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Turkish Spring
The CIA and State Department were caught flatfooted by protests against the Erdogan government.
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Developments in the Middle East frequently confound even the most astute observers. Turkey, with its booming economy, NATO membership, and business-friendly government is often cited as critical ally and model Muslim-majority state embracing many Western social and economic values. The U.S. ambassador in Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, has nevertheless privately warned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Washington will be unable to support his violent repression of demonstrators protesting massive government development projects.

The Turkish people have begun to refer to the Syrian conflict as Ankara’s Vietnam, while secular Turks unite to push back against Islamization, and the country’s security services warn about a new wave of al-Qaeda style terrorism. The U.S. Embassy and CIA have been caught flatfooted by the developments. The State Department has had virtually no contact with opposition political parties because of fear of offending Erdogan, a pattern similar to the one that prevailed with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. CIA officers are routinely subject to blanket surveillance by the Turkish intelligence service MIT and have consequently considered it prudent to avoid developmental contact with any politicians, working instead against targets that Ankara would consider agreeable, like terrorism. Beyond its limited understanding of the political opposition, the Embassy has generally handled Erdogan with kid gloves, only gently rebuking the government’s execrable treatment of journalists and the media while reserving most of its political influence to advance Turkish rapprochement with Israel. CIA and State analysts have been scrambling to come up with cogent finished intelligence explaining the deteriorating situation, but have found that they have little independent reporting to identify the players in the emerging opposition.

Some Turkey analysts believe that this crisis will not go away, leaving Erdogan with two options. He can resign “for the good of the country” and turn over the prime ministership to some Justice and Development Party nonentity as a placeholder for him. He will meanwhile work behind the scenes to increase the power of the presidency through tweaking the constitution and will run for that office next year. Or he can call for his supporters to confront the demonstrators, as in Mubarak’s Egypt. If security breaks down, the role of the army could prove critical, and Erdogan is not greatly loved by many in the officer corps.

Many Turks, even those who are religious, fear a drift into the type of intolerance that characterizes Islamic regimes like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Erdogan, saying the demonstrators are “arm-in-arm with terrorism,” insists he will do what he wants, emboldened by his successful clamp down on the once vibrant press. The Taksim riots were largely unreported in the Turkish media, and Erdogan blamed the part that he does not control, online social networks, for the unrest.

Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his Islamist beliefs appear to go hand in hand. The national air carrier Turkish Airlines recently stopped serving alcohol on most domestic and some international flights and air stewardesses have been told to refrain from wearing makeup and bright colors. The drinking of alcohol in public and after certain hours was banned to “protect new generations from such un-Islamic habits,” and in an attempt to rewrite Turkey’s rich culinary history, Erdogan even declared the nonalcoholic yoghurt drink ayran to be the national beverage, leading critics to note that the modern republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was rarely seen in photos without a glass of alcoholic raki in hand.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.



(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Turkey 
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  1. Huh?

    Why should the CIA and the State Department be involved in protests in Turkey? Even if we assume that this is our business, they’re a NATO ally, not some rogue state…

  2. Jim Bovard says: • Website

    This is a far more insightful analysis of Turkish developments than anything I have seen in the mainstream American media.

  3. I’m not sure if the line The U.S. Embassy and CIA have been caught flatfooted by the developments. is supposed to be a critique … but I think that any assessment of our involvement in the country needs to start with recognizing just how fiercely nationalistic the Turks are. I cannot see how any overt recognition of, much less support for, groups in opposition to a democratically elected Turkish Prime Minister could do anything but backfire very badly.

    Sometimes we need to recognize that other countries do have sovereignty to elect their own leaders and deal with the consequences even when from our perspective they’re really screwing up. Meanwhile is there any reason to suspect that American pushback against a staunch Islamist leader would do anything except strengthen his hand?

  4. Hopefully the will of the people will be heard in Turkey, one way or another.

    As for what our representatives in Turkey should be doing. We are gun shy from taking action but the people are supporting very American principles and it is the government trying to shove their Islamo-facist principles down their throats. We should forget about what Erdogan thinks and wants and support the people; be the America that supports freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of religion.

