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Turkey: Who is the State Department Kidding?

Turkey’s newspaper Zaman Online recently posted an article focusing on a press briefing where US State Department spokesman Tom Casey assessed the US’s relations with Turkey. “We have excellent relations with Turkey and it is an important NATO ally for us… Turkey is also an important partner in the region as well in terms of dealing with such issues as our joint efforts to combat the PKK and PKK terrorism… I would categorize the relationship as excellent, and believe that the visit here was helpful in terms of continuing our close cooperation with Turkey,” Mr. Casey said.

This press briefing came on the heels of a meeting between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Bush. Although Mr. Casey’s statements are positive, they may be a little mis-guiding and overly-optimistic. A New York Times article posted on September 10th painted a much different picture regarding the US’s relations with Turkey.

Last week, the nonprofit German Marshall Fund of the United States released the results of its annual survey of public opinion in the United States and 12 countries in Europe, including Turkey. The survey’s most striking finding is the degree to which Turks now question their ties to the United States and Europe, and have warmed to Iran, their neighbor to the east.

It goes without saying that Mr. Casey has a vested interest in suggesting that the US has “excellent” relations with Turkey. This is not to say that all of his comments are wrong. Indeed, Turkey is an important partner in the region and Erdogan’s visit probably was a positive step in improving relations with Turkey. We can even go so far as to say that the US may indeed have excellent relations with some parties within Turkey.

However, in light of the findings in the GMF’s survey, it is clear that Turkish civilians would not agree with Mr. Casey’s assessment. In any democracy, citizens hold the power. Thus, our focus should be on appealing to Turkey's citizenry. So what is the actual condition of our relations with Turkey? It’s difficult to gauge. However, we should put stock into what Turkish citizens are saying; at least more so than into a State Department official with an agenda.

3 Comments

Most statements coming out of the State Dept. these days are devoid of meaning or significance; either they are true and when so usually obviously so, or they are made based on diplomatic protocol with little concern for reality. The same has been true with our relations with Pakistan and the situation there with the Taliban recently. To a degree I suppose that some puffing is integral to diplomacy, yet a certain degree of reality is necessary in order for statements to have real meaning.

Although this kind of anti-Americanism is often an irrational reaction based on some sort of identity-based paradigm (cultural or religious), in the case of Turkey there are some genuine reasons for this. Our conflict with Iraq in the 1990s was a disaster for Turkey, causing problems with refugees and spurring the PKK. Now the PKK is using Iraqi Kurdistan as a sanctuary. I think that making any improvement in Turkish public opinion will require changing the situation on the ground in Kurdistan.

Turkey wants membership into the EU. The EU ignoring Turkey's repeated requests has created an environment of "I don't like you either".

If the US forced the Europeans to allow Turkey into the EU, than all would be well.

It all goes back to a simple thought process on the Arab Street.

My life stinks.
The US is All Powerful.
My life stinks because of the US.

Just nitpicking here- the Arab Street should be the Muslim Street (Turks are obviously Muslim but not Arab.)

Also, I think it would be very difficult to get the Europeans to agree to letting Turkey into the EU. There is already enough controversy over letting in poor nations in Eastern Europe that share the same religious and cultural heritage as their western neighbors.

I think that any government in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, or other major EU countries that agreed to Turkish accession without strict conditions (e.g. limits on labor migration, recognition of the Armenian Genocide) would kiss its electoral prospects goodbye.

The US pushing the Europeans to allow the Turks in without the pre-conditions the EU nations want might well help the US's reputation in the Islamic world, but it would hurt our relationships in Europe.