Saturday, May 20, 2017

Why Erdogan's US visit will only create more problems for Turkey

Image from article, with caption: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a statement to reporters alongside US President Donald Trump after their meeting at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017.

[L]et’s evaluate the trip on the basis of protocol and public diplomacy. Did Turkey’s reputation benefit from Erdogan and his men’s presence on US soil? The trip was conducted in two stages. The first one, May 8-10 by Erdogan’s top three bureaucrats, coincided with the Trump administration officially announcing their decision to provide arms to the YPG. Were his top bureaucrats unable to update Erdogan properly about what they were told in Washington? Did they not tell him that even though the Trump administration is different from Obama’s that this might not necessarily be to their benefit? Erdogan made some rather bold statements against the United States prior to his visit. One of them was about putting a “full stop” to the relations and bargaining about the decision on YPG armament. His rhetoric was different during the White House press briefing, saying there could be no “full stops” to the relationship.
Plus, on May 15, the day before the Erdogan-Trump meeting, one of the most prominent newspapers in the United States, The Washington Post, ran a column by Erdogan’s arch enemy, Fethullah Gulen. It is not important whether Gulen’s words carry any weight. What matters is the fact that despite unknown amounts of Turkish taxpayer money — there is no oversight on government spending in Turkey anymore — spent on lobbying against the Gulen movement, the opinion piece did not have a proper rebuttal in the US press. Can we realistically assume the United States considers Gulen a terrorist at this point?
Erdogan was definitely frustrated about the short duration of the meeting and the rushed working lunch afterward. Several commentators in Turkey argued how protocol during the lunch was not followed; for example, Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish intelligence, did not have his counterpart at the table.
Yet the worst public diplomacy fiasco was in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington after the Erdogan-Trump meeting. As Al-Monitor promptly reported, members of Erdogan’s security detail attacked protesters. US senators and representatives spoke out against the brawl and demanded the Turkish ambassador be declared persona non grata and his credentials revoked. A similar attack happened during the Obama era as well, but the reaction was not as strong. This time in local news all around the country, it was Erdogan’s thugs who showcased Turkey to America, rather than his meeting with Trump. A video came out May 18 showing Erdogan in front of the embassy watching the attack, leaving one to wonder whether he will be bold in this instance to say “I ordered the attack” as he did against the peaceful Gezi Park protesters in 2013. The pro-AKP press was proud of Erdogan’s bodyguards. Indeed, Erdogan’s security personnel are notorious for attacking protesters all around the globe, thus presenting a brutal face of Turkey that no anti-Turkish lobby could accomplish in one day. ...

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