ISTANBUL, Turkey — American diplomats fear that Turkey may have been irretrievably alienated from the West, secret embassy cables published on Sunday reveal.
Internal reports written by U.S. diplomats summarize Turkish politicians’ personalities in often colorful language and estimate that the country’s drift eastward will be compounded by it never being allowed into the European Union.
The material belongs to a stash of 250,000 documents published Sunday by WikiLeaks, a website dedicated to publishing secrets.
The cables from U.S. diplomats in Turkey are the second largest block of cables in the latest WikiLeaks exposures. The 8,000 documents from Turkey cover sensitive domestic developments as well as diplomacy with Iran, Iraq and Israel.
“Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely,” states one confidential report titled "What Lies Beneath Ankara’s New Policy."
Shrugging off diplomatic-speak, American diplomats describe Turkish Prime Minister Teyyip Erdogan as an outspoken Islamist and “perfectionist workaholic” who may be seeking the creation of an Islamic state.
Erdogan's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is described as one of “an iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors” and a “dangerous” neo-Ottomanist.
Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, blames the decline in Turkey-Israeli relations exclusively on Erdogan and states that Erdogan is “a fundamentalist, he hates us religiously,” according to the documents, which were allegedly provided to WikiLeaks by Pvt. Bradley Manning, a disillusioned U.S. Army military intelligence analyst. Manning has been charged with illegally leaking classified information and faces a possible court-martial and, if convicted, a lengthy prison term.
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The cables furnish astonishing insight into the unease that has crept into U.S.-Turkish relations recently as Turkey seeks to forge an independent foreign policy path after decades of being a cast-iron Western ally.
One report identifies an “extraordinary” speech given by Davutoglu in Sarajevo in 2009 in which he argued that “the Balkans, Caucasus, and Middle East were all better off when under Ottoman control or influence ... however, now Turkey is back, ready to lead — or even unite. ... We will re-establish this [Ottoman] Balkan.”
The same report describes Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman posturing around the Middle East and Balkans” as “a ‘back to the past’ attitude that is hampered by Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources. To cut themselves in on the action, the Turks have to 'cheat' by finding an underdog, a Siladjcic, Mish’al, or Ahmadinejad, who will be happy to have the Turks take up his cause.”
The report bemoans the United States' “loss of control” in the bilateral relationship and its effect on the “indispensable” perks of using the U.S. military base in Incirlik, the Turkish-Iraqi border crossing at Habur Gate, and Turkish airspace for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“What a day,” said one U.S. diplomat formerly based in Turkey, surveying the documents. “Historically unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic history and historically aggravating and depressing, too, from the standpoint of an American diplomat.”
Alec Mally, a former U.S. diplomat, agrees. “This is a traumatic incident, not because it exposes the inner workings of our diplomatic missions but (because) I’m very worried that the personnel in those missions will almost certainly face higher risks,” said Mally. “Diplomats may even be targeted for their past legitimate work responsibilities which does include meeting with dissidents, being vigilant about anti-American actors in a given country and telling the host country precisely what we are thinking about their behavior.”
The leaked documents similarly furnish valuable insights into Turkey’s role as an intermediary in the U.S.-Iran standoff. Reports allege that, contrary to their claims, Turkish politicians cannot affect changes in Iranian attitudes and that their country is being used as a transit zone to smuggle dual-use materials into Iran for its controversial nuclear program.
Turkish diplomats are quoted as saying that Turkey should be a diplomatic bridge because the Turks are the only ones the Iranians will listen to.
Erdogan’s reaction today was to dismiss WikiLeaks as a “doubtful” website on his way to Libya for an EU-Africa summit and to receive the Ghaddafi Human Rights Award.
“The Turkish government is still digesting the material and, not having read much of it, sounded dismissive this morning,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper. “But that will quickly turn into anger.
“It is impossible for this not to affect the chemistry between the two countries,” said Aydintasbas, who noted that the cables include allegations of corruption against the Turkish president. “Despite diplomatic niceties, their opinion on Erdogan and the AKP elite is rather poor.”
The Turkish press splashed the news on front covers, dramatically describing the leak as “Doomsday” or teasingly as “gossipy America.”
“It is easy to take the cable-stream out of context on Turkey so people need to step back when reading this and factor in the Washington environment,” Mally said. “Cables were sometimes ‘pumped up’ in urgency so as to generate a specific reaction in the Washington bureaucracy or to convince some official of a need to visit Turkey or engage in the policy dialogue.”
Many people in central Istanbul had not read the material but expressed little surprise about the revelations contained therein.
“America cannot be trusted,” said Tayfun Avsar, an electrician, “and this is further proof of that.”
Another observer said reading the documents is a form of voyeurism. “It’s like being in another’s bedroom when sex is performed,” said Sanli Bahadir Koc, an analyst at Ankara’s 21st Century Institute. “It would be nice if the sex was good but it is not always so.”