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Cablegate: Turkey Adrift

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 001730


E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/19/2015

B. ANKARA 1231
C. ANKARA 1275
D. ANKARA 1511
E. ANKARA 1342
G. ANKARA 1102

(U) Classified by CDA Robert Deutsch; E.O. 12958, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Turkey is stuck in a domestic and foreign policy drift stemming from leadership and structural problems in ruling AKP. A long-overdue healthy debate over Turkey's identity and AKP, including its handling of relations with the U.S., has started. But AKP's policy muddle is leaving a vacuum that resurgent nationalism is seeking to fill. This period of drift could be extended, making EU reforms and bilateral cooperation more difficult. The drift may well continue until the next crisis creates new political alternatives in a day of reckoning. End Summary.

AKP Government Adrift

2. (C) As the AKP government confronts the arduous task of EU harmonization, it is manifestly adrift on domestic political and economic reform. Implementation of reform legislation passed in 2003-2004 is seriously deficient (refs A and B). The AKP government has a poor working relationship with the military, the Presidency and the largely-secular state bureaucracy. It is failing to control corruption in the AK party. It has been slow to introduce the banking, tax administration and social security legislation required by the IMF as a pre-condition for a new stand-by program. It is neglecting relations with the EU. Erdogan has delayed appointing a chief negotiator for EU accession negotiations; both Erdogan and FM Gul have made statements which have disturbed EU officials and politicians. Erdogan has still not decided on a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle.

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3. (C) AK party officials publicly deny the government's obvious drift and we see no sign it has yet begun to undermine Erdogan's voter base. AKP's ability to get back on track is compromised by its Islamist/neo-Ottoman reflexes and single-party-state spoils system. We doubt this government will be able to refocus or move our bilateral relationship – which remains strong in some areas – back to a more strategic level.

4. (C) PM Erdogan is isolated. He has lost touch with his Cabinet and parliamentary group. We hear MPs and Ministers alike, xxxxx who is close to Erdogan, complain they no longer have comfortable access, or feel obliged to kowtow for fear of incurring Erdogan's wrath. Business associations, strong advocates of AKP economic policies, tell us they feel they have lost the PM's ear. Erdogan has cut himself off from his closest spiritual advisors in the Iskender Pasa Naksibendi brotherhood in which he grew up, as we have heard directly from xxxxx.

5. (C) According to a broad range of our contacts, Erdogan reads minimally, mainly the Islamist-leaning press. According to others with broad and deep contacts throughout the establishment, Erdogan refuses to draw on the analyses of the MFA, and the military and National Intelligence Organization have cut him off from their reports. He never had a realistic world view, but one key touchstone is a fear of being outmaneuvered on the Islamist side by “Hoca” Erbakan's Saadet Party. Instead, he relies on his charisma, instincts, and the filterings of advisors who pull conspiracy theories off the Web or are lost in neo-Ottoman Islamist fantasies, e.g., Islamist foreign policy advisor and Gul ally Ahmet Davutoglu.

6. (C) Inside the AKP, the more ideological Deputy PM/FonMin Gul continues behind-the-scenes machinations, especially during Erdogan's foreign junkets. Gul seems to be trying to undermine Erdogan and take on more party control. He may hope to reclaim the Prime Ministership, which he was forced to cede to Erdogan four months after AKP acceded to power. With his relatively good English, Gul works to project an image of being “moderate”, or “modern”. In fact, Gul's peers say he has a far more ideologized anti-Western worldview than Erdogan. Gul, reflecting his pragmatic streak, has made some constructive statements on bilateral relations and on Turkey's Iraq policy since the Iraqi elections. However, we understand that Gul and a group of like-minded MPs and journalists continue to see fomenting anti-American attitudes as one way to get at Erdogan while also being moved by emotions of Islamic/Sunni solidarity.

7. (C) AKP's disarray has generated significant internal unease from those who support Erdogan, but also from some of the other tendencies forming AK. xxxxx that Erdogan does not know how to proceed, either on domestic policy or on rebuilding relations with the U.S. xxxxx, a bellwether of Islamist sentiment, has told two of our insider contacts that he is about to resign in disgust at the party's rampant corruption. xxxxx one of Erdogan's closest business and brotherhood friends and advisors from Istanbul, says he sees no future for this government and thinks it is time for a more flexible and open leader. Leading member xxxxx has expressed to us the Gulenists' sense that Erdogan cannot hack it. Long Overdue Healthy Debate
8. (C) The ferment is not all bad. It is beginning to force some to question the real roots of inertia and stasis in a Turkey that needs to accelerate its transition. We are encouraged by the determination of some to open a long-overdue, healthy debate on AKP and its handling of Turkey's relations with the U.S. Secretary Rice's February 6 visit and subsequent U.S. media coverage helped ignite the debate. Another catalyst was Deputy CHOD Basbug's January 26 press briefing, in which he coolly analyzed Turkish concerns about Iraq and repeatedly emphasized that one cannot reduce broad and comprehensive U.S.-Turkish relations to a single issue. It was not until late February, that Erdogan – albeit without conviction in his voice – expressed anything similar to Basbug's assessment of the importance of bilateral relations.