  5. It’s understandable that the U.S. may only gently rebuke authoritarian states for their “government’s execrable treatment of journalists and the media. . . ” when we are heading that way ourselves.

  6. More info here than in the sum total of all the TV news coverage I’ve seen since the beginning of the crisis.

    One question. Why would Turks see the Syrian civil war as their Vietnam? Turks have not been drawn into combat there and may yet escape unscathed by Syria’s implosion. What am I missing?

  7. Tom, thanks for your comment. When they are referring to Vietnam they are thinking of the Turkish government hubris in getting so involved in the first place followed by the bungling in its management of the conflict. It’s the type of development that leads the public to lose faith in the government’s ability to deal with a crisis.

  8. “they’re a NATO ally, not some rogue state…”

    In today’s world, every nation’s government has gone over to the rogue “dark side” of mass surveillance, secret police and media suppression, even that neon-lit city on a hill…

  9. What a surprise, that US diplomatic efforts in Turkey would focus on trying to improve that country’s relatioons with Israel.

  10. I have been conerned for years about Erdogan’s pandering to those who would ban alcohol, bikinis, etc etc in Turkey.

    Did Erdogan think the US would intervene militarily in Syria, in the way Saudi Arabia and Qatar seem to have thought?

  11. a spencer says:

    >>The State Department has had virtually no contact with opposition political parties because of fear of offending Erdogan


    It sounds like a ‘blinders-on/see-what-we-want-to-see’ approach. Which is not ‘intelligence’. I don’t know if there’s a way to quantify this, but would you care to speculate on how big a problem this might be within US Intelligence right now?

  12. a spencer – It is a general problem worldwide. The more a positive relationship with the local government depends on the good will of the local political leadership the more inclined Washington will be to not rock the boat. If one then throws into the mix an active security service in that country it often means that the Embassy and CIA station will be shy about talking to anyone who represents any kind of dissent. Nobody is fooled by it, but it often does mean that we know the least about what is going on in the places where we should be working hardest to be well informed.

  13. A very interesting piece by Philip Giraldi.

    Erdogan’s “Islamist” proclivities do little to enhance Turkey’s EU candidacy.

  14. I don’t believe the central thesis of this article is entirely accurate. The US has been warning Erdogan for months about his hand being too heavy. They were at the root of him loosening the Kurdish policy as a tactic to revitalize Kurdish opposition in Western Iran and as a mechanism to help interdict Iraqi weapons transport to Syria/Assad across Kurdish land and airspace. This current mess can be laid directly at the door of those idiot Germans who sought to slow down and stop Turkey’s entry into the EU.

  15. Sir, my passport tells me I am one of those “idiot Germans”. Let metoast their idiocy and wish them further success.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Lets see, $60B a year, had no clue about Turkey, the Bay of Pig, Vietnam and oh yes, the were shocked, SHOCKED when Russia collapsed!!!!!CLUELESS.

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Those ‘idot’ Germans are quite correct. Turkey has no place in Europe. And, Germans or whoever ‘sought’ to block Turkey’s accession to the EU, have succeeded. Good riddance.

  18. sandy says:

    Say what you will, analyze what you want, AKP will get 50% of the votes in the next election, if that’s not democracy, what is then? Don’t believe what you read or watch on CNN, come here and talk to masses, to silent majority, ordinary folks, not street urchins. Seriously, which political party gets 50% in Europe? And the whole world “accepted” that last elections in Turkey was very clean.

  19. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Bottom line is, sandy, that Turkey does not belong to Europe. No matter what “world said” on the last elections in Turkey and AKP electorate success.

    Nothing personal, BTW.

    That said, have a look at that very interesting piece of stuff

    and try to ask yourself the following question: do you really think Erdogan is so dumb in thinking to resolve that grave Turkish problem in terms of having Turkey acceded to the EU?

    Just bear in mind there’ hardly a European nation favoring the accession-to-be. Never mind what politicians say.

    Also, you could Google or, better, the name “Sibel Edmonds”.

    Mr. Giraldi has elaborated quite a lot on the issue in concern.

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