Ilhan Tanir
Apr 20 2018

Pompeo becoming U.S. secretary of state alarming for Turkey

To gauge U.S. Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo’s stance on Turkey, we can analyse three events.

The first was a tweet Pompeo sent on July 15, 2016, just as the military coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was failing. Pompeo referenced Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had congratulated Erdoğan on surviving what looked to be an assassination attempt during the course of the abortive putsch.

Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s first National Security Advisor and a former lobbyist for the Turkish government, came out in favour of the coup in early hours when it seemed likely to succeed.

But Pompeo lashed out at Erdoğan after the plot failed.

Pompeo

Observing that the outcome of the coup attempt was a win for Erdoğan, Pompeo said the Turkish president had turned his country into an “Islamist totalitarian dictatorship”, and it was not a win for democracy. This tweet was the first indication of Pompeo’s views on the Turkish government.

At the time, Pompeo was an important actor who sat on the House Intelligence Committee in Congress and had access to extensive classified information.

Pompeo was then nominated to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and his tweet was deleted.

Our second point for understanding his stance on Turkey is his choice of Ankara, Turkey’s capital, for his first foreign visit after becoming director of the CIA.

Neither he, nor the CIA made any statement describing what was discussed during the February 2017 visit.

In the four or five public meetings that Pompeo has attended since becoming the director of the CIA, he has not been questioned on why he visited Ankara, nor on the outcome of the trip.

Turkish journalists such as Nedim Şener have argued that after cheering for the coup plotters, Pompeo had visited Ankara to kiss Erdoğan’s hand in apology. This allegation has yet to be confirmed.

Although Pompeo has not discussed his Ankara visit, during an April 2017 meeting held at Washington think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he expressed concerns about Turkey in the lead-up to the constitutional referendum to be held later that month.

Asked if he was “worried about Turkey’s trajectory”, Pompeo answered: “Yes. Turkey is a NATO ally and should behave as such. They should be our partners.”

That statement and continuing few other sentences revealed Pompeo’s general unhappiness with Turkey's direction on that day.

The third indication of Pompeo’s stance on Turkey came last Thursday, during confirmation his hearings in the Senate.

There were not many questions about Turkey during the hearing. Time was limited, and questions about Pompeo’s past seemingly Islamaphobic and homophobic remarks were prioritised, so questions about Turkey policy were not initially brought up. Nevertheless, there were important indications.

First of all, Pompeo’s confirmation by the Senate is not guaranteed.

According to CNN, two Democrats on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will not vote in favour of Pompeo. Republican Rand Paul has also announced that he will vote against the nominee.

If one of these Senators does not change their mind, Pompeo might not get out of the Foreign Relations Committee. A possible scenario, albeit unlikely, is for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take Pompeo’s confirmation out of committee and put it directly to the Senate floor for a vote.

With Paul’s no vote, as well as Senator John McCain’s absence due to cancer treatment, Pompeo must convince at least one Democrat to support his nomination. Considering how difficult it is for senators to change their positions on these matters, Pompeo faces a daunting challenge.

In order to secure his confirmation, Pompeo could give politically expedient answers to additional questions in the Senate, including about Turkey.

After Senator Bob Menendez questioned Pompeo about a photograph of Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it is expected that some members of Congress will pose additional questions on Turkey.

Pompeo’s description of the Ankara meeting as an effort to carve up Syria conveyed his distrust of Turkey’s intentions. For the first time since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, a high-level U.S. official questioned Turkey’s Syria intentions and accused an ally of dividing Syria.

The previous secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, for example, never criticised Ankara this severely.

Pompeo is an Evangelical Christian, just like American Pastor Andrew Brunson who has been jailed in Turkey for more than 18 months. As a conservative who has participated in missionary work, Pompeo’s discomfort with Brunson’s condition is evident.

Finally, there is a bill to classify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation that Pompeo co-sponsored. Many see Erdoğan as the unofficial leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in the Middle East.

The prospect of Pompeo’s confirmation getting stuck in the Senate is likely to make Ankara very happy.