President Erdoğan and his new team

President Erdoğan and his new team

The Foreign Ministry’s seasoned diplomats did warn the government prior to the U.S. presidential elections that a possible Trump administration did not promise a rose garden. But some of the advisers and some with access to the presidential palace argued otherwise. They were extremely enthusiastic about the prospects of a White House with Donald Trump.

They were so confident that the diplomats had to tone things down when it came to the possible projections about U.S.-Turkish relations in the eventuality of a Trump administration.

And indeed, there was euphoria in the period that followed election day.

The reason for the overconfidence came to be understood a little while after the elections. Let’s read it from a New York Times article dated March 10.

“Michael T. Flynn, who went from the campaign trail to the White House as President Trump’s first national security adviser, filed papers this week acknowledging that he worked as a foreign agent last year representing the interests of the Turkish government in a dispute with the United States.

“His surprising admission, coming more than four months after the election, raised further questions about the rise and fall of a presidential confidant who was forced to resign after 24 days in office for withholding the full story of his communications with Russia’s ambassador.”

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) unofficial “mon chers” (a negative connotation for Turkish diplomats often used by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) did not trust the lobbying work of the official “mon chers” with accumulated experience of working in Washington and had decided to take over some responsibility.  By now we know that they bet on the wrong horse; whether this was their clumsiness or Flynn’s is important but in the current situation, our knowledge will remain limited to whatever is revealed in the U.S.

 State mind versus advisers

When an academic argued in a recent brainstorming session that I attended that we are living in an age in which we are trying to read countries via their leaders, another said a leader’s foreign policy performance depended on his/her coordination with what he called “state wisdom.”

According to that academic, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been successful because he has the support of the “state mind.”

That is not the case, for instance, with the Trump administration. On the contrary, he seems to be at war with the state establishment and unless he takes over the establishment, which is not that easy in the United States when compared to countries like Turkey and Russia, he will have serious headaches running the country and its foreign policy.

Journalist Aslı Aydıntaşbaş wrote in daily Cumhuriyet that most of the Turkish press has misread Erdoğan’s visit to Washington in claiming it to be a failure. Aydıntaşbaş argues that from Erdoğan’s perspective, the visit was successful since his picture with Trump has legitimized his leadership in the Western system. 

“Erdoğan does not want to be a part of the world of Western values; he wants to establish a give-and-take relationship. The European Union was Turkey’s attempt to be part of the West. This has collapsed. What Ankara wants from the West is a give-and-take relationship whereby he won’t be subjected to pressure on human rights and democracy and be accepted as he is. This is the kind of relationship Erdoğan wants to establish with Trump. And that has happened,” she said.

If this is true and this seems to be the case, President Erdoğan and his team might be betting on the wrong horse again as the number of those who think Trump’s stay in the White House might not last too long is growing.

May 21 was another turning point in President Erdoğan’s political career as he retook the helm of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and set up a new team within the party.

Another change is expected in the cabinet, with some speculating that the foreign minister will be replaced.
Will the president continue with advisers who tell him what he wants to hear or will he take the state wisdom from behind?

Some might argue there is no state wisdom left, as all the experienced cadres have been replaced by AKP supporters.

State wisdom is not something that can be totally eliminated in a decade.

The new men and women around the president as well as the ones that stayed and the ones that were asked to leave might give us some clue about the answer to the question above.