Hear what James Jeffrey says

Hear what James Jeffrey says

In the past month since it occurred, the failed coup attempt in Turkey has had many political implications. One of them is the tension between Washington and Ankara over the presence of Fethullah Gülen, who most Turks see as the coup leader, in the United States. This issue has the potential to create a major rift between Turkey and America, but for a reason beyond itself: There are many Americans who misunderstand Turkey these days, just as there are many Turks who misunderstand Americans.

That is why people who have a good grasp of the realities on both sides. Those who can analyze these realities objectively are much needed today. One of them is former U.S. diplomat James Jeffrey, who was the United States ambassador to Ankara from 2008-10, and who is now a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute.

Yesterday, daily Hürriyet published a long and important interview with Ambassador Jeffrey by senior foreign correspondent Cansu Çamlıbel. The Hürriyet Daily News translated parts of it. I would recommend that everybody involved, on both the Turkish and American sides, to read it and think about it. 

For practical purposes, let me highlight some of the key points that Jeffrey made. The first was what he described as the “high likelihood” of the common Turkish view — that the coup was mainly a Gülenist operation. This looks unfathomable to some Americans who see the Gülen community merely through its legal, visible and likeable side. But as Jeffrey pointed out: 

“The Gülen movement has some infiltration at the least in the military that I am aware of. They of course had extreme infiltration into the police and judiciary earlier. I saw that when I was in Turkey previously, particularly in the Sledgehammer case, [the National Intelligence Organization head] Hakan Fidan case, and the corruption cases in 2013. It is very clear that significant segment of the bureaucracy in Turkey were infiltrated and had their allegiance to a movement, not a state. That of course is absolutely unacceptable and extremely dangerous. It highly likely that it led to the [attempted] coup.”

If the Gülenist involvement in the coup seems so plausible, why do so many American officials or media commentators seem to dismiss this side of the story, and focus on President Erdoğan’s authoritarianism as the only Turkish phenomenon that matters? 

Jeffrey gave an accurate answer to this question as well, in my view. He said the reason for this is simply the overall dislike of President Tayyip Erdoğan in DC. This dislike has complicated reasons, he also explained, which sometimes leads to unfair attitudes. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is far more authoritarian and much less legitimate than Erdoğan, for example, but for some cynical reason he has a better reputation in Washington.

On the other side, there is a Turkish blindness to American facts, as Jeffrey noted. One is the almost-national Turkish credo that everyone out there, especially the United States, are conspiring against Turkey, to make it weaker and smaller. “Turks still think of the Vienna Congress,” Jeffrey noted, recalling the era of “great powers” and their imperialist plans to divide and conquer the Ottomans. 

Jeffrey also rightly pointed out that when Turks see Gülen’s extradition as a mere political game, they both miss and defy American principles on law. In fact, many Turks can’t imagine that once Obama decides that Gülen is a coup-maker, a U.S. court can think any otherwise. That would testify to the rule of law and the separation of powers, which are admittedly quite distant to Turkey’s own reality.