Ankara versus Hillary
There is a growing trend in the pro-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) media in Turkey against Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. Tune into one of the news channels that support the president and you will see them overjoyed about the U.S. Clinton’s illness during the 9/11 memorial ceremonies.
Ankara unfortunately falls into the trap of seeing U.S. institutions as “black and less black” when it comes to the issue of Gülenists. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s army of advisors simplifies the U.S. system as “ones who fully support the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) versus the ones who only halfheartedly support FETO.” American diplomats based in Turkey are constantly targeted over their statements, visits, and tweets.
Whenever Erdoğan personally meets with U.S. President Barack Obama or U.S. Vice President Biden, the atmosphere is at least warm and cordial. But when the issue is Clinton, Ankara almost treats the democratic nominee as a “supporter of the terrorist organization.”
Sadly, this looks a lot like how the AK Party was treated by Western capitals for a long time. Clinton became the junior senator from New York in 2001, around the same time that AK Party won its first election and came to power. She was one of the first politicians in the U.S. to receive visiting AK Party delegates. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s diplomats were also the first ones to visit Erdoğan during his time as Istanbul mayor when he first faced prison, as well as when he was released from jail.
Turkey’s approach to a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy could be more pragmatic and effective if Ankara wills it. But with headlines that shout and columnists who constantly sing happy tunes over Clinton’s possible withdrawal from the race, the chances are that Ankara will again lock itself inside mediocracy and shortsightedness.
The AK Party, for whatever reason, feels incredibly comfortable with Republican presidential candidates. Whether it is the old issue of the Ergenekon/Balyoz trials, or Turkey’s desired dominance over the Middle East, the AK Party’s neo-Ottomans feel they would be able to pull the strings better under a Donald Trump presidency than under Clinton. The Democrats also have a habit of bringing issues like freedom of expression, the rule of law, secularism and minorities to the table. Meanwhile, a majority of Republicans, despite their old affinity for the Turkish military, do not really sympathize with leftists or Kemalists.
“Old Turkey” knew when to meddle with U.S. domestic politics and when not to. “New Turkey” does not. Unfortunately, the president lacks the advice of people like former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, who knows the inner workings of the U.S. well. As an example, a clued up advisor could easily tell Erdoğan that Clinton personally did not agree with former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on many issues and she was not diplomatic about it.
Trump’s candidacy is not just a test for the U.S. but also for the entire world. His simplistic worldview may sound very similar to many pro-AK Party columnists, but his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his white working class voter base are far from being Ankara’s friend. In fact, a possible Trump administration may end up leaning closer to an independent Kurdish state than Clinton. He may also get along easier with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than Clinton would.
But there is a flip side to all this: My inner conspiracy theorist tells me Ankara may actually be enjoying this.