Increasing anti-Americanism in Turkey about to fry relations

Published 03.08.2016 23:49
Updated 04.08.2016 17:52

Washington came to its senses after weeks of unreasonable statements on the failed coup in Turkey. Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials last week greatly hurt their country's respectability by expressing their concerns about fired Turkish military officers whom they consider the "best interlocutors" for bilateral cooperation. These unfortunate comments only made clear to everyone that Washington did not take the coup attempt seriously and is still very much focused on DAESH, rather than realpolitik problems it faces with a NATO ally.

Following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's harsh rebuke of Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, the U.S. finally realized that the coup attempt is an existential problem for Ankara, and pretty much the main bulk of the country, regardless of political view, is against the military insurgency. This misplaced American discourse was partly framed in the American media since their only concern the night of the coup was the absence of commercial electricity at İncirlik Air Base. As more than 200 people were being killed and thousands butchered in the streets of the biggest cities in the region, the American media was busy reporting on the continuity of DAESH operations out of the base. On top of this, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to condemn the coup in his initial comments and then recklessly made fun of the coup plotters, as if they had done something horribly wrong in their backyard when they were playing with their toys. This is a great example of the disconnection between these two countries that have been allies for more than 60 years.

Now, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration understands a bit more about what is happening in Turkey, since all Turkish citizens I speak with accuse Washington of aiding the coup plotters. Recent protests outside İncirlik Air Base and front-page anti-American headlines in Turkey seem to have worked a great deal in Washington. Of course, there is this sense in the Turkish public that the U.S. has been protecting Fethullah Gülen just because he lives in rural Pennsylvania. But it is also about the American media's one-sided reporting that this time surprisingly drives our native informants very mad due to a lack of objectivity, as if Americans had been fair until the coup. No one in Washington did said Gülen's name in initial statements, and despite the overwhelming reporting on Gülen's financial and political networks in the U.S., not a single U.S. politician so far has had the guts to bring up Gülen's dirty lobbying. Even Obama chooses his words carefully when it comes to Gülen.

He is on a tight rope, indeed. The rise of anti-American sentiment to unmanageable levels in Turkey could quickly destroy bilateral relations and gravely damage U.S. interests in the region. But for Obama, extraditing Gülen to Turkey could also backfire with the American public since Obama would be portrayed as doing something as a favor for Erdoğan. The administration should blame itself for this mess. They were the ones leaking a lot of politically motivated stories to loyal journalists who destroyed Erdoğan's name and reduced a nation of 80 million to a single politician's character.

This week a delegation of Turkish parliamentarians visited Washington and had high-level meetings with U.S. officials from various branches of government. The delegation included Oğuzhan Kaan Salıcı from the secularist main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and Kamil Aydin from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The Turkish representatives conveyed their unified demands for Gülen's rapid provisional detention and the beginning of the extradition process. As Taha Özhan, the leader of the delegation from the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party), said, Washington dragging its feet on Gülen will fry relations very quickly and the Turkish government will not be able to save it due to the harsh public response. U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford's visit to Ankara was important in this respect. But I believe even Vice President Joe Biden or Kerry's expected visits in late August will not repair the damage until the U.S. honors its promise and detains Gülen.

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