Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry praised the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, he told a news conference, “We welcome the PKK’s commitment to lay down its arms. We discussed our work to combat terrorism in all its forms … including the violence that has plagued Turkey for three long decades,” he said, adding, “No peace process is easy. It always takes courage and determination.”
Kerry would be foolish, however, to believe that Turkey’s current outreach to the PKK is about peace, or permanent reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds. Rather, two other factors are at play, both of which suggest that political cynicism and greed rather than sincerity are at the root of Turkey’s rush to negotiation with the Kurdish group.
There was a fiery exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing between the department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, and AP reporter Matthew Lee, over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest verbal assault upon Israel. Here’s the key part of their back-and-forth:
LEE: You’re not telling us anything about… when the Turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism and you refuse to say that you don’t agree with that… maybe you do agree with that, that’s being silent.
NULAND: Matt, we have made a decision that we need to engage in our diplomatic work diplomatically, we have been very clear on where we stand on this. Which is that we don’t practice diplomacy from the podium. We have been very clear that Israel has the right of self-defense. Very clear that rockets continue to be fired and land on Israel. We’ve been very clear that we are working to get this conflict de-escalated. We have been very clear about our concern for the civilians and innocents on both sides who are getting caught in this…
LEE: And yet you won’t stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they are engaged in terrorism in Gaza.
NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel security and the fact that Israel has the right to self-defense but I am not going to go further than that.
LEE: Why can’t you say that you don’t agree with the Turks?
NULAND: Because I am not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We’re just not going to do that, okay?
Two days after the Turkish press reported that Israeli diplomats would not be invited to Prime Minister Erdoğan’s traditional iftar (breaking the Ramadan fast) dinner, Erdoğan showed that he may stand against tolerance but he does not stand against terrorism: He made Khalid Mishaal, the leader of the most militant faction in Hamas, his personal guest at an iftar dinner.
President Obama describes Erdoğan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is friendliest. Given Erdoğan’s anti-American and anti-Semitic rants, and his repeated support for not only Hamas terrorists, but also an Al Qaeda financier, perhaps it is time for Obama to describe why he embraces Erdoğan above most others. Then, again, perhaps it’s time for Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and the other members of the Congressional Turkey Caucus to also explain against such a backdrop why they also shill for such an anti-American, anti-Semitic leader.
The Congressional Turkish Caucus or, the Caucus on U.S.-Turkish Relations and Turkish Americans as it is formally called, is one of the larger congressional groupings dedicated to the promotion of good relations with another country. Its 150 plus members represent 45 out of 50 American states, and support a strong U.S.-Turkish partnership.
Alas, as so often happens with such caucuses, the members are either asleep at the switch or forget that good relations must be two-way. In recent years, Turkey’s behavior has been problematic at best, but in recent weeks, its government’s behavior has again deteriorated. President Obama may count Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as one of his closest foreign friends, but it doesn’t seem to get the United States much. The marquee examples of the Turkish-American partnership are the Turkish agreement to host an anti-ballistic missile radar system on Turkish territory, and Turkey’s willingness to participate in the Afghanistan conflict.
If President Obama wrote a thesaurus, he’d probably list “friendship” and “respect” as synonyms. When he and his allies seek affirmation for their foreign policy, they cite the friendly relations they have with some of the world’s worst dictators and would-be dictators.
Obama is willing to hand dissidents and defectors back to their oppressors; write human rights off the agenda with Russia; and calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan one of his closest friends. Previously, he reached out to Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Establishing friendly relations with dictators is not hard: All one needs to do is cede all principle and give them everything they want. Take Kim Jong-un: While even Obama would not go so far, he could make the young North Korean demigod America’s closest ally if only he would abandon South Korea, withdraw U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, and provide all the luxury goods money could buy.
We know President Obama prides himself on the close relationship he has developed with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If you listen to administration sources, despite Turkey’s attempt to sabotage Middle East peace, Erdoğan is part of the powerful international coalition the president has assembled to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear capability. But it’s not clear how they can spin Erdoğan’s trip to Tehran this week. Meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Erdoğan not only defended Iran’s right to nuclear research, he made common cause with the Islamist regime on their response “to the arrogance of the Western countries.”
Earlier today, Emanuele Ottolenghi speculated as to whether Erdoğan was taking a message to Tehran on behalf of his friend in the White House. But if that is true, neither the message nor its reply seems to be anything that should reassure the world that the Iranians are about to back down. If anything, the visit and the successful trade negotiations between Iran and Turkey appear to make it clear that Obama’s diplomatic coalition is a house of cards. Even worse, the Iranians know it.