Why didn’t Chuck Hagel visit Turkey?

Lale Kemal
Lale Kemal


Date posted: February 10, 2014

LALE KEMAL

Neither the US nor the European Union are of the general opinion that there is a “parallel state” headed by the Hizmet movement, whose leader, an Islamic scholar named Fetullah Gülen, lives in the US, while the Turkish government blames the movement for orchestrating a high-profile graft probe linked to allies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The prime minister, on several occasions, blamed what he called dark international circles collaborating with the Gülen movement for undermining his almost 12-year rule through allegedly orchestrating the graft probe. This is despite the fact that he has already forced two ministers to resign, whose sons are in jail over charges of corruption and bribery, together with around 12 others, including Iranian businessmen Reza Zarrab, while sacking another minister. The ministers in question were also allegedly implicated in the corruption and bribery investigation, but the government has been using a stalling tactic to prevent them from being questioned.

The fact that the government has been taking every measure possible to prevent the graft probe from proceeding by initiating a massive purge within the police and prosecutors, while drafting a law that attempts to end the independence of a judicial board, has failed to persuade Turkey’s allies within NATO and the EU that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is facing a plot to undermine its governance. On the contrary, there is a general belief that the government has been diverting attention from the graft probe by placing the blame on others.

There is, however, an ongoing and fierce struggle between the government and the Hizmet movement, who are former allies turned enemies, and nobody denies the serious conflict between the two ahead of the local elections on March 30, slightly more than one-and-a-half months away.

The government took new measures to prevent the graft probe from proceeding, in an attempt to create the public perception that the corruption allegations are the making of the Hizmet movement and its alleged foreign collaborators. For instance, a new measure introduced by the government to tighten control over the Internet, including powers allowing the authorities to block websites for privacy violations without a court decision, is part of a campaign to prevent news related to the corruption scandal from being disseminated further through the Internet. Thus, the government seeks to influence the public that there was no serious act of corruption before the local elections. The opposition has also accused the government, saying the Internet law is part of a government attempt to stifle the corruption scandal.

Erdoğan’s tactic of manipulating voters before the local elections has not found sympathy among the country’s allies either.

For instance, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has canceled his visit to Turkey, which was planned for Jan. 28. His plan was to come to Ankara after attending a Munich security conference held in late January.

It is no secret that both the US administration and Congress did not like their ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, being treated like an enemy in Turkey, which is a NATO member, when Erdoğan accused him (without naming him) of being involved in provocative acts in the midst of the corruption scandal.

Furthermore, when the US realized that Hagel’s visit to Ankara had the potential to be used by the Turkish government in its favor, as though Washington approves of the Turkish government’s policies, including its mishandling of the graft probe, he was advised not to come to Ankara. The US thought there would not be a useful conversation between Hagel and his Turkish counterparts, as Washington believed the Turkish government would have interpreted the US secretary of defense’s visit as support lent to it ahead of local elections.

The cancelation of Hagel’s visit to Turkey does not, however, mean the US seeks to downgrade its ties with Ankara, which are important for Washington, among other things, in pursuing US interests in the Middle East, while close cooperation on issues such as the ongoing civil war in Syria, located on Turkey’s southern border, is required between the two countries.

As US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said during his visit to Ankara last week, Turkey is a critical partner in the region. Gen. Odierno visited the new NATO Allied Land Command (LANDCOM) in İzmir before having talks with top Turkish generals in Ankara.

But in private discussions, the US has expressed its unease with the Turkish military’s reluctance to give advice to the Turkish government about security policies that militaries should draw up. Since the political power of the once-meddlesome Turkish military has been curbed, it has been speculated that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been throwing the ball into the government’s court even for matters that require military advice and input.

Source: Todays Zaman , February 10, 2014


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