For years our American friends have been complaining, both in private and in public, about the poor image of the US in Turkish public opinion and their perceived association with all the bad things going on in the country.
Understandably, they were quite jubilant that the numbers jumped significantly in favor of the US when President Barack Obama visited Turkey, with all the right messages carried in his pouch, I might add.
In terms of public relations strategy, the US is faced with a critical challenge in Turkey today. In light of recent developments, it seems long overdue for Washington to make a clear decision on Turkey’s struggle to make the country more transparent and democratic in line with the standards of the European Union, to which it aspires to become a member one day.
To a certain degree, it was understandable for US officials to shy away from making public comments on, say, the Ergenekon case, a shadowy group plotting to overthrow the democratically elected government, or restoring civilian-military relations to EU norms in a country where the military exerts an undue influence over politics. The concern was that they simply did not want to project the image of the US meddling in domestic affairs. That may no longer be a valid argument against the backdrop of dizzying developments in Ankara.
The course of events during which a special operations center deep in the Turkish military headquarters was actually set up by the US and even financed directly by them during the Cold War era is potentially disparaging for the US’s image in the eyes of many Turks. The benefits of keeping silent for the image-conscious US now look to be far outweighed by the damage it would incur from potential implication as a culprit when pleading the Fifth Amendment.
In all likelihood we will see more dirt coming out of the search executed at the Tactical Mobilization Group (STK) of the Special Forces Command. Our reporters in the Ankara office obtained information last week that the first document seized in the search was an intelligence report detailing how deputies voted in Parliament in 2003 over a resolution that would have allowed the US to open a northern front on Saddam’s regime in the Iraq war. The resolution was narrowly defeated in the General Assembly and came as a shock to the Bush administration.
There are rumors in town that the STK is still secretly getting some money from the US. We’ll see whether these allegations hold any water in the near future. But the important thing is that the sooner the US disassociates itself from this center that was set up with their help in the first place, the better it will position itself in maintaining positive approval ratings in Turkey. Simply saying let the legal action take its course won’t do this time for our American friends as they have made similar miscalculations in their approach to the Ergenekon trial.
In contrast to the US, the EU smartened up when they saw a body of evidence accumulated during the trial which clearly showed that almost all suspects arraigned and later tried in a court of law had more than one thing in common. Not only were they against the ruling government in Turkey, which was a given for any opposition plotting to stage a coup, they were also staunchly against EU membership.
Therefore, the EU Commission, in its annual report last year, dropped the skeptical wording about the case which was included in the 2008 progress report and noted the significance of the case in stronger terms than ever before. EU officials have publicly expressed their keen interest in seeing the court case lead to further democratization and the cleaning up of illegal structures within the state.
In terms of its own interests, the US should have realized another common position among these suspects, namely their strong anti-American attitude and belligerent position when it comes to US involvement in the region. Most Ergenekon suspects see NATO as an extension of American imperial designs on the region which, they maintain, run counter to the interests of the Turkish state. Hence, they had argued that Ankara should turn its face to Russia and China as a counterbalance to American hegemonic power. If there was any argument for the shift in the axis of Turkish foreign policy, these guys were actually contemplating committing turning their faces to Russia and China.
What is more, the recently discovered plot, called the Cage plan, by a group of members of the Naval Forces Command aimed at intimidating the country’s non-Muslim population, indicated that the group will do everything in its power to drag the US into the chaotic plans it had cooked up for Turkey. Part of the plot was to assassinate some prominent non-Muslim figures, including the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, and in this way undermine the power of the ruling party. Imagine if the Christian Armenian community leader or the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey was killed, Washington would be forced to adopt a tough stance against Turkey under heavy pressure from domestic public opinion and a whipped-up Congress.
Washington needs to take a public stand against all these vicious plans and encourage the ruling government to go after renegade groups involved in plotting anarchy in NATO’s only Muslim ally. The flag officers in the US military should unequivocally relay the strong message of civilian supremacy over the military to their counterparts in order to avoid the risk of accusations that they were being an accomplice.
Going on the record now will help dismiss rumors of an American conspiracy on Turkish soil at a time when the country is passing through a crucial period in its history. Just as they were responsible for setting up this secret command center, which would have been employed if there was ever a Soviet occupation in Turkey, they should at least bear the similar responsibility of helping the Turkish government to dismantle the illegal factions within the military. As the saying goes, speak now or forever hold your peace. The latter proposition implies not peace but a fractured, chaotic state possibly leading to a failed one in the Turkish case if the government is rendered ineffective.