WASHINGTON, DC – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a nomination hearing on September 28 for former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona to be the next nominee for the position of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey. During the hearing, the Senate committee members pressed Ambassador-designate Flake on several issues, including: Turkey’s aggression against Cyprus, Greece, and Armenia; Armenian genocide recognition, democratic backsliding within Turkey, Turkey’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, and Turkey’s repression of minorities.
Ambassador-designate Flake affirmed that he would recognize the Armenian genocide, despite his previous votes in the Unites States Senate against genocide recognition. In addition, he asserted his opposition to Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system and stated: “any purchase of additional Russian weapons will result in additional sanctions.” Flake also said that he rejected Turkey’s vision of a “two-state” solution regarding Cyprus.
However, Ambassador-designate Flake undermined the positive statements he made by expressing a problematic and outdated viewpoint about Turkey, epitomized by the following statement during his hearing, in which he described Turkey as an “indispensable ally, anchored in NATO and acting as both a bridge and a buffer to a region in constant flux. Our national interest is served when the United States and Turkey work together to confront the very real threats to global peace and security that emanate from Russia, Iran, and elsewhere in the wider region.”
Ambassador-designate Flake, in his statement, echoes a Cold War perspective in which Turkey had been viewed as a western-oriented ally acting as a bulwark against Soviet (Russian) expansionism. However, such thinking has no relevance to today’s geo-political reality, and is completely antiquated. Unlike during the Cold War, Turkey is currently a purveyor of Russian influence, most notably through its acquisition of Russian S-400 systems, which threatens NATO cohesion. Furthermore, Turkey is undermining Europe by promoting its dependence on Russian energy through its Turkstream pipeline, a great concern in light of Nordstream 2. In addition, Turkey is not assisting the United States to counter Iran, as Flake suggests. Rather, Turkey has been actively assisting the Iranians evade U.S. sanctions, including through institutions such as Halkbank.
“By labelling Turkey an ‘indispensable ally,’ Ambassador-designate Flake is expressing a Cold War mantra that is completely out of step with contemporary trends in the Eastern Mediterranean,” AHI President Nick Larigakis said. “This includes the efforts of the United States to invest in more reliable alternative security relationships in the region, as demonstrated by the ‘3+1’ partnership between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus, in conjunction with the United States. President Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman and radical Islamist posture negates Turkey from being a reliable, dependable security partner for the United States. Most importantly, by labelling Turkey ‘indispensable,’ Ambassador-designate Flake is giving away up front the negotiating power and leverage needed to hold Turkey accountable on a variety of issues.”
Larigakis added: “We strongly urge Ambassador-designate Flake to update his perspective on Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean to reflect current realities.”