It is not surprising that even Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, who knows Turkey better than most in the Obama administration, was forced to call up Desmond Butler of The Associated Press on the eve of a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a rush to make the point that Turkey’s behavior has been baffling the US recently.
It is all domestic politics and appeasement to Congress, which has been acting under the intense pro-Israel lobby. The hastily arranged interview with Butler, a veteran AP reporter who frequently writes on Turkish issues, was intended to deliver a message to the Jewish lobby and to the Jewish state itself. Though that may be understandable from a politics viewpoint, it is hurting the image of the US in Turkey, where positive American perceptions are at new lows.
Most importantly, the US is sacrificing the values it has represented for the last two centuries for petty domestic calculations and risks losing credibility in the eyes of not only the Turks but also in the general world population. Scaremongering does not work, as we saw last week in the resolution overwhelmingly adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. The 47-nation intergovernmental body did not pay any attention to what two deputies present in an observer capacity from Israel passionately said in defending Israeli aggression by invoking unsubstantiated fears of terror.
The centerpiece of American values is freedom. How do you justify the Israeli attack in international waters against unarmed civilian activists who had no goal other than delivering much-needed humanitarian aid to 1.5 million suffering Gaza residents who are forced to live in an open-air prison under an illegal blockade? The principle of freedom of navigation on the high seas was one of President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points.” As a country grounded in commerce, the US has defended freedom of movement in international waters for centuries. Why have we not seen any criticism in that regard from US officials to what many others called an “act of piracy and banditry”?
Another value our American friends cherish and enjoy is freedom of choice. They, like Turks, dislike impositions on and limitations to the freedom to choose. Didn’t Turkey and Brazil offer a choice and a way out in the nuclear standoff between the West and Iran, albeit to the dismay and amazement of some of our allies? Doesn’t it make sense for Turkey to stand behind a deal it had brokered and to say “no” to sanctions? Ankara had no choice but to go against the choice essentially imposed by the veto-wielding powers at the United Nations Security Council, as it had put its reputation and credibility on the line. The deal, in full conformity with what Obama had asked of Turkey and Brazil and satisfying conditions set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), offered a choice to solve the brewing crisis.
We all know how Americans work hard to achieve set goals, as the culture is very much embedded with success-oriented values. Turkish foreign policy has in recent years demonstrated the same values in its region. It has played a crucial role in bolstering stability in the Balkans and scored major successes that the 27-nation European Union has failed to achieve. Turkey was also successful in bringing disenfranchised Sunnis to political engagement and securing fragile reconciliation among major factions in Iraq. Thanks to the US’s policy shift from the dichotomous policies of the Bush era, Washington feels more confident in its withdrawal from Iraq.
Our allies recognize that the Turkish contribution to the war in Afghanistan is quite valuable. Ankara’s position of engaging Afghan tribal factions through means other than military tactics has impressed the US and the endeavor is making headway. Turkey tried to play a similar role in the Middle East peace process as well by trying to broker a deal between Syria and Israel but it fell apart due to the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009. Turkey did secure a deal in Lebanon by fostering dialogue among factions, and today there is a stable government in that country that had no choice but to abstain from the Iranian embargo resolution in the Security Council.
So it is not Turkey whose actions are detrimental to US national interest but Israel itself who uses every occasion to sabotage ties with its only Muslim ally in the region. The belligerent attitude of Israel is seriously hurting the US in the region. The Jewish state has a feeling of impunity against the background of what seems to be unconditional US support of Israel. The far-right government in Tel Aviv did not even shy away from embarrassing US Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting the country, with the announcement of 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem.
The stark contrast between what Gordon said in a BBC interview, during which he recognized that Turkey and the United States have never been without their differences but have a lot in common that they are working on together, and what he said as a warning to Turkey in the AP piece reflects the ambivalence of Gordon, who is under pressure from political circles.
The latter position risks damaging Turkish ties. The US must show commitment to its own values to save the fraying ties with its crucial ally. As he said during an interview in Ankara recently, there is a range of issues both countries are working on together diligently and it is difficult to put them in a priority list, unlike a decade ago. I think it is fair to ask Mr. Gordon to fire a warning shot across the bow of the Israeli navy ships that violently took over the Freedom Flotilla, resulting in the death of nine Turks, including one Turkish-American. Turkey is acting on a set of universal values and the US should stick to them as it keeps playing the role of an honest broker.