Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Not to Conduct Diplomacy: A Case Study: UK PM in Turkey

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Note: This article was published in PajamasMedia. If you reprint please use my title but link and give credit to them. For my response to Andrew Sullivan's dishonest attack on the article see here.

By Barry Rubin

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s July 27 speech in Turkey will not live on in history. But it should, as an example of the decline of Western diplomacy, of suicide by Political Correctness, as a textbook example of how not to conduct international affairs.

It crossed my mind that the speech was written by the Foreign Office for the express purpose of making Cameron look foolish, but then I realized that he and his top advisors probably have no idea why it was such a disaster.

Suppose you are the British prime minister going to Turkey, or to just about any country, what should you say? The theme should be: We can cooperate and do mutually beneficial things. Here’s what I can do for you, here’s what I’d like you to do for me. And here’s what you must not do in order to reap the benefits of my friendship and favor.

Obviously, you need to dress that up in appropriate language. But everything should be conditional. The message to be delivered is that it is in your interest to respect my interests.

Cameron did the precise and exact opposite. His message was: The UK needs Turkey. Turkey is wonderful. Its behavior has been perfect. We are desperate for your help.

What is the effect? A man goes into a bazaar, points to a carpet and says: That is the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen. I must have it no matter what the price! How much is it?

In addition, Cameron committed some other howling mistakes, several of which will amaze you. So please stick with me as I explain and document this. You won’t be disappointed. And remember this is not just a matter of one speech, it is a fitting symbol for the entire contemporary Western diplomatic approach to the Middle East and much more to the world as well. By the way, it is doomed to fail miserably.

Before we begin, remember that this is no longer the old Turkish Republic. Cameron is lavishing praise on an Islamist-oriented regime which has aligned itself with Iran and revolutionary Islamist groups. And all of Cameron’s pandering, as if he were a Western barbarian in the court of the all-powerful Ottoman sultan, is driving a knife into the heart of a Turkish opposition which is genuinely friendly toward the West and horrified by the current regime’s subversion of Turkish democracy.

Cameron began by saying:

“I’ve come to Ankara today to establish a new partnership between Britain and Turkey. I think this is a vital strategic relationship for our country.”

Note the cringing here. A proper prime minister might have said: “I think this is a vital strategic relationship for our countries.” In other words, the speaker would stress there is a mutual benefit. Instead, this polite approach makes it sound as if Turkey is doing the United Kingdom a favor by having a strategic relationship to it while Turkey doesn't need Britain at all.

And this is precisely the interpretation put on such things in the local context: The Turkish regime can take its Western alliances for granted while taking the side of the West's radical Islamist enemies.
And here it is again:

“People ask me why [I’m visiting] Turkey and why so soon. I’ll tell you why. Because Turkey is vital for our economy. Vital for our security. And vital for our politics and diplomacy.” So Turkey holds all the cards and the West can do nothing but give concessions in hope of winning favor in its eyes. One should remember that a major theme of Iran, Syria, and this Turkish regime is that nothing can be achieved without them and so the West must bow to their will and do everything they want. Cameron is feeding this monster.

According to him, there are no problems with Turkey on security:

“Turkey is a great NATO ally. And Turkey shares our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms – whether from Al Qaeda or the PKK. [But not, he fails to mention, from Hamas or Hizballah!] But perhaps more significant still is the fact that Turkey’s unique position at the meeting point of East and West gives it an unrivalled influence in helping us get to grips with some of the greatest threats to our collective security.”

Look, you don’t go to a country and criticize it (unless the country is Israel. Now why is that?) but you don’t tell them that everything they are doing is great because if that’s true they will keep on doing it and know there is no cost. Turkey under this regime is not a pro-Western state helping the West against its “Eastern” enemies—as Turkey was between, say, 1950 and 2000—or is it a neutral meeting ground. At present, Turkey is on the enemy side.

He continues:

“Which Muslim majority country has a long-established relationship with Israel while at the same time championing the rights of the Palestinian people? Which European country could have the greatest chance of persuading Iran to change course on its nuclear policy?”

Now this is after the Turkish regime trashed the relationship with Israel and stabbed the United States and UK in the back by cutting its own deal with Iran and even voting against sanctions at the UN. This is the policy Cameron praises! And then after all these things he adds:

“Whether in Afghanistan or the Middle East, Turkey has a credibility that others in the West just can’t hope to have. So I’ve come here to make the case for Turkey to use this credibility, to go further in enhancing our security and working for peace across our world.”

