John Bass: An exemplary diplomat in what not to do

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Oct. 8 announced that it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in Turkey. "Recent events have forces the United States Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of U.S. Mission facilities and personnel," the embassy tweeted on Sunday evening.

The embassy's rash and poorly calculated decision came after a Turkish national employed by the U.S. government at its consulate in Istanbul was taken into custody over suspected links to several high-level Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) operatives. Turkey responded to Washington's reckless actions in kind, announcing that it would stop issuing non-immigrant visas to U.S. citizens effective immediately.

Over the past months, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara failed to manage Washington's relations with Ankara. Through his ineptitude, U.S. ambassador in Ankara John Bass not only discredited the United States in the eyes of the Turkish public, but also misled U.S. President Donald Trump's administration to believe that there were security threats against the U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey. In addition to Metin Topuz, whom Turkish prosecutors have accused of facilitating the escape of known Gülenists from Turkey, holding meetings with senior Gülenists who were complicit in last summer's coup attempt and repeatedly contacting Gülenist prosecutors ahead of the December 2013 conspiracy against senior Turkish officials, the U.S. Embassy came under criticism for endorsements made by its former spokeswoman, Sarah Grow, on Twitter to known FETÖ militants.

If it has not occurred to the U.S. government yet, Turkey is pretty serious about the threat that FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen, whom Washington continues allowing to live in rural Pennsylvania, and his terrorists pose to its national security. Sadly enough, Bass proved unable to appreciate Turkey's sensitivities. Instead of promoting Turkish-American friendship and strengthening our alliance, he fueled anti-American sentiment among Turks with his actions. Most recently, Bass opted to turn a simple judicial proceeding into an international crisis by refusing to help Turkish authorities shed light on contacts between one of his employees and Gülen's terrorists.

Luckily, Trump made a smart decision by replacing Bass, who will be leaving Turkey shortly. Going forward, both sides must take a step back and channel their time and energy into promoting Turkish and American interests.

Daily Sabah calls on the governments of Turkey and the United States to strengthen their cooperation in a range of areas, including the fight against FETÖ. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice shared a document with Turkey proving the links between Kemal Batmaz, who was arrested at the failed coup's headquarters on July 15, and Gülen – which means that at least some U.S. officials understand how crucial their efforts are to stop Gülenists from poisoning Washington's relations with Ankara. Provided that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his American counterpart have developed a personal friendship over the past year, there is no reason why the diplomats from the two countries cannot sort out the mess that people like Bass have created.

In order to repair his country's relations with Turkey, a key NATO ally, Trump should pick a new ambassador who will show Turks due respect and appreciate their national security concerns. The Turkish people, regardless of their political backgrounds, have always been sympathetic to Americans. What they want and deserve today is to see that the U.S. is on their side when it counts. The next ambassador to Ankara, therefore, must be at peace with the fact that Turkey and the U.S. can only have a sustainable relationship if it is based on equality. Diplomats who are unwilling to accept the facts on the ground will only further weaken our friendship.

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