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INSIGHT - TURKEY - civil-military relations, US-Turkey and Turkey-Israel defense relations

Released on 2012-03-10 10:00 GMT

Email-ID 75005
Date 2009-11-14 20:08:26
PUBLICATION: background/analysis - do not share specific insight with
other Turkish sources (dont want to get source in trouble)
SOURCE DESCRIPTION: Turkish air force captain in DC for training on F-35
joint strike fighter
Including a lot of background here to provide context, please read through
to get the full gist
BACKGROUND -- I was the captain's guest to an event at the Turkish embassy
to commemorate the death of Ataturk. There I met with a lot of people (who
were all familiar with and proud of stratfor), including the ambassador
and defense attache. The captain's good friend is the Chief Inspector
(also pretty young, around 30), who basically accompanies the ambassador
everywhere and is responsible for security of the embassy and residence.
Coming from a security/intel/military background, he was keeping an eye on
me and asking me a lot of questions throughout the night. His wife has
been working in the ministry of defense. Both of them went out to dinner
with us after the event. The Chief Inspector was telliing the captain
half-jokingly to not reveal everything and cut him off when he was telling
me about the F-35 simulation he's doing next week in Ohio. I suspect the
CI came out to dinner to keep an eye on him.
CIVIL-MILITARY DIVIDE - My main goal for the night was to get a better
read on civil-military relations in Turkey, and I definitely got some
interesting perspective. One thing I found really interesting was how
practically everyone I spoke with, particularly in the military, would ask
me very bluntly "what do you think about Turkish foreign policy? do you
think we are doing a good job? Is it strong?" Everyone seemed very
concerned about what others think about how Turkey is behaving. The
military is visibly very uncomfortable with the manner in which Turkey is
conducting its foreign policy. They like the idea of Turkey's influence
expanding, and they are fiercely proud of that, BUT they are very visibly
nervous about the Islamic overtones of the strategy.
There is an extremely noticeable divide between the civilians and military
personnel. The ambassador would intentionally avoid speaking at length
with the military guys and was on occasion a bit rude to them, and when
the ambassador was out of sight, the military guys would criticize him,
saying he doesn't understand that the military is the core of the nation
and doesn't even have 'real diplomatic skills'. One even told me, 'look at
the way he talks, he can barely hold a real conversation'. A rumor was
going around that night that the ambassador was soon to be replaced, but
the Counselor at the embassy (who is a huge fan of stratfor) said that's
all gossip and that the ambassador will be staying for a long time.
I brought up the issue of the army colonel who is now being tried in a
civilian court for attempting a coup against the government. This is a
huge issue in Turkey right now. The Ergenekon probe is understood to be a
tool that AKP uses to keep military in check. This is why (As we wrote in
our analysis) it was extremely suspicious that a letter with the alleged
signature of the colonel implicating him in a coup plot magically emerged
right when the military started making noise over the AKP's moves to
accept the surrender of PKK militants. The military is very uncomfortable
with the Kurdish initiative. As one military officer put it to me, how
would you Americans feel if Obama all of a sudden agreed to reintegrate
the al Qaeda 9/11 bombers into American society?
US- TURKEY RELATIONS - The Chief Inspector asked me point-blank - "What do
you know about Ergenekon?" I told him I think it's a tool the AKP uses to
clip the military's wings. Arrests of generals and colonels like this
would be unheard of years ago. He then asked, "you don't think they have
outside support?" I asked, "from whom?" He shrugged and said, who knows?
the American government?" In this (rather tense conversation), I
definitely got the feeling that these military guys are deeply suspicious
that the US is aiding the AKP in circumscribing the military's powers.
Later, when the chief inspector wasn't there, the captain opened up after
a few drinks and said that they believe the US wants to work with the
Turkish military, BUT that the US wants to "manipulate" the Turkish
military, ie. keep it weak so it can follow the US agenda in the region.
He said this in all seriousness, and it reminded me of what he had said in
our last meeting about how the US was holding back critical intelligence
on PKK in northern Iraq when he was conducting those bombing raids. In
short, you can definitely sense a lot of distrust that the Turkish
military has for the US right now.
******* At the end of the night (chief inspector and wife were gone,
captain had a few drinks and was in confessional mode), I pressed him to
explain to me why the military isn't doing more then to counter the AKP if
they're so obviously uncomfortable with the direction things are going.
Every military person I talked to admitted that under AKP, the military's
powers have weakened considerably. His response was that his country's
generals are excellent actors. When i asked what he meant, he said they
say all the right things and make it appear that they are really doing
everything they can to block the AKP's moves on these various issue when
in reality, they do nothing. He said, 'look, I am an officer right now.
And right now in the Turkish government and military, you have the scum of
the earth that have risen to the top" In other words, he was saying that
everyone at the top were corrupt, had lost their vision. He went on about
how Gul's and Erdogan's families have all this money that no one can
explain and also criticized the generals who had become "too comfortable."
