The US is concerned about its NATO ally Turkey. Embassy dispatches portray Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a power-hungry Islamist surrounded by corrupt and incompetent ministers. Washington no longer believes that the country will ever join the European Union.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the most important Muslim ally of the United States. On coming into office he promised a democratic Islam -- a vision that could have become a model for other countries in the region.
But if the US dispatches are to be believed, Turkey is far from realizing that vision. Erdogan? A power-hungry Islamist. His ministers? Incompetent, uneducated and some of them corrupt. The government? Divided. The opposition? Ridiculous.
US diplomats have sent thousands of reports from Ankara to Washington in the past 31 years. Recent documents, though, are merciless. They convey an image of Turkey which is at odds with almost everything the US government has officially said about the country.
First and foremost, the US distrusts Erdogan. A dispatch dated May 2005 says that he has never had a realistic worldview. Erdogan, the document says, thinks he was chosen by God to lead Turkey and likes to present himself as the "Tribune of Anatolia."
US diplomats claim that Erdogan gets almost all of his information from Islamist-leaning newspapers -- analysis from his ministries, they say, is of no interest to him. The military, the second largest among NATO member states, and the secret service no longer send him some of their reports. He trusts nobody completely, the dispatches say, and surrounds himselves with "an iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors." Despite his bravado, he is said to be terrified of losing his grip on power. One authority on Erdogan told the Americans: "Tayyip believes in God ... but doesn't trust him."
Erdogan took office as prime minister in 2003, two years after having founded his party, the Islamic-conservative AKP. During the campaign Erdogan announced his intention to tackle corruption.
Since 2004, however, informants have been telling US diplomats in Turkey of corruption at all levels, even within the Erdogan family. None of the accusations have been proven -- it could be that the informants merely want to denigrate the premier. But their reports help shape the Americans' image of Turkey -- and as such they are devastating.
The rumors sound outrageous. A senior government advisor is said to have confided to a journalist that Erdogan enriched himself from the privatization of a state oil refinery. Furthermore, a source within the Ministry of Energy told the US that the prime minister pressured the Iranians to ink a gas pipeline deal with a Turkish company owned by an old schoolmate of his. The deal surprised observers: the company builds ports, but has little experience in the energy business. Two unnamed US sources claim that Erdogan presides over eight Swiss bank accounts.
Erdogan's party, the AKP, vehemently denies all allegations. And the premier says he acquired his wealth in the form of gifts presented by guests at his son's wedding. Furthermore, he says, a Turkish businessman is paying for his four children to study in the US. The American Embassy sees such explanations as "lame."