Turkey's friends silenced or forced to change course in Washington

Published 18.11.2015 02:09
Updated 18.11.2015 12:06

A veteran expert on Turkey recently penned an article for The New York Times to recommend a more proactive American engagement with Turkish policymakers amid greater national security risks that the United States and Europe face in the Middle East. But the expert found himself in an unexpected and odd situation.

Following the article's submission to the newspaper, the scholar received a phone call from the editor, who simply refused to publish it. "This is a great article, well-balanced, but we can't run it," the editor said, ostensibly because it was not critical enough of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Baffled with the response, the expert indicated the article did, in fact, contain strong criticisms of Turkey's domestic and foreign policies. The editor was not convinced. He explained, quite candidly, that The New York Times had an issue with Erdoğan.

This admission is well substantiated by The New York Times' editorial line the day after the Nov. 1 parliamentary election when the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) regained its majority in Parliament with an unexpected landslide victory.

The liberal paper lamented the result and published four different articles aggressively criticizing the AK Party's victory, one of them even appeared without a byline, while its editorial board and reporters in Turkey had failed to accurately predict the outcome.

Sadly, The New York Times is not alone. Election results over the past two years have repeatedly belied the assertions of Washington's so-called Turkey experts who have shown themselves to be incapable of grasping Turkey's domestic political developments. They only express their surprise at the latest election results while maintaining that their analytical shortcomings and biased viewpoints are validated. They continue to produce similar misguided articles and give panel talks without any self-doubt. It goes without saying that these speeches and articles are the products of factually inaccurate assumptions.

Although last year some of Foreign Policy magazine's activities were sponsored by the United Arab Emirates Embassy, the magazine has been rejecting all articles in favor of Turkey, printing instead only those critical of the Turkish government. It is curious that the publication nonetheless openly accepts sponsorship from a monarchy in support of Egypt's oppressive regime.

"You don't have much choice. Either you will be silent or change your course if you are to write or speak on Turkey," another Turkey expert told me. "If you want to speak on the panels sponsored by the influential think tanks, you have to be an Erdoğan critic. They don't have room for the constructive criticism related to policy issues. But I don't want to attack individuals, so I prefer to be silent since I have no desire to be in the news media either."

Turkey is well known for its public relations disasters. However, it is important to note that Turkey lost its traditional allies in Washington, including Israeli lobbyists and the network led by fugitive imam Fethullah Gülen, which still has an extensive lobbying arm in Congress and think tanks. Gülenists have been working against Turkish policymakers since their fallout with the AK Party in December 2013. This situation is actively contributing to the anti-Turkey sentiment on Capitol Hill. One expert duly noted that Turkey needs to deploy more active force in Washington, and it should not only rely on paid lobbyists who are not sincere.

Experts with a more optimistic tone on Turkey are approached by stakeholders or colleagues with accusations of being puppets of the AK Party government. This pressure deters them from speaking on record to Daily Sabah for fear of being marginalized.

This has to change. If not, Washington will continue to fail in its analyses of Turkey, potentially jeopardizing the increasingly crucial relations between the two countries.

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