by Ali H. Aslan

June 27 2011

[translated from Turkish]

The Arab Spring, which is continuing with thunder, lightning,
and downpours of rain, has also greatly increased the interest in
Washington towards Turkey, the influence of which has been increasing
in the region.

We saw the most recent example of this at the annual Turkey conference
held on Thursday by the Middle East Institute (MEI) think-tank. The
organizers closed the registrations two days earlier because of the
intense demand. There were those who used intermediaries to be able to
attend, and there were even people who were turned away despite having
turned up at the door. It was noteworthy that, despite the fact that
at least five separate think-tanks have had open meetings on Turkey
following the 12 June elections, there was still appetite for more.

Increasing Interest in Turkey Noteworthy

The interest in Turkey in Washington is not only changing
quantitatively, but also qualitatively. To the "usual suspects,"
a large number of new faces have been added. Young Americans whom I
do not recognize at all come up to my side at meetings and suddenly
start speaking with me in Turkish. The number of those who ascribe
importance, in terms of their personal careers, to knowledge of
Turkey and the Turkish language, is increasing. Turkey experts are
being invited more frequently than before to provide their views in
closed meetings within the government and in think-tanks.

In the US capital, the topic of the Middle East, in particular, can no
longer be taken up without discussing "what might Turkey say?" and
"what will it do?" And heading up those asking these questions
is no doubt President Barack Obama. Obama, following his election
congratulation phone-call, telephoned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan once again last Monday. In the discussion, an exchange of
views took place regarding Syria. For the White House to keep the
contact with Ankara warm does not, in my view, derive merely from
its considering it important to listen. The desire to eliminate the
possibility of encountering a surprise that might come from Turkey,
whose foreign policy is becoming more independent, is also influential
in this. Turkey's voting "no" on UN sanctions against Iran, when its
abstaining had been expected as the worst-case possibility, very much
astonished the White House. The Americans do not want to get another
unpleasant surprise like this. The statement of Assistant Defence
Secretary Alexander Vershbow, who expressed the views of the Obama
administration in the MEI conference, which can be summarized in the
form of "we can live with your independent foreign policy, as long as
we do not encounter surprises," can be assessed from this standpoint.

At the head of the areas in which the Obama administration does not
want to encounter a Turkish surprise comes Syria. They are pleased,
on the one hand, that Ankara has shown that the credit it was offering
the [Bashar] Al-Asad regime was not unlimited, and that it has begun
to follow a policy that is much more in tune with Washington's. On the
other hand, and particularly due to the increase of military activity
on the Turkish-Syrian border, they are looking into the question of
"might the Turks at some point make a military move?" Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton, by stating that she considered the actions
of Syrian units near the Turkish border "very worrisome," indicated
that this would increase the likelihood of a border clash and could
negatively impact the situation of refugees.

Military activity on the border of a NATO member will no doubt be
closely followed by the Western allies, and particularly the United
States. But for so much concern to be felt in Washington regarding
Ankara's entering into a hot conflict is really a bit excessive. And
one likely reason for the insistent proposals of support that the
United States has been making to Ankara in terms of aid to the Syrian
refugees is a desire not to remain outside developments, and in fact to
control them. Meanwhile, one of the most problematic issues occupying
the heads of people dealing with Turkey in Washington these days is
that of the problems that have been experienced with Israel.

Ambassador Vershbow, in his speech in which the messages were very
finely crafted, stressed the importance of finding a "political
solution" to the Israel-Turkish dispute. A general air of pessimism
on this issue predominates in American foreign policy circles. The
fact that the Mavi Marmara is not taking part in the Gaza flotilla
has allowed everyone to relax a bit. And Israeli President [Benjamin]
Netanyahu's sending an election congratulation message to Erdogan was
also received positively. Ankara, even it does not back down on [its
demands for] an apology and compensation, is expected to continue,
at least in terms of rhetoric, the careful line it has displayed in
the recent period.

Anti-Turkish Circles Engaged

Some Armenian and Greek groups, finding the conditions more propitious
due to the fact that the Israel lobby, whose anger at Turkey continues,
has not gone into action on our behalf, and is even covertly engaging
in activities against us, have gotten encouraged.

Two critical resolutions, on the "Armenian Genocide" and on Christian
rights, have been introduced in the House of Representatives. Although
the Turkish lobby in America is gradually growing stronger, it is
not strong enough to be able to deal with hostile and dissatisfied
lobbies in the foreseeable future. The Embassy is trying to do all
that it can, but the new Ankara, particularly with the atmosphere
of the 2012 election beginning in the United States, needs to pay
attention to the Congress with the utmost sensitivity and gravity.

Despite the advancing democracy and increasing freedoms in Turkey,
propaganda being conducted such as to bring back to life the horrific
message of the film Midnight Express, and with the contributions
of the "White Turks'" intelligentsia as well, still maintains its
influence in Washington. Moreover, we also cannot say that some
problems cited in the human rights and religious freedom reports
compiled by the US State Department, and which are also confirmed by
respected international organizations as well, do not in fact take
place. A Turkey that has eliminated its deficiencies in democracy
and human rights would yet further increase its capability of action
and providing inspiration in the international arena, including in
its relations with the United States and the EU. It would deprive
its opponents of important ammunition. In this regard, the new TBMM
[Turkish Grand National Assembly] and cabinet, regardless of whether
or not the constitution changes, should begin immediately to amend
all the laws and provisions that give rise to human rights problems.

Washington is slowly moving from the stages of denial, ridicule, and
rejection of the process of the Turkey's re-emergence on the stage of
history, after a lengthy interval, with their own identity, to the
stage of acceptance, respect, and utilization. And this is giving
rise to new opportunities with the United States for the new Ankara...

From: A. Papazian