Is Obama paying lip service?
Shortly after the U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters that he informed Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan that the Turkish government’s “approach toward the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling,” Erdoğan said the issue did not come up during their 50-minute one-on-one meet on March 31, in Washington D.C.
Indeed, the issue may not have been raised by Obama during that meeting; since it was not mentioned in the White House read-out (which said security, terrorism and migrant issues were discussed), it needs further elaboration.
Whether or not Obama did raise the issue of press freedom during the March 31 meeting, he made himself clear about the treatment of press in Turkey, not only regarding the “jostling” in front of the Brookings Institution while Erdoğan was delivering his speech, but also the Can Dündar-Erdem Gül case in Istanbul to be held the next day. A New Yorker piece also reflects how Erdoğan’s rule is seen by the ruling elite in the U.S.
But does that really matter? Perhaps Obama said those words in the Press Club in reference to one of his former telephone conversations with Erdoğan, but if the press issues really mattered for him to affect the marriage of convenience between the two countries, he could have opened it up during his meeting with Erdoğan (which still needs to be elaborated on by the White House) and noted on the official memo.
Was it not possible at all that Obama got –at least some of– what he wanted in political and military terms from Erdoğan during the one-on-one meeting and paid lip service afterwards in order to keep the sword of Democles in place for the next meeting?
Is it impossible to say that Obama did not want to strain ties with Turkey by an additional burden like Turkey’s press situation to a point of break right before two main operations begin against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) both in Syria (the troubled Mare-Jarablus line and Manbij) and in Iraq (to retake Mosul)? This, in addition to news pouring in about new fatal acts of terror by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey sees as the same as Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), a partner of the U.S. forces there?
A similar case is valid for Germany. Erdoğan reacted strongly to a satirical video shown on public German TV channel ARD, which triggered diplomatic tension with Germany as well. There were strong responses to that from the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel but at the end of the day, the video was removed.
Coincidentally or not, right before the first swap of immigrants between Turkey and the European Union (the first refugee group to go to Germany was to start on April 4.)
Now the situation is further complicated with another conflict close to another border of Turkey; one started between Armenia and Azerbaijan after a move by Armenian troops broke a fragile truce between the two countries. After Russian troops were deployed in Armenia following the Syria tension between Turkey and Russia, NATO might have another problem to deal with.
So, despite a minority of the Turkish elite being cheered up by Obama’s remarks and criticism of more centralized power in Turkey in Erdoğan’s hands, Erdoğan remains as a convenient partner for both the U.S. and the EU governments in regional security issues.
No, I am not only calling it hypocrisy; it also looks like pre-World War II style realpolitik.