Category Archives: US

My Inner Skeptic and Cynic on Recent US commentary on Turkey

The US foreign policy community has been making quite a few waves on Turkey lately. Barely a month ago, two former US ambassadors to Turkey wrote a scathing op-ed in Washington Post criticizing Erdogan and the AKP in its civil war with former allies in the Gulen movement. Yesterday, a who’s-who of the US foreign policy community wrote an open letter to Barack Obama claiming Erdogan is “subverting Turkey’s political institutions and values and endangering the U.S.-Turkey relationship.”

It’s certainly a good thing that influential policy leaders are aware of the real risk that Turkey’s fragile democracy could erode into an authoritarian one-party state. But the Skeptic in me feels these interventions lack a crucial component. Dani Rodrik voiced this in what I think is probably the best paragraph I read on Turkey this week:

We cannot look at all this and focus only on what Erdogan is doing without at least acknowledging that the Gulenists also bear considerable responsibility for bringing the country to its current crisis. The idea that there was something like the rule of law or Turkey was democratizing before Erdogan began to tighten the screws on the Gulen movement is dangerous nonsense. Those who call on Erdogan to respect democracy and the rule of law should be calling on the Gulen movement to do the same. Otherwise, they end up taking sides in a war in which neither side looks pretty.

It’s hard to keep a straight face reading some of the above linked interventions. One wonders where these concern were during the height of the Ergenekon, Sledgehammer trials, and KCK trials, which are only the most recent of Turkey’s long list of tainted political trials. I don’t remember seeing any concerns voiced after the Roboski massacre, when fighter jets bombed 40 (mostly-teenager) Kurdish villagers crossing the Iraq.

In regards to this, my inner Cynic is quite informative. In addition to noting that Kurdish villagers do not give a lot of political donations to US politicians, moreover the the apparent shift in many US policymakers’ views on Turkey may not be about its quality of democracy at all (perhaps it should, though).

Instead, as Michael Koplow explains in a recent Foreign Affairs article, the US has been getting increasingly annoyed with Turkey’s government for a host of other (not necessarily related to the quality of democracy) events. You should read the whole article but among a few key points that likely underlie the likely end of the US-Turkey “model relationship” are: Continue reading