Candidates expected to be nominated for U.S. President Barack Obama’s new Cabinet are likely to please Ankara, as the president prepares to be inaugurated for his second term.
“Hope the president nominates Chuck Hagel quickly. Hagel has, as you know, a huge appreciation for what Turkey means strategically to the U.S.” one of the Hagel’s close friends told Hürriyet about the candidacy of the former U.S. senator from Nebraska and the chairman of the Atlantic Council for defense secretary.
There are three major positions in Obama’s national security team in the second term, which will affect U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations even on a daily basis: secretary of state, defense secretary and national security adviser. If it is a 3-round boxing match, it is safe to say that Turkey won the first round, and is about to win the second round in terms of having a friend on the inside.
John Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was the first round. His alternative was Susan Rice, a longtime friend of Obama and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. With her outspoken style, liberal stance and her record at the U.N., Rice has always been seen as a risk by Turkish diplomats for relations with the U.S. “It could make us very nervous to watch her dealing with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu,” a Turkish diplomat told Hürriyet.
After Kerry, whose office door at Russell Senate Building has been always open to Turks even during times of crisis such as the vote in the U.N. Security Council on sanctions against Iran in which the Turks said no, and the Mavi Marmara incident, no one is expecting a surprise.
“When President Obama nominated John Kerry, who represents the more Turkey-friendly wing within the Democrats, I believed Turkish-U.S. relations would be much better with him as the head of the State Department than they were in the Obama-Clinton era,” Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Anatolia news agency.
Hagel is the second round. As if Obama were discussing his second-term Cabinet with Turks, he is also kind of pro-Turk, as his close friend told Hürriyet, with his sympathy toward Atatürk.
Of course, it could change. An administration official told National Journal last weekend that it was “fair” to say the president is considering candidates other than Hagel now; after harsh criticism especially due to his controversial comments on Israel, Hagel might stay at his think tank post.
When Lindsey Graham, an influential senator, said, “I don’t think he’s going to get many Republican votes,” and even a Democrat such as Senator Chuck Schumer was hesitant about him, saying he’d have to study his record before throwing his support behind him, it is fair to say Hagel’s path to the Pentagon is very rough.
But when it comes to the question who else if it is not Hagel, you have Michelle Flournoy on your short list. When you question Flournoy’s approach to Turkey, a candidate more balanced since being a woman would be an advantage for her after Hillary Clinton left her post and whose campaign background would help her for the position since there is no one else from the campaign in the Cabinet, here is the answer. This is her speech at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte on Sept. 4, 2012, upon a question from Hürriyet.
“This administration has seen a democratic Turkey, a rising Turkey, Turkey with more influence in the region as a very important strategic partner. I would hope there would be bipartisan consensus around that strategic understanding of Turkey’s new role.”