Conduct unbecoming a gentleman ambassador

It is perfectly normal for an ambassador to call it quits during his assignment, either for personal or family reasons or to lodge a protest with the government he is supposed to be representing. What I find hard to believe, however, was the case in which Turkish Ambassador Nabi Şensoy, the top diplomat in Washington since 2006, was allowed to resign and retire after he was found to have committed a dereliction of duty and to have been in flagrant violation of Foreign Ministry’s directives.

I think he should have been sacked by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on the spot and forced to retire in disgrace when his terrible performance was disclosed during a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Barack Obama in the White House last Monday. As far as we know from media reports, he knowingly tainted the most important visit of a Turkish leader to the US.

Let’s recap what happened. While hammering out the format of the meeting, the Americans relayed Obama’s request for a one-on-one meeting with Erdoğan via the Turkish ambassador in Washington. Ankara responded favorably to the request on the condition that both Davutoğlu and his counterpart Hilary Clinton be present at the meeting. Şensoy, who was supposed to convey the message to the White House, failed to notify them.

As I learned from my colleagues who accompanied the Turkish delegation to Washington, the prime minister also confirmed the format at the strategy meeting held on Dec. 6 in Washington, one day before Oval Office meeting, to prep the Turkish side. It seems crystal clear that our distinguished ambassador chose to ignore both his foreign minister and prime minister’s explicit instructions on the format of the meeting. The Americans confirmed they were not notified about the change in the format as requested by Turkey.

What troubles me even more is that he kept this secret until the very moment when Davutoğlu was asked to leave the room after the regular meetings were held at the White House. When confronted by a bewildered Davutoğlu, Şensoy admitted his failure to comply with the Foreign Ministry directive and offered his resignation while asking for reassignment to Ankara. He also did not provide any explanation for why he did not relay the Turkish government’s request for the inclusion of the foreign ministers.

His actions led to speculation about his motive and added fuel to an array of rumors circulating in the Turkish capital. Şensoy’s career is at the end of the line as he has to retire by mid-2010 because of a mandatory retirement age of 65 for diplomats. His assignment was to end at the end of December, but the government was willing to let him stay on until he retired. Diplomats in Ankara, perplexed by Şensoy’s attitude, feel that Şensoy was actually trying to score points with opposition parties and make a name for himself as a potential candidate in upcoming national elections in 2011. He would be hailed as a man who rebelled against Erdoğan despite explicit orders from Ankara during his tenure in Washington. We’ll see if this comes to pass in the near future.

I have my doubts, however, that he will find it easy to cash in on this incident. First of all, as a diplomat he will be remembered as a person who had neglected his duties and sacrificed the bipartisan goals of the Turkish state for personal ambition. This is definitely a no-no in the distinguished Turkish diplomatic service. Furthermore, he will have a hard time convincing many in Turkey that he is a reliable and trustworthy partner in the future as the incident will linger in the memories of many and his name will be tarnished.

Granted, he does not have to believe in the policies pursued by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) or think along the same lines; however, this does not give an official representative of the government the right to go solo and disregard explicit directives of the Turkish Foreign Ministry or the government. If he had misgivings about serving under this democratically elected government, he should have called it quits a long time ago rather than waiting for a crucial moment for Turkey in order to make a foolish point.

Mr. Şensoy should have learned how to exit gracefully from the diplomatic service just by looking at the other examples we have seen recently in Washington, where he was serving. In March, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor offered his resignation in Washington when Israel’s new prime minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, was trying to form a government after the national elections in his home country. His outgoing message was also respectful. “Due to the sensitivity of the ambassador’s post in the most important country in the world that is also Israel’s greatest friend, it would be proper to allow the incoming government the option of appointing — at [sic] soon as it is established — its trusted man or woman to the post of ambassador in Washington,” Meridor said in a statement.

It is no secret that Şensoy is one of the few in the foreign service who does not like Turkey’s new engagement on multiple fronts, including the Middle East. He is not alone in asking for the return of the old Turkey, which was reserved and isolated from the world. I know how some of them are grinding teeth and hoping and praying for a colossal failure in Turkish diplomacy to blame on the government. I witnessed first hand over a dinner in one European capital just a couple of months ago how a disgruntled Turkish ambassador was fuming over the appointment of two non-career diplomats as ambassadors in Africa and the Vatican. He was lashing out at Egemen Bağış, the state minister and chief European Union negotiator, who was sitting next to him at the table, in a high-pitched voice and in a very rude manner.

On a side note, we know that Mr. Şensoy has been running articles critical of Turkey in an official podcast from the Turkish Embassy in Washington for some time. These included defamatory articles written by neocon Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute and Gareth Jenkins, the chief advocate of the Ergenekon terrorist network in the global arena. Now that Mr. Şensoy is about to retire, he can set up his own podcast and may even establish his own blog to lash out at the government. Good luck with that.

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