9. (C) The debate has now produced some sustained trenchant criticism of AKP's domestic and foreign policies from several insightful mainstream commentators. However, mainstream commentators are seen as too “pro-American” to be persuasive among AKP or its supporters. Perhaps more important have been the decisions of some pro-AKP Islamist columnists to write unusually blunt warnings that the AKP government must pull itself together or risk a fall. The Parliamentary opposition has continued its anti-American 60's leftist rhetoric as it winds its merry way to irrelevance.

Resurgent Nationalism

10. (C) There is a more disturbing consequence of AKP's weakness: resurgent nationalism. Two of the hottest selling books in Turkey are “Metal Storm”, a conspiracy novel that feeds the worst instincts of Turks with its tale of a U.S. invasion of Turkey followed by Turkish nuclear counter-strike with the help of the Russians; and “Mein Kampf” (ref C). Under instructions from the Directorate of Religious Affairs, imams across Turkey delivered a March 11 sermon against Christian missionaries (ref D), claiming they aim to “steal the beliefs of our young people and children.” We are receiving increased reports of anti-Christian activity in different regions of Turkey (e.g., ref E). The Central Bank Governor told us that nationalist/isolationist forces are behind the problems with the IMF (ref F). An attempt to burn the Turkish flag during a Newroz celebration in Mersin has drawn strong nationalistic statements from across the spectrum, including a statement from the General Staff that “the Turkish nation and the Turkish armed forces are ready to sacrifice their blood to protect their country and their flag.” The decision to memorialize, after a 47-year hiatus, the killing by British forces of several Ottoman soldiers during the Allies' W.W.I occupation of Istanbul also bespeaks the national mood.

11. (U) The Turkish media have given prominent coverage to what appears to be a growth in street crime and to a parallel refusal of the police, angry at limitations on their operational abilities under the new EU-inspired criminal code, to patrol aggressively. In a March 18 column, Ertugrul Ozkok, managing editor of Turkey's leading newspaper “Hurriyet” and one of the most authoritative press voices of the Establishment, noted that the Turkish public is deeply disturbed by what it perceives as a breakdown of law and order. Ozkok, in what would appear to be an overstatement, closed with a warning to Erdogan that, when democratic forces cannot ensure safety in the streets (sic), then the public and political space is left to other forces. In a March 4 column, Umit Ozdag, now in the running for chairmanship of the right-wing nationalist MHP, cited increased crime as one reason for the current popularity of “Mein Kampf.”

12. (C) Resurgent nationalist feelings probably also played a role in the press and government reactions to comments from EU Ambassador Kretschmer about the government's loss of momentum and EU accession, to the EU Troika's worry about the police violence against a March 6 Istanbul demonstration, and the press feeding frenzy over Ambassador Edelman's innocent remarks on Syria.


13. (C) Having reached one of its primary goals – a date to begin EU accession negotiations – Erdogan's AKP government is out of ideas and energy. For now, EU- and IMF-required reforms will face tougher opposition from re-energized nationalists, the government will be tempted to delay difficult decisions in any realm, and resistance to change will be the default mode. Bilateral cooperation will be more difficult, more vulnerable to characterization as unreasonable U.S. “demands” that infringe upon Turkish “sovereignty.”

14. (C) This period of drift could last a long time. AKP's Parliamentary majority is eroding, but only slowly (ref G). Despite the unhappiness inside AKP, there is currently no political alternative and there are risks to anyone who actually forces a split. Erdogan still has a “nuclear” option in hand – early elections. The danger is that tough decisions and the settling out of the political system will be put off until a real new crisis emerges which will either energize the AKP or bring new political alternatives. Waiting bears a real cost, since Turkey needs to be more nimble in pursuing the political, economic, social and foreign policy agendas many Turks, the EU and the U.S., have been supporting, than this type of static drift will permit.

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