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John Kerry Roasts Turkey

On his first trip abroad, the new secretary of state criticized Erdogan’s comments about Israel. It’s about time.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on March 1, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a man who minces words. He has called Israel a “terrorist state” and has suggested that “Allah would punish” Israel for its inhumane actions in Gaza. Usually, the United States pretends not to hear Erdogan’s rants—but not on Friday, when John Kerry, while visiting Ankara during his first trip abroad as secretary of state, denounced Erdogan for calling Zionism “a crime against humanity.” In response to Erdogan, Kerry said: “We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable.”

On Monday at AIPAC, Vice President Joe Biden praised Kerry for standing up to the Turkish prime minister—and Kerry deserved the props. Kerry’s comment is as critical as State Department language gets regarding a NATO ally—and it’s about time. Policymakers from the Bush and Obama Administrations have sweet-talked and protected Erdogan since his Justice and Development party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP, came to power in 2003. Both White Houses saw Turkey as the model for moderate Islamism, a political current ostensibly willing to embrace democratic norms and project friendly power abroad, including the continuation of its strategic relationship with Israel. They believed Erdogan held the future of U.S. Middle East policy in his hands.

But for Erdogan and the AKP that vision has come undone. Domestically, some of his key allies have become powerful and dangerous domestic rivals. Abroad, the uprising in neighboring Syria has shown Ankara’s limits, incapable of shaping even its own immediate sphere of influence. These days, Turkey is looking less like an Anatolian tiger than the mouse that roared. The prospective pillar of Obama’s Middle East policy—the regional power that the White House might have hoped would replace Israel as a strategic ally—is now in meltdown.


It all looked like it was going Turkey’s way just two years ago. Erdogan had positioned himself as a power broker, and Barack Obama considered him one of his closest friends among world leaders. From the White House’s perspective, Erdogan seemed like he had the best possible shot at bridging the distance between Washington and Tehran. The administration hoped he might strike a deal over the Iranian nuclear program that would satisfy both sides. Moreover, the White House believed he would serve as an intermediary between the Americans and the Middle East’s increasingly powerful Sunni Islamist movement, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt and elsewhere.

All this was made possible by the fact that Erdogan had radically re-oriented Turkey. Ever since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had founded the Turkish republic in 1923, Turkey had looked westward for inspiration and friendship, distinguishing itself as a key NATO ally and bulwark against Soviet encroachment. But in spite of American entreaties, the EU kept deferring Ankara’s membership throughout the 1990s, justifying Europe’s obvious contempt of Turkey by conditioning EU accession on a healthy human-rights record. (And indeed, today Turkey has more journalists in jail than China does.)

Hence Erdogan looked elsewhere, forsaking Europe in favor of that vast and oil-rich region stretching from the Persian Gulf to western North Africa once ruled from Istanbul by Ankara’s storied ancestors the Ottomans. The new watchword was “zero problems with neighbors,” a foreign-policy strategy cooked up by an Islamist intellectual who in 2009 became Erdogan’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.

In order to show his seriousness, Erdogan played a hand guaranteed to win him the approbation of Muslims and Arabs: the Israel card. In the wake of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s winter 2008-09 military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, he confronted Israeli President Simon Peres at Davos and told him: “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill”—and then stormed off the stage. In May 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, to stop it from breaking the naval blockade of Gaza, they were attacked by ship passengers, nine of whom were killed. Erdogan demanded Israel make amends. “As long as Israel does not apologize, does not pay compensation, and does not lift the embargo on Palestine,” he said, “it is not possible for Turkey-Israeli ties to improve.”

Obama worked on Turkey’s behalf to secure an apology, in the apparent belief that the burden for fixing a relationship that Erdogan had set out to trash was on Israel. (Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu refused to apologize.) The White House also gave the Turkish leader a pass when the AKP and its allies in the Gulenist movement, a cultlike political trend associated with the charismatic preacher Fetullah Gulen, started prosecuting journalists and military officers on charges stemming from the so-called Ergenekon plot. As I wrote in this column in 2010, Ergenekon was largely a political fiction cooked up to intimidate and silence opponents of the AKP and the Gulenists.

