Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey
Sept 17 2010

The future of US-Turkey relations, for better or for worse

Friday, September 17, 2010

Since it came to power in 2002, the leadership of the Justice and
Development Party, or AKP, has been craving more attention for Turkey
and made it clear that it wants Turkey to be the center of gravity in
its own region.

Turkey's ambitious foreign minister, Ahmet Davuto─?lu, as the engineer
of the new proactive Turkish foreign affairs, along with the `constant
winner,' Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo─?an, called for a regional
power role for Turkey at every possible stage. According to some
Turkey experts in Washington, they finally got what they wanted.

`Turkey now is a center of the gravity,' said a source who has been
participating in some of the behind-the-scenes meetings in Washington
in recent weeks in which Turkish affairs are being examined in detail
at the highest levels.

`However, it is an open-ended question as to whether the new center
role has been for the good or the bad,' said the source, whose voice
receives considerable hearing in the U.S. State Department as well as
other main political actors in Washington.

`The current U.S. administration has two different policy tracks that
are reserved while handling Turkey affairs,' the source said. `On the
short-term track, the U.S. administration decided to treat Turkey as
friendly as ever and has offered renewed goodwill following some
difficult times in recent months. This can even be called a new
honeymoon. However, the honeymoon will be short-lived if this new
goodwill on the U.S. administration's side is not reciprocated by the
AKP administration. And this wait-and-see period will constitute the
long-term track. The AKP's policies regarding Iran and Israel will
occupy the large room,' the source, who is in direct contact with many
U.S. military leaders, said.

The person also believes that the AKP administration understood the
damage that had been created since its vote at the United Nations
Security Council opposing the U.S.-led sanctions on Iran, and that the
Turkish administration `wants to put the relations back on track.'

Another well-placed source in Washington, also in daily contact with
U.S. administration officials who have a voice over Turkey affairs,
said before the referendum last Sunday, in which the constitutional
changes were voted on by the public in Turkey, that the U.S. was not
expecting a wide margin between the `yes' and `no' votes. `They were
surprised,' the source said, `and showing off more strong public
support behind them, the AKP has proven that it will stay and must be
managed diligently.'

These two analyses, based on first-hand observations, were reflected
in a speech this week by Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon,
who oversees European and Eurasian affairs, about the German Marshall
Fund, or GMF. The secretary commented on a new transatlantic public
opinion survey, a yearly study that takes the pulse of how the world
public views the still-the-only-power of the world, America.

According to the report, the Turkish public still has an
unsatisfactory opinion of the Barack Obama administration. While the
U.S.'s other European allies reversed their opinion on the U.S. and
approve of how Obama handles foreign affairs, the Turks seem to have
not forgiven the U.S. since the Iraq war started.

Gordon, at the same talk, was recorded as admitting that there must be
a lot more done in order to earn better favor from the Turkish public.
Gordon just a couple of months ago invited an AP reporter and gave
stern warnings in which he questioned Turkey's leadership and
challenged them to prove its alliance with the West before the Toronto
meeting between Obama and Erdo─?an. During the talk at the GMF, Gordon
said he believed Turkey was close to the West and that he and the U.S.
did not believe that Turkey was drifting away.

As one of the most frank and direct-talking state officials while
talking about and to Turkey, Gordon avoided criticism this time and
showed great restraint and diligence in his responses to questions
regarding Turkey.

At the beginning of his speech, Gordon recalled how bad the relations
between the U.S. and its allies around the world were when Obama first
came to office more than 20 months ago. Gordon admitted in the same
speech that the American public was aware of the fact that their
country and president were not well received around world, and this
sentiment contributed to their successful climb to power in the first
place. This is why, obviously, the State Department sent one of its
highest officials to the GMF event, to display how much it cares about
public opinion around the world now.

Public opinion today is taken into consideration in about all
democracies around the world, and the administrations, whether they
are more authoritarian or less, tend to respond to their
constituencies. The U.S. adds another layer to this modern democracy
necessity and tries to respond to and accommodate other nations'
public opinions more heavily.

Turkey, in Washington, has become a significant portfolio recently.
Turkey's portfolio has been examined and discussed by the most capable
U.S. foreign affairs actors. The White House's National Security
Council appointed a permanent staff who will solely work on Turkey
issues last month.

Though the U.S. administration proves these days that they are quickly
becoming mature enough to handle Turkey, how the projected big losses
in the upcoming November elections will play out still remain to be

The climate in the U.S. Congress, as many reported, has been gloomy
for Turkey. Last week, when the U.S. Congress had just returned from
its summer recess, Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent letters to other members to
ask support for the Armenian genocide bill, HR 252. Gus Bilirakis
(R-FL) sent another letter to the same congressional members to sign
another bill that calls for `Protection of Religious Sites and
Artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus.'

The readers of this column heard such a resolution on northern Cyprus
is coming to the agenda of the U.S. Congress weeks ago. However,
neither leaders of the Turkish community nor Turkish diplomats believe
these resolutions will go anywhere. Instead, they think these
resolutions are merely for these members to send signals to their
constituencies just before the November elections.

Though the climate in Congress on Turkey is at its worst on both sides
of the aisle, the Turkish Embassy in Washington has increased its
lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill by arranging happy hours, making
inroads to the halls of Congress and gaining face time with members of
Congress to explain Turkey's positions on several issues that have
irked the same members in recent months.

Turkish officials in Washington are trying hard to draw a positive
image and narrow the gap in Washington at a time when some of the most
critical policy approaches on both sides are significantly far apart
from each other.

The international diplomacy season has kicked off following a busy
summer for Turkey. Every indication shows that Turkey will continue to
attract more attention. It is hard to predict at this moment if the
attention this time will be for better or for worse.

From: A. Papazian