Does this include Turkish regime support for Hamas and Hizballah, alignment with Iran and Syria? He should be hinting gently that Turkey is losing its credibility because of the regime’s behavior. And therefore Turkey needs to change its behavior, a point that the opposition will be arguing in the next election. By this time I can see the opposition tearing it hair out as another Western leader heaps praise on the regime. And have no doubt the regime will use all this in next year’s elections:

Extremist? Transforming Turkey toward Islamism? What do you mean? The West loves us!

Cameron then goes on and makes it clear that Turkey would be doing the EU a favor by joining it, not the tiniest hint of leverage, that Turkish membership might depend on the regime’s behavior. He could have said:

While I, of course, support you, the path would be easier if…. Followed by some polite and proper hints done with full British charm.

But it gets worse. Cameron is about to insult several of Britain’s closest allies, including Germany and France, by making opposition to Turkey’s entrance into the EU as a form of racism and Islamophobia. For example, he says that opponents are:

“The prejudiced. Those who willfully misunderstand Islam. They see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists. They think the problem is Islam itself. And they think the values of Islam can just never be compatible with the values of other religions, societies, or cultures.”

All these arguments are just plain wrong. The problem precisely is the version of Islam embodied in the current Turkish government. There could be other perfectly pious Muslims ruling Turkey (and Iran, Syria, or the Gaza Strip for that matter) who would interpret Islam in a way relatively compatible with the values of other religions. But not the Islamists!

He also complains of those who “see the history of our world as a clash of civilizations as a choice between East and West. They just don’t get the fact that Turkey can be a great unifier. Because instead of choosing between East and West, Turkey has chosen both.”

But he doesn’t comprehend that the current government of Turkey sees the world as a clash of civilizations. Its foreign minister even wrote a book to that effect, which has never been translated and which the regime is doing its best to conceal. This is not the Turkey of Kamal Ataturk and his successors but rather (at least temporarily) a country ruled by the successors of those who opposed Ataturk.

If I were a German or French journalist my headline would be: Cameron Calls German (or French) policy bigoted and anti-Islamic.

Yet Cameron sails on into even worse grounds. He actually praises a Turkish policy which has gone to the brink of war with Israel, sponsored a flotilla run by radical Islamists intending to create a violent confrontation, and is allied with a revolutionary terrorist group. One has to quote it to believe he actually said the following:

“Turkey’s relationships in the region, both with Israel and with the Arab world, are of incalculable value. No other country has the same potential to build understanding between Israel and the Arab world. I know that Gaza has led to real strains in Turkey’s relationship with Israel. But Turkey is a friend of Israel. And I urge Turkey, and Israel, not to give up on that friendship.

“Let me be clear. The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable. And I have told PM Netanyahu, we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change. Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.

“But as, hopefully, we move in the coming weeks to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians so it’s Turkey that can make the case for peace and Turkey that can help to press the parties to come together, and point the way to a just and viable solution.”

In other words, Turkey is 100 percent right, I have no criticism of Hamas’s behavior, we should accept a permanent revolutionary Islamist, terrorist, genocidal, statelet on the Mediterranean. No problem. And we can ignore the Turkish regime's pro-Hamas policy and provocative behavior because without abandoning that approach Turkey can still play a productive role! This is the diplomatic equivalent of insane behavior on Cameron’s part.

And does Israel want this regime to mediate between it and the Palestinians? Even the Palestinian Authority doesn't want that: it knows that the Turkish regime is allied with its Hamas rivals, for goodness sakes! Doesn't Cameron know this?

I don’t want to take up too much of your time but I cannot let this next gem pass. True, Cameron urged Turkey to continue internal reforms (but there’s no hint of the anti-democratic nature of the regime’s manipulation of such reforms, for example, to seize control of the courts) and the massive repression of dissidents.

He suggests that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and he even criticizes the Turkey-Iran deal. But note the illogical leap:

“Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in their recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around fifty percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium. So we need Turkey’s help now in making it clear to Iran just how serious we are about engaging fully with the international community.

“We hope that the meeting held in Istanbul between the Turkish, Brazilian and Iranian Foreign Ministers will see Iran move in the right direction.”

That meeting is a conference of Iran’s supporters! Why would it lead Iran in the right direction? How about Turkey’s opposition to sanctions? And again note the beggar’s worldview: “We need Turkey’s help....” Why should Turkey help? What will you give the regime in exchange for its alleged help? What behavior will you overlook in exchange for its alleged help?

This regime wants to help Iran, not against Iran.

Finally, remember that Cameron is a Conservative, the successor of Winston Churchill. That's how deep the appeasement disease has penetrated the Western ruling class.

PS: If you are interested in a good critique of this speech and Cameron's following speech in India from the point of view of speechmaking technique see here.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

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