Foreign Minister Cavusoglu: Turkey’s Chief Spin Doctor

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Turkey’s relentless quest to secure the extradition of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen involves a tangled web of formal and informal efforts, something that frequently places Ankara in an awkward spot and legally uncharted territory.

Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman with deep roots in the U.S. and a close associate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently faced charges over obscuring the real nature of his business dealings with Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn and for lying to federal authorities about his lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government.

Prosecutors’ charges against Alptekin in the indictment against Flynn was accepted by a court in Alexandria, Virginia, in December. The new development certainly portends a protracted headache for the Turkish businessman ahead. His involvement in a scheme to spirit Gulen from the U.S. through illegal methods did not escape the attention of the law enforcement and he now ended up in a legal indictment that would forever hover as a potential trap for the rest of his life.

Bijan Kian who appeared at a federal court in Alexandria for the same case was accused of conspiring with Alptekin to illegally influence government officials and public opinion against cleric Gulen.

But what followed after, especially in Turkey, was a case study for the feat of media manipulation at the utmost level. To cloak the charges against Alptekin and its potential legal implications from the public view, the Turkish government deftly engineered a manipulative act of great proportions.

What the Turkish public was talking was not Alptekin’s legal peril but how, thanks to “the pressure” from Ankara, the U.S. law enforcement began to mass arrests of Gulen sympathizers in various cities across the U.S. This was the theme nurtured and aired on Turkish TVs relentlessly last month. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was the steward of that media campaign. He tweeted that F.B.I. agents arrested several Gulen people in New Jersey. The F.B.I., Cavusoglu added in a jubilant tone, took steps for arrests in 15 states across the U.S.

He did not display any need to disclose the source of his information. The social media was swept with a sense of frenzy after the news. But people affiliated with Gulen community and other impartial observers struggled to confirm the news, with F.B.I., in line with its usual media policy, neither confirming nor denying the Turkish claims.

A week after that episode, Cavusoglu finally disclosed his source: the Turkish citizens living in New Jersey. The foreign minister of Turkey who created a media sensation in Turkey over alleged F.B.I. arrest wave against Gulen people across the U.S. cited ordinary Turkish-Americans for his Twitter remarks of the previous week. His detached and aloof manners regarding the accuracy of his claims demonstrate the extent how senior Turkish leaders pay scant attention to the truth.

The global repudiation of truth, the resurgence of alternative facts and the relentless assault on basic facts of life create a quandary for truth-seeking people. Cavusoglu is not the only politician who cares little about the truthfulness of what he says. But his willingness to take part in a new generation of political leaders whose relations with the truth is something of a perennial war woefully reveals what is in store for Turkey’s people in the years ahead. They live under a constant bombardment of the Erdogan media’s unabashed lies and endless manipulative stories. And Turkey’s top diplomat simply shows no scruples in acting as Ankara’s chief spin doctor.

Turkey’s traditional diplomacy and its elite bureaucracy have tremendously suffered politicization and new ideological indoctrination during the AKP era, especially over the past few years. Though Turkey’s foreign ministry was never free of flaws or shortcomings during the long Republican period, it has never been rendered dysfunctional and inefficient at this level. And the folly and institutional maladies are certainly of the government’s own making. The tragedy of Turkey’s diplomacy springs from the government’s domestic policies and Erdogan’s political transformation. Consequently, the dereliction of duty displayed by several diplomats abroad is directly linked to the decay of institutional culture and fraying structure within the foreign ministry where political loyalties trump meritocracy and personal achievements.

No one other than Mevlut Cavusoglu better embodies this steady decay in Turkey’s once elite diplomatic circles and institutions. A new breed of self-serving diplomats eagerly craves the esteem and approval of President Erdogan and his government. This show of political fealty replaces their expected commitment to professional ethics and spirit that normally define the major contours of Turkey’s diplomacy and its institutions. AKP’s own political agenda, however, now sets the tone and discourse of Turkey’s diplomats serving abroad. The crackdown on Erdogan opponents has global repercussions as well. And one of the fallouts of this domestic crushing in the external realm is that diplomats are now entrusted with the task of legitimizing and explaining Erdogan’s quest to hammer his political rivals

For his own part, Cavusoglu proved to be a loyal lieutenant of the president who now, more than any institution, personifies the Turkish state in his own personality and image. But of all his acts and political undertakings, Cavusoglu left an indelible mark in Turkish foreign policy with a major thing: He achieved to a be Turkish official, someone who was denied by the U.S. government more than anyone else for his groundless and false remarks. The foreign minister may have no qualm for self-abasement. But his lack of interest for the notion of truth taints the integrity and credibility of the country he is chosen to serve. This is not about just himself. This is about the country, Turkey, to which he took an oath to serve in dignity.

The U.S. rebuked him maybe for more than a dozen times. He sees little problem in repeating lies, telling endless whoppers or crafting false remarks. This unscrupulous behavior encapsulates a broader pattern that has become ethos of the current government in Ankara. The Machiavellian approach to politics is best characterized by its treatment of truth. In the personality of Cavusoglu, the government dethroned the truth from its esteemed place in the social and public imagination, untethered it from morality. This divorce grants a broad license to senior members of the Turkish administration to unrestrainedly indulge in “alternative facts” for the sake of the country’s (the ruling party’s) interests. Cavusoglu, acting as AKP’s chief spin doctor, only carries out his duty and in perfect fashion.

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