Politics & Policy

Snubbing Turkey

State Department missteps played a part in Saturday's embarrassing vote.

The Turkish parliament’s failure this weekend to approve the basing of U.S. troops made headlines around the world, but the unreported backstory is how officials at the U.S. State Department have their fingerprints all over the mess in Ankara. With the margin of defeat so narrow — a mere four votes shy of a simple majority — State’s unfortunate diplomacy in the past few months likely made the difference.

Winning the support of Turkey for any Iraq invasion was the State Department’s job and now many in the White House are wondering what went wrong. Turkey has been a reluctant, but willing, partner during four months of negotiations. Media reports, however, pegged Turkey as attempting to be bought off by the U.S. for supporting an Iraqi invasion. That was one of the key problems.

News accounts airing details of the supposedly secret negotiations made Turkey’s leadership look driven almost solely by money. “The leaks made Turkey look like a prostitute,” complains one Turkish official. Part of this anger stems from the fact that the leaks claiming Turkey was still shaking down the U.S. for more money continued even after the economic issues had been agreed upon and taken off the table.

While the source of leaks can never be known for certain, officials at both State and the Pentagon insist that the leaks were part of a coordinated campaign by State to strong-arm Turkey. If so, the tactic backfired.

But the leaks were only part of the problem. People familiar with the political scene in Turkey — as much as 90 percent of the public opposes war with Iraq — knew for months before Saturday that the vote in the parliament would be tight. In an effort to build more support among the Turkish military, the Pentagon wanted to send a delegation to Turkey in November. State refused. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was adamant that the Pentagon not encroach on State’s turf, and the military meeting was scuttled.

In fairness to the State Department, dealing with the Turkish leadership is not an easy task. Most of the members of the ruling Justice and Development Party lack the sophistication found in more seasoned governments. One Defense Department official who is an avid supporter of Turkey comments that Saturday’s vote is a sign that it is “amateur hour” in the Turkish government. Further complicating matters, the top spot in the Turkish government is likely changing hands in a week, when the head of the Justice and Development Party, Tayyip Erdogan, becomes eligible for the prime-minister slot (which he will likely move into).

Erdogan supported the failed resolution, but changing leadership is a process that can take up to two weeks. Although some wire stories Sunday indicated that the Turkish parliament would not take up the resolution when it reconvenes Tuesday, Turkish officials insist that it could be voted on again this week. If that doesn’t happen, though, the timetable could stretch out for an extra week or two as the new leadership is installed.

Discussions about a follow-up vote in parliament might have been moot if State had handled itself differently — in Iraq. According to a Turkish official, one of the items that members of the parliament were angriest about was the exclusion of Turkish-backed individuals from the leadership of the Iraqi opposition.

In a meeting Friday in Northern Iraq, six leaders were selected — including one backed by Iran and another who is popular with Saudi Arabia — but the leader of the group representing Iraq’s sizeable Turkoman population was merely promised a position on some unspecified committee. The move puzzled many in the Bush administration. “State warmly embraced the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (backed by Tehran) and went out of its way to keep Saudi Arabia happy, but then they decided to screw our ally,” complains a Defense Department official.

It is unclear exactly how many votes were swayed by the previous day’s snub in northern Iraq, but considering the resolution only failed by four votes out of 534 members present, State’s actions there could have been the difference. Either way, it is a sore spot for many in the Bush administration — some of whom think the State Department angering Turkey was no accident. Notes a Defense Department official familiar with the Iraqi opposition groups: “Many top officials at State don’t want to go to war in Iraq. State knew the politics of the situation, yet they excluded the group backed by Turkey right as the Turkish parliament was voting on the resolution. It makes you wonder: Is State trying to undermine the president?”

— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.

Joel MowbrayRichard Lowry graduated in 1990 from the University of Virginia, where he studied English and history. He edited there a conservative monthly magazine called the Virginia Advocate. He went on ...


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