The White House ignored the obvious signs of Erdogan’s problematic character because the role for which it had cast him was too important. With American troops out of Iraq and scheduled to depart from Afghanistan, and Obama determined to avoid committing more resources to the Middle East, the administration sought a partner capable of keeping the order and doing the work it no longer wanted to do itself. In other words, Obama wanted to switch Israel for Turkey. Jerusalem would remain a U.S. ally, but the heavy lifting and the diplomatic outreach would be done by Ankara, which, unlike Israel, was a Muslim power in a Muslim region and, also unlike Israel, prided itself on its zero problems with its neighbors’ policy.


But the sticking point is that if you live in the Middle East you are always going to have problems with your neighbors. Erdogan found this out the hard way, with the outbreak of the Syrian uprising. The Turkish prime minister considered Bashar al-Assad a “good friend,” but after watching the Syrian president fire on what were then peaceful demonstrators for more than half a year, Erdogan finally called for Assad to step down in November 2011. With refugees flowing across the border, Erdogan tried to enlist the Obama Administration in a more pro-active policy to topple Assad, but he was ignored.

Hung out to dry by Obama, Erdogan was left vulnerable to Assad as well as domestic criticism. In June, the Syrians, with Russian help, downed a Turkish jet, and the White House sided with Damascus’ account of the incident, blaming it on Ankara. In October, Syria shelled Turkish villages, and all Erdogan could do was complain.

Erdogan’s Syria policy, according to Turkish journalist Tolga Tanis, marks the first time that Turkish public opinion has tilted against the AKP’s foreign policy. “At least 60 percent according to the polls are against Erdogan’s Syria policy,” said Tanis. “The security risk is skyrocketing, and Turks are losing money.”

Supporting the anti-Assad rebels has exposed Turkey to retaliation from a longstanding Syrian ally and Turkish enemy, the Kurdish Workers’ party. Also, Turks don’t want a refugee problem on their hands, especially when some of those refugees crossing the Syrian border are Islamist militants. Moreover, with Syria consumed by civil war, Turkey has lost a major trade route to the rest of the region.

Then there’s the failure of Erdogan’s once-vaunted soft power. The Obama Administration tasked out much of its Arab Spring diplomacy to its man in Ankara, and in the immediate aftermath of the upheavals that brought down dictators, Erdogan was greeted by throngs in Cairo praising him as the region’s great new leader. But two years on, Muslim Brotherhood parties allied with the AKP, itself a Brotherhood party, have failed to deliver on the promises that brought them to power around the region. Were Erdogan to show his face today in the Egyptian capital, it would likely serve as a target for an unhappy, unemployed shoe-thrower.

At home, Erdogan’s AKP is now at odds with the Gulenists, who seem to have taken charge of the Ergenekon trials in order to secure their hold over what Turks call the “deep state,” which includes the judiciary and police. When the army’s former chief of staff Ilker Basbug was arrested last year even Erdogan thought this was going too far. “I think claims that he is a member of a terrorist organization are very ugly,” said Erdogan.

Undermined at home and exposed abroad as a weakling—it’s hardly any wonder Erdogan is ranting against Israel again. “It was not improvised, but scripted,” said Tanis. “He was anticipating Kerry’s visit.” The difference between now and Davos in 2009 or the Mavi Marmara in 2010 is that Erdogan is projecting not power but neediness. He wants to know if the White House still loves him and needs him more than Israel. The evidence is not in his favor.


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Marcus777 says:

No one Rosted any one, I like the way you spin the frigging news , Israel always like to distort the news. only thing is rosting in the Owen Is Israel and her arrogant behavior, can do all say all kill all get away with all
World opinion beg the differ no matter how much you and others spin the news, no one is buying this BS anymore, even US is tired of Israel, Congress regrets AIPAC thinking they are slave to it,one day when shit hits the fan all friends you think they ar4e will become a foe, resentment is the worst kind of enemy, it sneaks up on you when you are mosr comfertable,I wish this current leaders if Israel smart up and play by the international norms

    You mean American norms of invading other countries half way around the world, killing hundreds of thousands, imprisoning thousands and staging drone strikes where ever they feel like? Or the French norms of invading African countries and bombing towns and villages?

