt criticism in terminology
used by jilted lovers ("I love you, but I am disappointed that you betrayed
me"), gave the distinct impression that they were capitalizing on Turkey's
recent indiscretion in order to bring its policies more in line with the
Pentagon's belligerent position on Syria and Iran. American officials have
been concerned by the flurry of recent Turkish diplomatic contacts with
these two countries.
In an interview with CNN Turk on May 6, Wolfowitz seemed to treat Turkey as
a banana republic, dictating what that country can and cannot do: "I hear
some [Turkish] people suggesting, 'the right reaction for Turkey to this
bump in our relationship is, well, we should make more friends with Iran and
more friends with Syria.' Excuse me, that is absolutely the wrong way to go.
...Anything that Turkey does with Syria or does with Iran should fit into an
overall policy with us, of getting those countries to change their bad
Wolfowitz said that the Americans were disappointed with those who have been
traditionally strong supporters of the United States in Turkey,
"particularly the military. I think for whatever reason they did not play
the strong leadership role on that issue that we would have expected." This
is an astonishing statement coming from a high-ranking U.S. official who is
basically saying that the Turkish military should have forced the Parliament
to vote in favor of the U.S. position and against the will of the
overwhelming majority of the Turkish public. He, in fact, is saying that the
American government supports democracy around the world, as long as the
people in those countries go along with the dictates of the hawks in the
The Deputy Secretary of Defense then bluntly told the Turkish leaders to
acknowledge their mistake and strictly carry out America's orders: "Let's
have a Turkey that steps up and says 'we made a mistake. We should have
known how bad things were in Iraq, but we know now. Let's figure out how we
can be as helpful as possible to the Americans.' "
CNN Turk also interviewed last week Grossman, a former U.S. Ambassador to
Turkey. He did not mince his words either. He said, "We cannot act as if
nothing happened," referring to Turkey's rejection of opening a Northern
frontier to Iraq for U.S. troops.
Perle, a former paid lobbyist for Turkey, in a separate interview with CNN
Turk, said that Turkish-American relations would not improve unless Turkey
fully cooperated with the United States on Iraq and Syria.
Mehmet Ali Birand, the Turkish reporter who interviewed Wolfowitz and
Grossman, said: "They both gave the same message. 'If Turkey wants to go
back to the good old days with the USA, it must stop fluctuating. It must
adjust its policies to Washington's expectations. Do not engage in different
quests. Have faith in us and walk with us. You would benefit from that.
Otherwise, you would suffer a loss as you did in the Iraq case.' "
These three American officials were among the staunchest supporters of
Turkey in Washington. If these Turkophiles feel such disappoin
anger, imagine how other U.S. officials feel, who never had any particular
sympathy for Turkey.
The critical remarks of these officials created a firestorm of protest and
resentment throughout Turkey. While some Turkish leaders expressed polite
disagreement with the statements made by the three Americans, others lashed
back particularly at Wolfowitz. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan rejected the
notion that Turkey erred by not opening its territory to the U.S. military
during the Iraq war. Several members of the Turkish Parliament said that
instead of Turkey apologizing for its stand on Iraq, Wolfowitz is the one
who should apologize to Turkey for his intemperate words.
For the first time in recent memory, the Turks are left without a friend to
turn to. They have simultaneously antagonized the Americans and have shut
themselves out of the European Union by refusing to agree to the proposed
United Nations brokered settlement on Cyprus.
One traditional Turkish response to such political dilemmas has been the
hiring of more American lobbying firms. It is highly unlikely, however, that
even the millions of dollars spent on such lobbyists would get the Turks out
of the hole that they have dug in for themselves in Washington.