The hacked e-mails belonging to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta have revealed rather valuable insights into how top U.S. government experts view Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
An email penned by Stuart E. Eizenstat, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration (1993-2001), reported extensively on a Defense Policy Board meeting, which is a top federal advisory committee for the Pentagon.
The email, dated January 2016, summarizes the opinions of the board members, mostly former administration officials such as Henry Kissinger, with regard to Turkey's "dealings" with Daesh on the request of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
The first thing that strikes me in the emails is the factual mistakes made by the author. Obviously he was rewriting the meeting's minutes but somehow had the basics wrong. For example, Eizenstat names Erdoğan mistakenly as the prime minister of Turkey, either he or the board is not aware of the obvious fact that he became the president with a victory in the 2014 elections.
Another factual inaccuracy is about Turkey's Kurdish population. The email misstated the fact that Turkey's southern area is Kurdish, not the northern area, as Eizanstat said. Some Turkish officials perceived this preference as the U.S.'s recognition of the Greater Kurdistan, which includes parts of Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
"They called it north, because for them, Turkey's south is equivalent to Syria's north," one top Turkish official furiously said. He was very suspicious of the ideological reasons that may drive the board to engage with his perception of pro-Kurdish rhetoric.
Everyone working on Turkish-American relations agrees that relations are on a collision course. There was some pollyannish optimism following Turkey's intervention into northern Syria, which briefly increased the military-to-military relations, but political fallout immediately followed it. The email is very useful in this respect, to better understand the American thinking.
Ambassador Eizanstat's aim was to inform Clinton's top aide on a foreign policy front in the case that Clinton becomes the president, which is very likely. The board seems like its getting a lot of things right on Turkey, but many things wrong too.
For one, it perceived Turkish domestic policies as going in an "Islamic direction," which does not make much sense if you don't like simplistic orientalism. But of course they also managed to incorrectly say that 15 percent of Turkey's flag officers of the military were under arrest at the time.
However I was mostly bothered by the discourse the board used when they were depicting Turkey's transatlantic relations, it was Turkey versus the West. I have used "the West" to caricaturize a lot of players in my previous columns. But Turkey is, indeed, part of the West and I must confess that this dichotomy is not very helpful to resolve the differences between the European Union, the U.S. and Turkey.
This view also explains why Ambassador Eizanstat or the Defence Policy Board comes with policy proposals on the basis that they are interacting with an unfriendly nation. "...But a majority felt we should be exploring ways to take advantage of Turkey's economic problems and security threats to draw him closer to the U.S.," the email said. It is not just "taking advantage" of a NATO ally's problems, but it is also sheer ignorance of Turkey's then-macro economic data that is worrying.
This part is also very interesting: "But Kissinger felt it was a ‘fantasy' to think Erdogan could become pro-Western, since he is very pro-Islamic, but that there are still areas to cooperate on based on shared security concerns."
Seriously? Repeatedly describing Erdoğan as "pro-Islamic," whatever that means, and calling Turkey's leader not pro-Western isn't logical, since he has repeatedly cooperated with the U.S. and the EU in numerous initiatives and still see's Turkey's future in the West, not in the Middle East.
As the mail concludes, Turkey remains more democratic and pro-western than other Muslim states in the region. Let's try to encourage it to stay like that by showing genuine solidarity with its security needs, not by taking advantage of them.