Analysis

ANALYSIS - American dreams

US media persist in portraying Turkey and its president as the new Islamic Threat, employing a wide range of misinformation and distortion

Dr. Adam McConnel   | 05.11.2021
ANALYSIS - American dreams

The writer teaches Turkish history at Sabanci University in Istanbul. He holds an MA and Ph.D. in history from the same university.

​​​​​​​ISTANBUL

“[Raskolnikov] recalled what he’d dreamt while feverish and delirious. In his sickness, he’d imagined the entire world condemned to some terrible, unheard-of pestilence…. New trichinae had appeared, microscopic beings that were entering human bodies. … People who took them into their bodies immediately became possessed and went mad. But never, ever had people thought of themselves as intelligent and as certain of the truth as those who had been infected. Never had they considered their verdicts, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions and beliefs more unshakeable.” [1]

The general consensus after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden last weekend is that tensions have eased. Biden greeted Erdogan with a strange military salute, both parties looked relaxed at the negotiating table, and the statements afterwards from both sides exhibited no signs of strain. Erdogan’s comments to journalists on the flight back to Turkey expressed cautious optimism. In the following days, attention focused on the “deconfliction” mechanism suggested by the US side that will be established to work towards solutions on the many issues that currently plague relations between the two states.

At this point, opinions about whether this mechanism will achieve results are little more than pure speculation. I suspect that the mechanism may be yet another delaying tactic, a variation on the foot-dragging exhibited by the US in Syria. In light of what has played out over the past ten years, and keeping in mind the current situation in Washington and in the US press, I find very little encouragement. Biden apparently assured Erdogan that he would find ways to get the F-16 sale for Turkey approved by Congress, but that seems unrealistic given the impasse that constricts Congressional Democrats, and which was exacerbated by last Tuesday’s election results.

US perception of Turkey not based on reality

Many commentators, both outside and inside Turkey, discuss current Turkey-US relations in a tone that suggests equal blame for the ongoing mess. That attitude, however, fails to recognize that the vast majority of the problems in Turkish-American relations stem from the US' inability or unwillingness to recognize the interests and concerns of NATO ally Turkey.

When it comes to any issue regarding Turkey, nearly all US policymakers, institutions, and media are trapped in hallucinations of the most fantastic sort, which reminds me of Raskolnikov’s terrifying dream. President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the State Department are convinced they have the right to meddle in Turkey’s domestic politics. The Pentagon believes that it makes policy now and that it can arm, train, and fund the PKK, a US-designated terrorist organization, with impunity and even a clean conscience. Various members of Congress, notably figures like New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, turn absolutely rabid whenever Turkey comes up as a topic.

US media, with the New York Times ever in the vanguard, persist in portraying Turkey and its president as the new Islamic Threat, employing a wide range of misinformation and distortion, while fawning over members of the Gulenist cult, a terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Turkish citizens. Most Beltway pundits that engage with issues related to Turkey spend their time formulating content intended to extend and, if possible, deepen the morass of negative disinformation that surrounds any discussion of Turkey in the US public sphere. This fever dream is nearly total and covers the political spectrum from left to right.

Even worse, the US’ self-delusions concerning Turkey facilitate the malicious behaviors of others. Paris, Brussels, and Athens; Putin, Asad, and Hafter – none feel pressure to change their behavior towards Turkey because they perceive the US’ confusion. However, Turkey’s initiatives in regions as diverse as Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa are not only just, they also contribute to regional stability and economic development.

If Turkey had not intervened in Libya, for example, it is difficult to imagine how the stability that now exists there could have been achieved; elections are scheduled for next month. In Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkish aid to Azerbaijan finally helped end that region’s Armenian occupation, which no international actors deemed legal and to which 30 years of Minsk Group negotiations had completely failed to find an equitable solution. Now, the possibility for regional peace and economic development in the Southern Caucasus exists for the first time since the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

The way forward: US concessions

Consequently, the side that must change its approach is the US Even though it seems nearly impossible to imagine given the hysterical anti-Turkey atmosphere in Washington, US policymakers, starting with the Biden administration, must recognize that supporting democratic NATO ally Turkey aligns with US interests. They must understand that Turkey is a stabilizing factor in a number of key African, European, and southwest Asian regions, and that the US’ era as lone superpower has ended. For that reason, if the US wants -- in line with its oft-proclaimed ideals -- to support democracy’s advancement in the Muslim world, it must understand and respect Turkey’s interests as well as its own, and work in good faith to support both.

In 1964, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson formulated this definition of how foreign relations should be pursued: “The purpose of our own diplomacy… requires the inspiring of trust and confidence, for our governmental goal for many years has been to preserve and foster an environment in which free societies may exist and flourish.” [2] Clearly, interfering in the domestic politics of a democratic, 70-year NATO ally does not create trust and confidence; clearly, collaborating with or harboring designated terrorist organizations does not “foster an environment in which free societies may exist and flourish.” But who can awaken Washington from its anti-Turkish delirium?

[1] Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. “Epilogue.” Trans. Oliver Ready, Penguin Books, 2014.

[2] Acheson, Dean. This Vast External Realm. W.W. Norton, 1973. p. 129.

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