Shortly after the Wikileaks story broke, exposing more documents from the US embassy in Ankara than any other country, one of my Turkish acquaintances observed that "Turkey is very important to America because it is the leader of the Muslim world." I agreed with that. Then he added conspiratorially, "Did you know that America has 5,000 spies in Turkey?" I doubt that, I said. Maybe there are 5,000 US soldiers at Incirlik Air Base near Adana in the south of Turkey, and maybe 1,500 Americans at NATO's Izmir Air Base on the Aegean Coast, but they are soldiers, not spies. I am sure the US embassy in Ankara and consulates in Istanbul and Adana employ a few hundred people. "What would 5,000 spies DO in Turkey?" I asked.
"Well...some of them are writers, like yourself," my acquaintance said, staring at me with a look of bemusement, curiosity, and maybe a little bit of naive suspicion that I might be a spy. I had to laugh, as if "posing" as an English teacher at three Turkish schools would put me in a position to learn sensitive and secret information of interest to the US government. I don't think so.
"So I could actually get paid big bucks to make observations about Turkey that aren't really worthy of secrecy?" I asked.
Yeah, I could probably write cables as well-informed or as poorly informed as some of the documents revealed by Wikileaks. I generally believe that in this age of information overload, there is far more significant information in the public domain than gleaned from so-called spies. The problem is not enough analysts to make sense of it all. (Click for my full observations on Wikileaks.)
One also has to ask, in this post-Cold War world, what would "spies" in allied countries actually do? In these days of Google, it seems that "spying" is far less important than it used to be. There just aren't many secrets left.
Indeed, despite the initial sensationalistic hype that diplomatic cables exposed by Wikileaks would contain explosive information gravely damaging US-Turkish relations, nothing released so far about Turkey, when read in context, is shocking or even very surprising. The diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks provide some good and some bad analysis, some rumors and some unsubstantiated allegations, some reasons for embarrassment by mostly former diplomats, but not much that changes the fundamental relationship between Turkey and the US.
- Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post had a provocative analysis, "How Wikileaks cables capture 21st century Turkey," complete with hyperlinks to the original cables. Turkey used to be "an authoritarian state that reliably lined up with the West," he wrote. Now, it is an emerging democracy "with a booming economy and big geopolitical ambitions."
- For excerpts from the most insightful cables about Turkey released by Wikileaks, Reuters published excerpts under the headline, "Wikileaks shows US trying to understand Islam in Turkey."
- Der Speigal takes a more jaundiced view of US cables on Turkey: "America's Dark View of Erdogan."
- "The Long Twilight of US-Turkey Alliance," by David Kenner at ForeignPolicy.com. Yes, Turkey is growing far more independent of US influence, as I wrote myself.
- "US-Turkey Relations Improve," a classified document from 2006 outlining areas of cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey that were strained by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.