U.S. lawmakers wonder, where did our love go? with Turkey
It almost sounded as if U.S. lawmakers felt jilted by Washington’s long-time NATO ally Turkey.
“How do we get Turkey back?” demanded Representative Gary Ackerman at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing exploring “Turkey’s New Foreign Policy Direction.”
“Why is Turkish public opinion … perhaps one of the most anti-American of any of the countries of the world?” asked the committee’s chairman, Representative Howard Berman.
With a panel of experts on Turkey listening, Berman and other lawmakers listed their worries about recent Turkish policy turns on Iran, Israel and the Palestinians.
Concerns about Turkey had hit a new peak with its support of an aid convoy of ships that tried to run the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip this summer, Berman said.
Turkey’s contacts with the Islamist group Hamas — which won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election — are “deeply offensive,” Berman continued, and show Turkey doesn’t respect Washington’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (Hamas is on it).
And Turkey effectively dissed the United States again this week when its finance minister said it would boost trade with Iran, while ignoring non-United Nations sanctions, said Berman, the author of recent tough new unilateral U.S. sanctions on Tehran.
“That’s an upsetting position when Russia takes it, but it is appalling when it comes from an ally,” Democrat Berman declared.
“Eveyone seems to agree that this is ‘not your grandfather’s Turkey anymore’,” agreed Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the panel’s ranking Republican.
Ross Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, tried to soothe some of the concerns.
He assured the lawmakers that there have always been ups and downs in U.S.-Turkish relations. And he said anti-American feeling in Turkey tended to be “very broad and very shallow.”
The negative feelings tended to be based on Turkish opposition to specific U.S. policies, like the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Turkey’s neighbor, in 2003. Sometimes the “wild and crazy” Turkish press did not help, Wilson added.
But lawmakers should remember that the United States is a country where Turks still like to vacation and send their children to school, he said.
“They are not sending their children to Iranian schools, they are not sending their children to Palestinian schools. The Western aspiration that Turkey has had for years … remains there,” Wilson assured lawmakers.
The United States had “no choice” but to work with Turkey, Wilson said. “Where we see problems, we should talk about them. Primarily we should talk about them in private,” the diplomat concluded.
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Dome of U.S. Capitol in Washington)