The content of meetings that occur in the US on the subject of Turkey is like long-term weather forecasts for us here. If you are watching Turkey closely, pay close to attention to what’s said at meetings in Washington, D.C.; they tend to be right on the mark when it comes to developments concerning Turkey in the coming year.
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the world’s superpower, the US, wants it this way. Since Turkey doesn’t have the strength to resist the superpower, in the end, the US gets its way. The second and more important reason for the accuracy of the Turkey “weather forecasts” that come out of DC is this: The analysts sharing their views tend to be objective there, unlike in Turkey, where experts voice what they wish to see rather than what they actually see. The result? Analysis coming out of the US tends to be much more sincere in nature.
Over the past week, there were two important meetings in relation to Turkey that took place in Washington. One of these featured Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu talking about Turkey’s role in the Middle East at the Carnegie Institute. Çavuşoğlu’s talk was quite weak; it lacked any persuasiveness or depth and sounded like something that any university student could have written at least as well, if not better.
I’m generally able to guess what the “Turkish side” is going to say in meetings like these, so instead of focusing on the actual speech I tend to listen to the questions people ask afterwards. The questions are interesting because they often hint at the mindset not only of Washington but of lobbying groups at work in the capital.
One of the questions lobbed at Çavuşoğlu concerned the topic of press freedom in Turkey. This question has become part of the “prix fixe” menu offered to any visiting Turkish dignitaries in Washington. But Çavuşoğlu’s answer did not end up convincing anyone; in fact, judging from the length of his answer, he hasn’t even convinced himself on this topic.
At the end of the conference, some American journalists and audience members came up to the journalist that had asked the question about press freedom and thanked him for doing so. One journalist there noted that “for as long as they continue to refuse to answer, we need to keep on asking this question.”
The second question Çavuşoğlu faced had to do with how Turkey might be affected by the nuclear agreement between Iran and the US and what Ankara’s stance in this face of this agreement would be.
The second meeting last week that concerned Turkey also took place in Washington but at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Former US Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman, Dr. Svante Cornell and the former president of the American-Turkish Council, James Holmes, were all in attendance at this meeting, whose basic theme was the question of President Recep Tayip Erdoğan’s stance and the direction in which single-man rule is taking Turkey.
It was a striking moment in this meeting when Holmes asserted that while Turkish-American relations have always had their ups and downs, the relationship was in the middle of its worst era so far. He went as far as to note that while he wouldn’t deny that Turkey was America’s ally, it was clear to all that relations were not going well right now and that to top it off, even Western investors had lost the previous sense of excitement they had about Turkey in past years.
Analysis offered by both Edelman and Cornell was even more biting. Edelman stated quite openly that he thought Erdoğan had tossed Turkey into an inferno, noting that Erdoğan is pursuing Sunni-based policies, thus placing Turkey firmly in the middle of the Middle East game. Both speakers also underscored their belief that Turkey no longer wishes to be a part of the EU. The main idea in these talks seemed fairly clear: That neither domestic nor international politics are going well for Turkey these days, and that the main reason for this is Erdoğan’s one-man show and the reigning mentality among Turkish institutions and organizations, which appears to be “That’s what the boss wants.”
In the end, my impression from both of these significant Washington meetings was this: Things are not going well in Turkey. And for as long as we have Erdoğan at the helm — pressing hard for his presidential system — things are doomed to get worse.