    Jaysonrex says:





      You don’t need to shout to make your point. Drop the all caps, it’s neither necessary or polite. You have a point to make, and you will make it better when you tone down the volume.

      Marcus777 says:

      what are the consequences?war and bombs raining down,?? now everyone can have a nuclear weapon, Turks already have it, so is Israel, no one touches a country with nuclear weapon like north Korea,get a life and stop BS in here,Turks can survive, and they did just like Jews did,they are more friends than you think they are, you are so ignorant, Turkey and Israel are US hitman in the area for decades,to keep the oil rich gulf in order,
      OHH please you are so powerful ,i bet you got small balls to go with it, calm down boy,all muslims are this and that, ,you are a biggot,and full of hate my man if anything all others are trying to do here is really help Israel to get alone with the rest of the World,who is kiking whom, when Turks were there for 500 years here was peace in the ME, until British stuck her nose in,US comes to Turkey bcz they know what it is worth,Israel do not even use its powerful lobby to punish Turkey why?did you ever think about that buddy?they could you know that, not that Turks care all tht much anymore,there are other powers always will welcome Turks,he finds it objectionable??LOL object to what,?it is time this Zionist movement stop hiding behind the Jewish faith. when they run with their money all the poor Jews left behind got killed for their crimes,many Jews l know they do not like it one bit, many Jews in US says AIPAC do not speak for me, do you know this,??later man go get some education and we will talk to you.your ignorance is big

        Beatrix17 says:

        AIPAC is a successful lobby joined by people who agree with their support of Israel. Nobody is forced to join or to agree. I belong to AIPAC and to AARP. AARP is far more powerful and has a far greater membership.

        Turkey may make a comeback, but I think Smith is saying that their brief time basking in the warmth of Obama’s glow and the adulation of the West, is over. Israel situation is entirely different. She is simply the only Western nation in the Mideast.

        Are you in America?. Your knowledge of our country seems based entirely on propaganda,

          William Bilinski says:

          I believe the Zionist liberal, Uri Avnery, made a gaffe by using the word “terrorize” below, thus implying that AIPAC is a terrorist organization. As far as I can determine, AARP has never pushed us into a war of choice.
          The Riddle of the Israel Lobby, by Uri Avnery, February 25, 2013,

          “Now, finally, it is going to happen. At the beginning of his second term, Barak Obama will shed the hesitations, fears and incompetence that marked his first. AIPAC will not be able to terrorize him anymore. A new, strong and resolute Obama will emerge and knock all the heads together. The leaders will be strongarmed into peace.”

          Joe Giron says:

          Ipac buys corrupted congress and senate in the USA.

          Beatrix17 says:

          No they don’t. The majority of people in America like Israel. Liking Israel is a very American thing to do.

Jaysonrex says:



    Nicole Bennett says:

    Molly. even though Kevin`s artlclee is nice, on sunday I bought BMW 5-series when I got my check for $8604 this past month and would you believe, ten grand this past month. with-out a doubt this is the coolest work I have ever had. I started this nine months/ago and practically straight away earned more than $77 per-hr. I went to this website,, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

    Marcus777 says:

    yes 9-11 never forget, lets see if that is good for Israel or not,World need peace my man, not a war monger like you coming here spweing hate, sure Nato, lol, there will be no Nato without Turkey

Excellent article!

    ray_in_seattle says:

    I agree Rebecca. My first exposure to Lee was reading “The Strong Horse”. Like that excellent book Lee writes his articles clearly and concisely – and when I finish I usually have learned something important that I didn’t really understand before. In this case it struck me that perhaps Obama has realized his naivete and foolishness in believing that pro-Islamist ME politicians – like Erdogan – would have some genuine interest in peace or diplomacy in the Western style. It will be fascinating to see how well he has learned his lesson when he visits Netanyahu soon in Jerusalem.

Papa493 says:

“Obama worked on Turkey’s behalf to secure an apology, in the apparent belief that the burden for fixing a relationship that Erdogan had set out to trash was on Israel. (Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu refused to apologize.)”

