A self-proclaimed Trump and Erdoğan insider tells a tale of fear and falsehood
There is little mystery about Erbil Gunasti’s perspective on U.S.-Turkey relations. His new book, “GameChanger: Trump Card: Turkey & Erdogan”, is a typo-ridden, rambling work arguing that only President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey can ensure the United States is successful in its foreign policy objectives.
Gunasti, who was then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s press officer from 2002 to 2007, and his life partner, Daphne Barak, are long-time supporters of President Donald Trump, representing him as delegates at the 2016 Republican Party Convention.
In the book’s preface, Gunasti writes that he “will have joined [Trump’s] administration by the time this book is published.” So far, he has not been appointed to any U.S. government position.
It is hard, however, to take Gunasti’s proclaimed expertise on the book’s content seriously given it contains more than a whiff of plagiarism. Whole pages of “GameChanger” are copied and pasted directly from articles published in outlets including Reuters, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Guardian and many more without any credit given to the authors of these direct quotes.
Locating the duplicated quotes is easy given Gunasti does provide the web links to the articles in footnotes, but in most cases he does not even bother to use quotation marks or indents when he copies entire paragraphs of other individuals’ writing. The book’s content holds up no better than the poor quality of its writing.
With Trump and his supporters as the target audience for the book, Gunasti plays on fears of Muslim migration, blames President Barak Obama and his predecessors for all of the United States’ travails, both real and imagined, and touts Turkey’s big things: Istanbul’s huge airport, the country’s thousands of railway miles, its growing defence industry, and the millions of tourists it attracts.
“GameChanger” shifts back and forth between boasting of Turkey’s strengths and incanting the Erdoğan administration’s litany of grievances with the West. The book either omits Ankara’s own transgressions, or paints them as legitimate, and even beneficial.
It asserts that Turkey’s geopolitical attributes and steadfast political will make it a “domineering regional power” with leverage over its neighbours in the Middle East, the eastern Mediterranean, and Central Asia, as well as Russia and China.
Gunasti is right that Turkey is endowed with a unique geostrategic location that it can use to its advantage. Russia has been eager to send natural gas to Europe via Turkey, China has incorporated Turkey into its Belt and Road Initiative, and the United States has long sought Turkey’s cooperation on counterterrorism and stability operations in the Middle East.
Beyond these oversimplified facts, however, much of Gunasti’s halting narrative distorts reality and parrots Erdoğan talking points. Even when addressing problems that Turkey can legitimately argue the West does not fully appreciate, he fails to illuminate reality.
On issues like the U.S. support for Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkey’s stalled EU accession process, Gunasti bashes the United States and the EU for their stupidity without bothering to outline the actual facts that explain why Turkey has genuine grievances with their actions.
Much of the rest of the book discards serious discussion entirely to traffic in conspiracy theories. On the subject of the Middle East, Gunasti employs fierce criticisms of “globalists” including the last three U.S. presidents. He writes repeatedly that Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. troops as a part of the global coalition to fight ISIS was a “political hit job” designed to “weaponise Syria against Trump.”
Leading the global coalition, the U.S.’s Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) was initiated in 2014 to achieve the territorial defeat of ISIS, long before Trump announced his candidacy for President. That goal was not achieved until March 2019 and OIR continues to this day to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, despite the partial withdrawal ordered by Trump last October on the eve of Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria.
Turning to the eastern Mediterranean, Gunasti repeatedly asserts the Erdoğan talking point that Turkey controls and has legal rights to much of the sea’s natural resources. He criticises the Republic of Cyprus for “unilaterally declaring” oil and gas exploration zones and calls the UN hypocritical for not recognising the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which he brags Turkey was able to single-handedly create.
However, the idea that Cyprus has acted unilaterally in contravention of international law is farcical. Cyprus, which is an internationally recognised member of the UN, has treaties with Egypt, Israel, and Lebanon delineating their maritime borders and the support of the EU for its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
None of that really matters though according to Gunasti, because Turkey’s massive naval military exercises prove it has laid claim to much of the seas around it and the West is in no position to oppose Turkish dictates in the region. In fact, Turkey is largely isolated in regional affairs.
To evidence Turkey’s preponderance of power, Gunasti claims that “of the 200 surface warships that are present in this semi-closed sea, 90 percent of them, including half that belong to the Western European powers, are in contention with the U.S. Navy.”
He goes on to write that “The European Union started to build its own navy under PETCO. To many its main adversary is a NATO that is under U.S. leadership, rather than any of the Eastern powers.” Among the book’s many typos, “PETCO” refers to the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which is a part of the EU’s security and defence policy.
It is true that renewed interest among EU states in pursuing structural integration of their military capabilities is somewhat prompted by uncertainty over the future of NATO, inspired in no small part by Trump’s ambivalent stance on the alliance.
However, security problems in the EU neighbourhood, including the Syrian and Libyan civil wars and their ensuing migration crises, are the primary motivations behind the activation of PESCO by 25 of the EU’s now 27 members in 2017.
Gunasti fixates often on the threat of migration to Europe. He asserts that Turkey has “saved Europe twice from a total annihilation” by stemming the flow of millions of refugees.
Painting Erdoğan as the leader of the Muslim ummah, Gunasti says Turkey can be a “pressure valve” to the immediate benefit of “Christian white Western Europeans” whose civilisation could be destroyed by the “avalanche” of “illegal refugees” headed for Europe.
Tapping into xenophobic fears among Trump’s base and similar ultra-nationalist movements in Europe, Gunasti suggests Turkey can either be the saviour of Western civilisation or it can use its geostrategic position to open the floodgates of destabilizing migration.
To undergird his claim that Turkey is a major power that the United States and EU need more than it needs them, Gunasti write repeatedly that by 2030 the United States will only be the third largest economy in the world and Turkey will rise to become the fifth largest, eclipsing Germany, Britain and France.
A study by PwC Global does project that the United States will be the third largest economy by 2050, but does not even place Turkey in the top 10. It does project Turkey will overtake France, but not Germany or Britain.
Overall, PwC does concur with Gunasti’s broader claim that emerging economies will reshuffle the G7’s economic power, but it cautions that for this to occur, “emerging economies need to enhance their institutions and their infrastructure significantly if they are to realise their long-term growth potential.”
Furthermore, Gunasti claims Turkey is already essentially a top five military power, but the 2020 Military Strength Ranking places Turkey outside the top ten globally, with regional rival Egypt ranked higher in ninth place.
Paul Iddon’s reporting for Ahval demonstrates that although Turkey has developed its indigenous military-industrial sector with some success, in key power projection areas including its navy and advanced fighter jets progress has been limited.
What “GameChanger” makes most clear are the roots of Trump’s affinity for Erdoğan, underpinned by authoritarian impulses on a wide range of issues. The pair may be predisposed to cooperate on many consequential matters, but if left free to impose their shared visions this cooperation would chiefly benefit them politically at the expense of their countries’ security and economic interests.
There are far better books available that provide nuanced explanations of Turkey’s legitimate grievances with the Western powers, accurate depictions of Turkey’s strengths and weaknesses, and balanced interrogation of the calamities Ankara is responsible for. “GameChanger” provides no such forthright analysis.