Washington’s Stockholm Syndrome | eKathimerini.com
US President Joe Biden (right) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) during the NATO summit in Madrid on June 29, 2022. The author claims the US government has developed Stockholm Syndrome in this Regarding Turkey, adding the actions resulting from this are indicative of a massive political failure, which must be rectified immediately. [Susan Walsh/AP]
Over the past five years, US-Turkish relations have been characterized by a constant attempt at “hostage diplomacy” by Ankara. Turkey has been criticized in the pages of every major American newspaper for this cynical tactic and for applying it to everything from Pastor Andrew Brunson to State Department employees, to Incirlik Air Base, to the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO. But just in time for Sweden’s NATO membership, a devastating effect of this constant use of “hostage diplomacy” was uncovered: the US government developed Stockholm Syndrome.
In 1973, a six-day hostage situation in a Swedish bank led to the psychological diagnosis known as “Stockholm syndrome”. One of the best hospitals in the world – the Cleveland Clinic – defines this syndrome as “a coping mechanism in a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings towards their captors or abusers over time.
The “over time” caveat is important in the case of US-Turkish relations. Ankara’s ability to hold US foreign policy hostage has grown over the past 70 years, since its geography made it a key chess piece in great power politics. This geopolitical advantage has allowed Turkey to escape serious consequences for a whole series of transgressions ranging from constant episodes of dictatorship, human rights violations, genocide denial, repression of religious freedom and of an occupation of Cyprus for five decades.
To be fair to those suffering from Washington’s version of Stockholm Syndrome, imagine YOUR education contained heavy doses of Halford John Mackinder’s vision of geopolitics, which over-emphasizes Turkey’s geographical advantages. Then spend decades working in a system where Turkey constantly borders America’s enemies/adversaries (including the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, and Syria) and provides enduring assets to confront to these adversaries (for example, Incirlik Air Base). And while today’s realities are very different, imagine a time when the pro-Israel community and corporate America were part of the “pro-Turkey lobby” and when today’s trusted strategic partners and allies in region were either formally non-aligned (Cyprus) or so anti-American that the importance of Souda Bay was glossed over (Greece).
This is all meant to provide an explanation — not an excuse — for Washington’s Stockholm Syndrome victims. However, the actions that result from this syndrome are indicative of a massive political failure, which must be rectified immediately.
Some bureaucratic solutions can be implemented easily and can put the United States on the path to better policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. For starters, stop treating Turkey as “too big to fail”. During the US financial crisis, that’s what the Obama administration did with some financial institutions, and inadvertently made them BIGGER and made the economy more vulnerable to the fate of those institutions.
How to avoid a similar result vis-à-vis Turkey? A quick survey of State Department personnel would suggest that the “Turkey office” at the state is too large in comparison with other Eastern Mediterranean countries. This bureaucratic presence in effect gives Turkey a “lobby” within the State Department, the size of which is totally undeserved by a country that has become at best – as Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations put it – ” Neither friend nor foe.” ”
Existing staff in the Turkey office and their superiors must also overcome their (well-deserved) reputation for selecting the experts in Turkey they consult. I am not suggesting that the state consult Greek or Armenian Americans, or Greek diplomats and analysts. However, the universe of Turkey experts in Washington is vast, and it is an open secret that the state avoids most of Turkey’s strident criticism.
Finally, having a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with jurisdiction over the Aegean Sea, Eastern Mediterranean AND the Caucuses is discouraged, no matter how good that official is. This geographic jurisdiction puts Turkey at the epicenter, and any DAS with such jurisdiction – and with a disproportionate Turkish office – will constantly try to accommodate Ankara. In the previous administration, DAS’s jurisdiction was the Balkans/Eastern Mediterranean – a jurisdiction that allowed for a more positive agenda and, in fact, achieved much more positive results.
President Joe Biden’s public messages regarding F-16s to Turkey were the exclamation point for this Stockholm syndrome – and lest anyone suggest that this syndrome is partisan in nature, Biden’s position was reminiscent of lobbying President Donald Trump’s open for Turkey to receive F-35s. Although bureaucratic solutions can take some time, public signals from key political leaders – especially elected ones – must be addressed immediately.
The consistent, bipartisan tradition of refusing to publicly catalog what Turkey needs to do to restore its alliance with Washington has run its course. President Biden may insist there was no quid pro quo when it came to the F-16s, but his failure to respond that such a sale violates the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and threatens stability in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean undermines its credibility.
Stockholm Syndrome became part of the popular American lexicon in 1974 when newspaper heiress Patty Hearst used it as a defense for crimes she committed while aiding the Symbionese Liberation Army, with whom she began to sympathize while being held captive. Lower-level State Department officials may look like Swedish bank hostages, but if F-16s are transferred to Turkey (which has already demonstrated a propensity to use its existing F-16s to commit crimes – ET said his intent to commit additional crimes with F-16) President Biden and Secretary Antony Blinken risk becoming Patty Hearst’s version of American foreign policy.
Endy Zemenides is Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.