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This Country (and Wikileaks) Has Turned Me to Indie-Synth

December 3, 2010

If the AKP was the guy in a teen drama, it’s safe to say he would not be the hero. I picture him more as the shifty, smooth operator. For some reason I’m not wholly sure about, George Wickham of Pride and Prejudice comes to mind.

Nothing drives pageviews quite like Austen characters

I don’t mean this as a knock on AKP as opposed to CHP or Halkin Sesi or BDP or whatever. They’re politicians, their job is to speak out of as many sides of their mouths as possible. It’s just that AKP is really, really, good at it. So getting involved with them at a serious level (as opposed to our cool, ironic, detachment) is going to involve getting hurt. And if you demand answers of AKP, you get the sort of doublespeak answers that any handy political party can give. Their official rhetoric can sound a lot like this Discovery ditty:

I have now succeeded in getting an audience of twee American girls

To begin with, Ahmet Davutoğlu gave a fantastic, thoughtful, interview with Foreign Policy for their December issue on “Top 100 Global Thinkers” and while FP can get a big yell-y for me, the Foreign Minister gives them weightiness and thoughtful quotes. To wit:

Empathy is important in politics. You learn that in order to solve a crisis or help a people, you have to behave as one of them. Therefore, as a Turk, now I am European in Brussels, or Iraqi in Baghdad, Bosnian in Sarajevo, or Samarkandi in Central Asia. And these are not conflicting identities. If you want to contribute to regional and global peace, you have to speak from within. You should not impose. You should not dictate.

It’s good stuff. His talk of empathy, of “Zero Problems” and the like is the benevolent face of the AKP. He quotes Plato and Churchill (Winston, not Ward), congratulates Obama, and talks about Turkey’s relationship with Israel before the 2008 Gaza War. And more to the point, he is not factually wrong in any of this. But Davutoğlu gets to look good…as the foreign minister, he gets to be the foreign face. Hüseyin Çelik, deputy leader of AKP? Yeah, he gets to rile up the domestic audience:

Documents were released and they immediately said, ‘Israel will not suffer from this.’ How did they know that?…Turkey, with its efficiency and foreign policy, has treaded on someone’s fields. The prime minister is known as a dominant leader not only in Turkey but also in the world.

And he gets to have the Byzantine Jesus picture: It’s important to be able to shrug these sorts of comments off. The fact that they come from Çelik, and not Erdoğan, Gül, Davutoğlu, or Babacan, is a kind of low-level complaint. Sure, they’ll run up the Israel flag, Erdoğan will say something absurd, and proper umbrage will be taken. But this sort of stuff is played for a domestic audience so Turkey can look strong and so CHP can be beaten to the punch. It doesn’t fit into the international narrative because it’s not supposed to fit into the international narrative.

Oh, and it’s not like Erdoğan can sue diplomats for slander. Law doesn’t work that way. So let’s just kind of move on.

Turkey will, of course, have a Turk-centric view of Wikileaks. They have a Turk-centric view of everything else. The entire education system is set up to teach Turks why Turkey is special and awesome. I’m not criticizing this…this isn’t the post to discuss Turkish pedagogy and by the way, the American school system does the same for America. But there isn’t really anything to be shocked about. Indeed, the entire Wikileaks drama seems to be just a whole lot of confirmation bias writ large. Ink Spots, one of my favorite U.S.-centric security blogs, had a great write-up on the megaleak that deserves to be read in full. Gulliver hits the nail on the head when he says,

This “news” isn’t really about content or substance, but rather about the fact that the content and substance that everybody already knows got caught on paper somewhere. It’s political theater. It’s grandstanding. It’s false surprise and false embarrassment. It’s the sort of revelation-that’s-not-a-revelation that drives political campaigns (Barack Obama probably really does believe that religious gun-owners are somehow mentally or spiritually less advanced; George Bush really did know that there was a difference of opinion about the intended end-use of Iraq’s infamous aluminum tubes) and explains the existence of a media organ like POLITICO: inside-baseball coverage that allows the privileged intellectual elite to snicker at the naivete of those who don’t understand the way the game is played in the big leagues. It’s a boring waste of time. It’s a blank canvas for the sort of Greenwaldian, conspiracist metanarratives that constantly float through the ether, looking for “news” for which they can provide an “explanation.” It’s about words, not actions. It’s the thoughts and feelings and analysis of American personnel abroad (with a few notable exceptions that hinge on the revelation of facts, not just impressions about facts), people who are necessarily offering their expertise and opinions in an effort to meaningfully shape policy.

As I said, Gulliver’s worth reading in full. He does a great job of explaining Wikileaks from the American side. On the Turkish side, we have Yigal Schleifer to guide us through, in one of the best things he’s written for his blog.

For now, it doesn’t seem like it’s the leaks themselves that will do any harm to Turkey’s relations with some of the countries involved. In the case of the US, the leaked cables won’t create bad chemistry — they only confirm and help us further understand the bad chemistry that existed before the leaks. But the leaks’ domestic ramifications in Turkey — particularly the material charging Erdogan and other AKP members with corruption, something the opposition has already started using against the government — could ultimately prove damaging to Turkish-US relations.

Mr. Schleifer goes bit-by-bit through the Turkey-related leaks, and does a great job putting everything in context. Again, you are commanded to read that entire article.

I am probably speaking mostly for myself here, but there really isn’t too much to the whole Wikileaks bit. It confirms most of my beliefs of US thought on Turkey and other places abroad, but again, that’s confirmation bias at work. If anything, it shows the Dept. of State’s analysts to be a whole lot sharper then I gave them credit for, and makes me wonder how on Earth some of these more inane policies get formed. The leaks give plenty of politicians more fuel for their campaigns, of course, but man, they’d get that fuel anyways. Again, they’re politicians. Its their job.

So on a international level, yeah, its just another day at the office. I’ll let American policy-focused blogs discuss how the State Dept. will change (most likely: MOAR SECRECY!), but its not like any of the flaws in Turkish-American, Turkish-Israeli, Turkish-Arab, or Turkish-_____ relations are new revelations. At least some historians are going to get a lot of great material out of it, and I’ve discussed elsewhere some of my favorite stories from the leaks. The only thing we’ve learned about Turkey out of this is that yes, AKP is full of some really deft politicians. Davutoğlu does the soothing, International-audience stuff, Çelik does the Israel-rage, avoiding accusations of corruption, stuff, and Erdoğan threatens to sue some dudes. It’s not “talking out of both sides of your mouth” its “staying in power for politics'” sake. At least now we know that American Diplomats, if not American newspaper columnists, know this.

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