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What A Turkey!

Author: Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
August 5, 2014


If Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were an American politician, he would be an excellent candidate for one of Chris Cillizza's "Worst Week in Washington" features. First, on Friday, July 19, a day after the State Department spokesperson criticized him for his frequent invocation of the Nazis to describe Israel's behavior, Erdogan asked, "What do Americans know about Hitler?" Given that almost 200,000 young Americans died fighting in Europe during WWII, quite a lot, actually. Second, in an open and embarrassing display of just how far the cult of Erdogan's personality has gone, the 60-year-old prime minister appeared in a friendly soccer match—wearing a bright orange uniform—and miraculously scored three goals in 15 minutes to the collective delirium of announcers, fans and opposing players from the Istanbul Basaksehir club. (It was a bit of a disappointment that he did not pull off his jersey in triumph after the hat trick; it would have given the growing Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin comparisons an additional element of absurdity.) Third, the American Jewish Congress demanded that Erdogan return the "Profiles in Courage" award the organization bestowed upon him in 2004 for his commitment to protect Turkish Jewry, combat terrorism and forge peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. The prime minister—who is also a recipient of the Muammar al-Qaddafi prize for human rights—was, in the words of Turkey's ambassador in Washington, "glad" to return the honor. Finally, Cillizza's colleague at the Washington Post, Richard Cohen, penned a column about Erdogan's "Hitler fetish," wondering whether the Turkish prime minister had lost his marbles.

So, is Erdogan crazy? No self-respecting psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker would offer an assessment from afar. Putting world leaders on the couch is passé except at the CIA—and whatever the analysts at Langley conclude does not much matter in the places where policy is made, especially when it comes to Erdogan. The White House and the State Department would prefer not to rock the boat with the Turkish leader—a man President Obama once included among the world leaders with whom he had a "bond of trust" —for fear of what he might do to put American and Turkish interests at risk.

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