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.