More roller-coaster US-Turkey relations on horizon?
HDN | 9/3/2010 12:00:00 AM | İLHAN TANIR
Washington's hot summer was unusually busy for Turkey watchers and now that diplomacy season is open US-Turkey relations are likely to continue their roller-coaster ways.
There are already less than two months left for the November midterm elections in the United States. The Tea Party, a fiscally and culturally conservative political movement that has been changing the political scenery in this primary season, proved that its messages are as operative as they can be following the Alaskan primaries last week.
The star of the movement, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008 general elections, endorsed an unknown candidate, named Joe Miller, who ended up beating incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski. Palin also is taking a trip to Iowa for a Republican fund-raiser this week, a state that is first to hold a contest in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Glenn Beck, right-wing radio and TV commentator, also attracted hundreds of thousands of people last weekend for his “Restoring Honor” rally, and was joined by Palin in Washington. The excitement that is going on among Republican voters reminds us of Obama rallies just two years ago. Obama, who came to power to change “business as usual” in Washington, is now being accused of being the biggest obstacle on the correct course of the country, by this crowd.
The political analysts and poll numbers show us that the Democrat Party will have to endure serious losses in November. The terrible state of U.S. economy has been hitting the Obama administration the hardest, and brings down his and his party’s approval ratings and morale. While Obama hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Washington this week for “direct talks,” he did not even get his due credit for the achievement. The American public wants their president to focus on fixing the economy now, and nothing else.
Even closing the chapter on the Operation Iraqi Freedom, a nicer name for a war that caused more than 100,000 Iraqis and 4,000 American troops to die, was not as glorious as one would have expected.
The weakening Obama presidency has already some and is expected to have more upshots regarding its potency to fully control the foreign affairs, including the one with Turkey. One of the negative effects of growing skepticism over Turkey’s posture in the region, was reported first in the Financial Times, which argued that there is a healthy opposition in the U.S. Congress against selling arms to Turkey, a message that was delivered to Turkish PM Erdoğan by Obama.
During my long conversations with the senior staff this week from the Armed Services Committee at the House of Representatives, I was told that the U.S. Navy has a goal of replacing or building 313 ships before the fiscal year of 2018, and currently it is well below these numbers. And that is why the subcommittee chairs have been reluctant to decommission any ships to other foreign countries, including Turkey.
Arms sales decisions to foreign countries of the U.S. administration are to be approved by the House of Representatives’ Foreign Relation Committee, and so far the committee’s officials have been non-responsive to inquiries over the issue. Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Mr. Namık Tan, denied news reports that claimed there was an arms embargo on Turkey or there is a serious crisis between the two countries.
Nevertheless, the opposition comeback in the November elections will leave a feebler executive branch in power and this will not to Turkey’s advantage. We already are witnessing a U.S. administration that is having difficulty countering moves or actions that keep coming from the Congress over Turkey affairs. The biggest burden for the Obama administration of this congressional resistance so far is the block on president’s ambassadorial appointment to Turkey.
Turkish diplomatic sources stated very recently that they collected optimistic impressions during their meetings in Washington over the ambassadorial stalemate, and that they are expecting this veto to be lifted when Congress reconvenes, as opposed to those D.C. insiders who still bet on otherwise.
On the other hand, there has been an apparent rapprochement between the state of Israel and Greece in recent times, the leaders of the countries visited each other’s capitals, and for some experts, the honeymoon between the two was to rock Turkey’s balance in the region. While there is plenty argument over the effectiveness of such an alliance against Turkey, the lobby forces of both countries in the U.S. are forging their relations.
The American Jewish Community, or AJC, sent an eight-member group to both Greece and the Greek Cyprus just last week, and had high-level meetings in both countries. In Greece, the group met with Prime Minister and Foreign Minister George Papandreou, Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos, State Minister to the Prime Minister Charalambos Paboukis; in Greek Cypriot with President Demetris Christofias, Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou, and senior Defense Ministry officials in Cypriot.
I talked to David Harris, the executive director of AJC this week and asked him whether AJC’s recent visit to these countries and better relations with the Greek lobbies should mean that the AJC and other Jewish lobbies are converging their strength with Greek forces. The American Hellenic Council ran full-page ads in the New York Times last month and was able to match those of Jewish and Hellenic messages and demands in the same title: “Time for Turkey to ‘Flotilla’ its troops off Cyprus.”
Mr. Harris stated that AJC’s visits to those countries did not happen for the first time, and denied such claims that they are ganging up against Turkish interests in Washington, and added that currently the AJC does not take a position on a possible Cyprus reunification resolution if it were to come to a committee vote.
Leading co-sponsor House members of the previous Cyprus reunification resolutions from 2007 have avoided giving updates on the matter so far, considering the House is still in recess. According to Ali Cinar, vice president of Assembly of the Turkish-American Association for Northeastern region, there is a very little chance for such resolutions to come to the relative committees for a vote before the November elections. Cinar believes that congressional members will be too busy on their campaign trails to talk about the local economic issues and how to create more jobs rather than spending time to collect more signatures for matters that sound like international affairs.
Taniel Koushakjian, director of the grassroots for the Armenian Assembly of America, argued the opposite. “I beg to differ on the subject and would argue that for the same exact reasons, members of Congress will be more open to pass such resolutions, such as the Armenian "genocide" resolution, to satisfy particular constituencies that in return would vote for them as a whole block,” he said. And this is why his organization will continue to push hard for the resolution.
The hot summer of Washington was unusually busy for Turkey watchers for a number of reasons. Now that Turkey, a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, took over the council’s presidency Wednesday and will head high-level U.N. meetings during its one-month term, and the international diplomacy season opens up its curtains, along with the U.S. Congress coming back from its recess, the U.S.-Turkey relations might continue to look like a roller-coaster experience for all of us.