In fact, the relationship with Turkey is very important to Israel, which is still trying to mend fences. Smith wants more bluster; Israel wants the US to help keep Turkey in the ally (no matter how frigid) column.

herbcaen says:

Erdogan is to Turkey what Hugo Chavez was to Venezuela. A populist leader who will convert Turkey to the Liechtenstein of the Middle East

    You mean that Erdogan is going to turn Turkey into an international banking center where per-capita GDP is roughly US$100,000???

      herbcaen says:

      no, I mean that Erdogan will turn Turkey into a country that is as consequential on the world state as Liechtenstein. Once Erdogan gets thru with Turkey, the per capita GDP will be US $500

        I think you’re working with wishful thinking and hyperbole. Even Liechtenstein’s GDP is higher than the $35.0 billion you claim Turkey’s GDP will fall to.

      Yechiel Gordon says:

      Thank you for provided a sane comment.

So Kerry said “We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable”? Yeah, so objectionable that the US is rewarding Turkey with warships.

    I wouldn’t make too much of the donation of the two ships. As was noted in the Commentary talkbacks, these warships are 33 years old, and without their cruise missile capability, are the equivalent of large Coast Guard cutters. The dollar value on these vessels is relatively modest and as a weapons platform, isn’t going to dramatically enhance Turkey’s navy. In fact the electronics systems Israel finished giving Turkey are likely to have more of an impact than these two ships.

    That said, Sec. Kerry’s public condemnation of Turkey was likely to have a greater diplomatic impact than whether or not Turkey receives these two frigates. Erdogan has received a free ride for his Jew-hatred and bigotry for years now. Kerry’s public remarks, coupled with VP Biden’s comments and Ban-Ki Moon’s response, are more likely to catch his attention and rightfully mark a warning that his words and deeds are not going to get him any large favors in the larger competition between Israel and issues in the Eastern Med.

    Joe Giron says:

    Just talk. And bs from Zionist kerry

Hershl says:

We need to rethink our entire relationship with the Islamist regime that Turkey has become.

Erdogan and his apologists are unabashed enemies of the West. They are seeking to impose Radical Islam on an otherwise tolerant people.

The Turkish people are fundamentally good.

However, Erdogan is the weed in the garden that must be plucked soon or the whole nation will go to pot.

Israel is the best friend that Turkey ever will have.

Erdogan should be put on trial for crimes against the Turkish people.

sasboy says:

Three cheers to Mr Erdogan for telling it like it is and saying what a majority of the world’s people feel !

    Erdogan is on record supporting Sudan’s Bashir, the racist and violent HAMAS and Hizballah – which is currently supporting Bashar Assad in his civil war in Syria.

    Are you so sure ‘the majority of the world’s people’ are behind this, or just yourself?

    Yechiel Gordon says:

    Correct Mr. Sasboy.

    International polls show over and over again that most of the world is
    much more afraid of the United States and Israel — which invade, bomb and torture their official enemies with impunity — than they are of Iran, Turkey, or any of the other bogeymen we are instructed by government propaganda to fear.

Yechiel Gordon says:

Let’s see: How unreasonable is it to call Israel a terrorist state, as Erdogan is said to have done?

Well, Israel tortures Palestinians on a regular basis in the Ansar prisons.
Maybe that doesn’t qualify.

Well, Israel pioneered hijacking of airplanes. Maybe that doesn’t qualify. Israel holds all Gazans hostage and bombs their hospitals and food storage facilities. Not enough?

Israel provided arms to Idi Amin while he was killing a million people. Well, that was a long time ago.

Israel’s Mossad trained the Shah’s Shabak forces based on an SS-inspired program,
to torture Iranian citizens. Old news, maybe.

Israel bombed Beirut’s civilians in 1982, employed phosphorous bombs against the Lebanese a few years ago, while displacing 1,000,000 people.

Okay, so Israel provided military help to the neo-Nazi Argentine generals,

When the U.S. congress imposed limits on weapons sales to the Somoza terror regime, Israel stepped in and provided Galil assault rifles to the Somozistas, which they used to kill 40,000 Nicaraguan citizens,

Israel provided weapons to the Salvadoran death squads in the 70s.

Israel provided the weapons that Suharto used to kill 250,000 Indonesians in 1975.

