Off the Beltway

Off the Beltway

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s latest trip to Washington D.C. to attend a nuclear summit and conduct bilateral talks with U.S. President Barack Obama will probably have far-reaching consequences. It could have been a big success in terms of gathering support against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ramping up the PR effort to position Turkey as a credible ally against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But all it takes is a little mayhem to turn everything sour.

Obama’s press conference and the remarks especially on the second part are basically censored in Turkey. No pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP), no pro-Erdoğan TV channel or newspaper dared to write the whole text. So here we go, simply to make them a little uncomfortable:

“I’m a strong believer in rule of law and democracy. And there is no doubt that President Erdoğan has repeatedly been elected through a democratic process, but I think the approach that they’ve been taking toward the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling. 

“And we are going to continue to advise them – and I’ve said to President Erdoğan, remind him that he came into office with a promise of democracy. And Turkey has historically been a country in which deep Islamic faith has lived side by side with modernity and an increasing openness. And that’s the legacy that he should pursue, rather than a strategy that involves repression of information and shutting down democratic debate.”

Now the entire debate on talk show circus on Turkish news channels focuses on whether or not Obama said this to Erdoğan’s face during their 50-minute conversation in the Red Room. Why does it matter? Susan Rice said it to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu the day before the visit started. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said it to Erdoğan months ago. And finally President Obama decided that he should say it to some zillion people watching on TV and reporters covering the summit. After all, this entirely stupid rhetoric of let’s-keep-things-between-us is the sole reason U.S.-Turkish relations are a mess right now. And finally Obama stepped in to make it public. 

If you let your supporters beat people outside your hotel, if you hire vans to promote your name on D.C. streets, if you try so hard to make a speech in Brookings and right before your speech, your official bodyguards swear at women reporters and harass them, do not expect a lot of sympathy from the Beltway folks. They have seen a lot of world leaders and politicians. They are the most jaded crowd in the world and they cannot care less about your PR campaign.

Unfortunately, the current AKP government and the president have lost touch with reality. Every day, the corpses of police officers and soldiers arrive at houses in poor neighborhoods in Turkey. And while I am writing these words, the AKP’s young trolls and support groups are chanting and almost singing in the Parliamentary Group meeting while listening to PM Ahmet Davutoğlu. Not a glimpse of sorrow, not a sign of sadness. Just blunt hubris and apathy. Congratulations, you have effectively just become what you hated, the Baathist group of Bashar al-Assad.

When Obama used the word “legacy” about Erdoğan during the press conference, he openly hinted at something. Maybe all those sharply dressed advisers of the prime minister and president will tell them what it is.