As a colleague of mine, a seasoned Turkey-watcher, put it, “I gotta say, I have a newfound respect for the American diplomatic corps”. He had just read Ambassador James Jeffrey’s despatch from Ankara dated 20 January 2010, made public courtesy of the hell raiser de jour, Wikileaks. It won’t be too immodest to say that at times the ambassadorial memo reads like our latest ECFR report or indeed a post on this very blog. A memorable quote: “With Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources, to cut themselves in on the action the Turks have to "cheat" by finding an underdog (this also plays to Erdogan's own worldview), a Siladjcic (sic), Mish'al, or Ahmadinejad, who will be happy to have the Turks take up his cause.”
Mind you, this comes months before the Gaza flotilla and the UN Security Council vote on a new round of sanctions targeting Iran. At any rate, the US diplomat should be praised for his level-headed appraisal. For all ideological posturing, he finds Turkey’s neighbourhood policy as driven by cold national interest – the pursuit of regional stability and commercial interest.
Kudos for historical depth too! “[Despite Kemalist Westernizing refoms] the country was on the sidelines in World War II. It was only the threat of the USSR, and the dominance (and outstretched hand) of the US, that led to the "Turkey we know": tough combat partner in Korea, major NATO ally, US anchor in the Middle East”.
Washington’s man is also cognisant that the special relationship with the EU is key to Ankara’s appeal to newly-found Middle Eastern partners. The ambassador thought that an issue-by-issue approach to “frenemy” Turkey is what the US needs. The bargain over missile defence struck at NATO’s recent summit in Lisbon suggests that continued cooperation, though difficult, is possible.
A final note: Damage control is already on.
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