He said if several years from now i become a general i hope i will not
lose sight of what's right for Turkey. He even mentioned the potential for
a "revolution" (pretty risky words for a captain). I asked if others like
him are thinking like that and he said 'i think so' Then after a pause he
said, "didn't Ataturk start a revolution?' We left it at that.
He also described how there is little the military can do right now. The
AKP has support of the people and they will have that support as long as
the economy remains strong. The military can't go against that. He says,
'what are we going to do? launch a coup d'etat? the 1980 coup in Turkey is
what created the rise of the AKP. I dont look at causes of coups, i look
at the results. The AKP is the result of that coup'
He kept saying that there is no middle class in Turkey and how big of an
issue that is. Military officers don't get paid nearly as much as they
should. He said for him he can make $3k/month, but most of his pilots make
$1500/k...'that's nothing. in the private airlines you can make triple the
Earlier, we were talking about the AKP's Islamic policies. What I found
really interesting was how the military officers referred to both AKP and
Gulen as "fundamentalists." The AKP was describing to me how it is against
Turkish law to have fundamentalists in the military, so if the military
brands someone as an Islamist fundamentalist, then the charge against him
must be approved by the civilian government. but under the AKP, the
government has rejected the military's attempts to boot out the
'fundamentalists'. They spoke of an increasing fundamentalist presence in
the military. This is probably exaggerated, but very eye-opening in terms
of the military's anxiety toward the AKP. They did not hide the fact that
they detest Gulen movement and asked me everything i know about them.
I asked the captain how close Turkish-Israeli defense ties are now given
the political tensions we've been seeing. He says the ties between the
military industrial complex are still very strong. Turkey provides the
money for the research, the Israelis develop it and then they sell it for
10x the amount. Not a bad business.
To get a better sense of Turkish-Israeli cooperation, I asked again about
the Israeli strike on the SYrian nuclear site in 2007. He insists that
Turkey was not notified of the strike beforehand and that he had a
discussion with the air force chief of staff the day it happened. Without
a doubt, Turkey did not know about it. I guess I appeared doubtful because
after hesitating a bit he said that that the Israeli jets flew in Turkey's
blind spot. I asked him to explain, and he said that they had a hole in
their air defense, which Israel exploited. Now, he says, that's fixed and
they deploy forces every 15 days to patrol the area.
The captain will be in Ohio next week for simulation training on the F-35.
He is very frustrated not being able to have more fly time and loves to
get into technical detail in explaining what he does (so nate, if we have
any technical questions, he's our man). he described how costly it is for
them to maintain their couresies (i probably am way off on what this term
is or how it's spelled), but essentially he was talking about how every
F-16 flight is $15k and the cost of dropping munitions, etc, and how they
have to fly with a co-pilot if they haven't flown in 6 mo. v. 1 yr, etc.
Turkey is a country full of contradictions. You see it in everything. For
example, even as the Chief Inspector (who comes from a military
background) was telling me how much he dislikes his boss (the ambassador),
he would refer to the ambassador as his father when we were driving past
the residence and he wanted to show me where 'his father lives'. Another
example -- the air force captain would tell me privately that he is Alevi,
his father is a Kurd, his grandmother was raised by Armenians and his
cousin is a Kurdish Jew, but first and foremost he is always Turkish, no
question. He would try to explain to me how intermarriage between Kurds
and Turks is common, but people dont talk about it. He said specifically
that others in the embassy don't know this about him and asked me not to
say anything about it. Indeed, when we were with the Chief Inspector or
anyone else, the captain would noticeably amplify the anti-Kurdish,
anti-Armenian, pro-Turkish nationalist rhetoric. "There is no such thing
as Armenian genocide", "You know a Kurd? Where? Can I kill him?", etc.
They also dont like the idea of other languages having influence on the
'pure' Turkish language...any similarities to Arabic or Farsi were viewed
as polluting the language. And according to them, the Kurds dont even have
a real language.
Also, dear God, Ataturk is EVERYWHERE. I had never seen such gigantic
statues of Ataturk's face everywhere I walked in that embassy. It's
amazing how much Turks idolize their founding father. The event began with
a historical tribute to him. When people would refer to Ataturk, others
would always correct anyone if they didn't say the full title - Mustafa
Kemal PASHA Ataturk. I saw women wearing huge gold medallions around their
necks with Ataturk's face engraved. The captain told me how he has a
speech by Ataturk on his computer that he listens to that still brings
tears to his eyes and how his mother cries over Ataturk to this day. When
we were driving away from the embassy in the Chief Inspector's car, the CI
was saying 'look to your left, look to your right. what statues do you
see? Washington, Gandhi, Franklin, etc.). he then said, we keep our
Ataturk statues inside the embassy, where is safe and where we can protect
Fascinating culture. Can't wait to go to Turkey.