‘Turkey’s Kissinger’ or ‘exceptionally dangerous’

‘Turkey’s Kissinger’ or ‘exceptionally dangerous’

Archives are often the best referee. A most serious analysis that you read today may look like the most ridiculous one in a couple of years, or an excellent parody read-out. I recently came across one, and thought it would be a near sin if I did not share it. 

In the Jan. 20, 2011 edition of The New York Times, an article came to my attention that I thought was worth keeping to revisit a few years later. Which I did…

The article, at over 4,600 words, “Turkey’s Rules,” gave the image that its author had been appointed by His Majesty the Foreign Minister of Turkey as his official newspaper biographer. James Traub wrote that Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was an extraordinary figure: brilliant, indefatigable, self-aggrandizing, and always the hero of his own narrative. That was not unusual.

It mentioned a State Department cable quoting one scholar as anointing Mr. Davutoğlu “Turkey’s Kissinger,” and another one quoting a secondhand source in 2004 as calling him “exceptionally dangerous.” I thought Mr. Davutoğlu was neither Turkey’s Kissinger nor exceptionally dangerous. I still do. 

Mr. Traub wrote that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his foreign minister shared a grand vision: A renascent Turkey, expanding to fill a bygone Ottoman imperial space. Funny, both of them still believe that. In a recent speech Mr. Erdogan claimed that the people of the former Ottoman lands today wept with joy when they saw any Turkish presence/delegation in their countries. I am sure the Syrians, Egyptians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Cypriots, Lebanese, Israelis and Iraqis would weep with joy if they saw Messrs Erdoğan and Davutoğlu walking around their streets. But let’s continue to revisit Mr. Traub’s portrait of His Majesty. 

“Davutoğlu is seen as a champion of Turkey’s greatness.” Good one. But this may make Mr. Erdoğan jealous of him. “Champion of Turkey’s greatness.” I was speechless in 2011. I still am. 

“Turkey is the ‘soft power’ giant of the Middle East, exporting popular culture and serious ideas.” Mr. Traub, allow me to remind you that a number of Middle Eastern countries have now banned import of Turkish cultural produce. As for serious ideas… well, you know… 

The only serious ideas Turkey hoped to export was a feeling of neo-Ottomania in which Muslim Brotherhood-type Islamist governments across the Middle East would play servant to the Crescent and Star. Mr. Traub, if you ever visit Damascus, Cairo, Riyadh or Beirut, try not to mention that serious idea to the former Ottoman subjects. And, fyi; according to the findings of the liberal Turkish think tank TESEV, Turkey’s popularity in the 16 Middle Eastern countries fell to 59 percent in 2013 from 78 percent when you portrayed His Majesty and Turkey’s giant soft power. 

But you were right; Mr. Davutoğlu had “climbed aboard the Turkish rocket.” Both the rocket and the minister were last seen at some black hole near Jupiter. We are anxiously waiting for their safe return to earth.

Mr. Traub argued in his 2011 magnum opus that “one of Davutoğlu’s greatest diplomatic achievements was the creation of a visa-free zone linking Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, thus reconstituting part of the old Ottoman space.” You are right, Mr. Traub. A lot of Turks freely travel to Syria even today, but not to cherish the landscape; they do it to fight for jihad. They would surely have been enjoying the sunshine in Beirut had Mr. Davutoğlu’s ministry not issued a travel warning in Lebanon. Maybe you don’t know: Turks are one of the most precious currencies in Lebanon’s hostage exchange market. 

It might be a good idea if. Mr. Traub visited Ankara for an update on his Turkish Kissinger portrait. Or if he kept himself busy with other portraits of less risky subjects. His most recent article, before the Davutoğlu euphemism was published, was about the New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera. No doubt, baseball is always a safer subject than the Middle East.