Israel continues to hold hundreds of thousands of Palestinians prisoner in Gaza. When people try to bring these poor people refrigerators and medical goods, Israeli
soldiers bravely kill some of them and threaten the rest of them before sending them

Oh. Well, maybe you were right, Mr. Erdogan.

    Beatrix17 says:

    The only crime Israel has committed is establishing a successful country in a part of the world that doesn’t allow minorities to establish countries of their own. Look at the Kurds. Even the Turks and Persians have trouble, but they’re too big to take on, so all this stupid hate is directed against Israel.

    Joe Giron says:

    Israel is a nai rogue terrorist state headed by mad man netayahu

    Normando782 says:

    There is so much missinformation mixed in with the comments that it is obvious that the writer cannot tell the truth because he is either mentally ill or so full of hate that the truth evades him completely.

zlop says:

Advancing Israel’s interests, Kerry is a Khazar.

William Bilinski says:

Smith’s claim of a Turkey roast is quite overstated. This is just ME statesmanship.
I believe Edogan’s “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill” is making reference to Deuteronomy 20:16.
“It was not improvised, but scripted,” said Tanis. “He was anticipating Kerry’s visit.”. I think that is correct. Erdogan’s comments were specifically timed as sort of a welcome to the new secretary of State. Personally, I welcome Erdogan’s comments.

mauloa says:

If you think John Kerry’s comments to Turkey are positive for Israel – think again. This administration is the most anti-Israeli group ever. You are at peril as long as Obama is in office and his secretary of state, secretary of defense and other offices are but stooges of his activist agenda – and that activity is not aimed at helping Israel. You better back Netanyahu with total support – because that is all Israel has to depend on. As an American I am ashamed to admit I have no confidence in this administration for Israel, for America or for the good of the world. Obama is steeped in Muslim heritage, his childhood in Indonesia has decided his fate and it is in his DNA. He does not have the ideals, values, desire for freedom – that normally comes with American birth. Again, do not think “words” will bring peace, support or anything concrete from this presidency. I know, we can’t count on anything good for America either.

the editors have been waiting years to run that headline

Joe Giron says:

Turkey do not listen and respond to Zionism.kerry made full of himself.

angelinajhon says:

The Turkish Political Game

Between Russia and USA

After USA, Turkey has the second largest army in NATO and is one of the most important strategic partners of USA.

In the same time, the greater part of Turkey‘s natural gas supply is provided by the Russian company GAZPROM, the

minor part comes from Iran. So Ankara is on a very peculiar political crossroads, cooperating with countries that

are at enemy with each other. What is more, the serious political crash of the relationship between Turkey and

Israel in 2010 shows that both countries insist hard on their strategic policy, no matter whether USA like it or


if you want some more information so click here

Dear Press:

As an active member of AIPAC, I can ensure you that AIPAC has achieved great success this past month and continues to grow strong by advocating, through bipartisanship, to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States.  This includes building strong commercial and military ties between the two closest allies.

In the past month alone, AIPAC members wrote to members and representatives of Congress and the Senate, in thanking them for their support on the following issues, that AIPAC lobbied for:

(1) Preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. In the Senate, members have passed a resolution (S. Res. 65) declaring that the United States will stand by Israel should it feel compelled to take military action in its own defense against Iran. In the House, members have passed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850), which authorizes the president to impose sanctions on any entity that maintains significant commercial ties to Iran.
AIPAC members urged their House and Senate members to support both measures in order to send a strong message that the United States will act to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

(2) Strengthening the U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation by officially designating Israel as a “major strategic partner.” Such a designation will help the two nations maximize the benefits of their alliance, which includes both commercial and military ties.

(3) Supporting the full $3.1 billion in security assistance to Israel that the U.S. committed to for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and beyond, as well as the $211 million in additional funding for the Iron Dome.

These are huge successes in which AIPAC was a part of, thus, continuing to enact public policy that strengthens the vital U.S.-Israel relationship.

On a side note, Erdogen must step down and leave Turkey immediately, and let modernism and secularism prevail again in Turkey.


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John Kerry Roasts Turkey

On his first trip abroad, the new secretary of state criticized Erdogan’s comments about Israel. It’s about time.

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