Newt’s Turkey Baloney

Gingrich’s flimsy claim that the French call the shots in Ankara.

On April 22, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow, denouncing the State Department for “six months of diplomatic failure” that preceded military victory in Iraq. Among these failures, Gingrich cited a diplomatic “communications program” that “failed … to such a degree that 95 percent of the Turkish people opposed the American position.” While Foggy Bottom remained “ineffective and incoherent,” Gingrich charged,

The French launched a worldwide campaign to undermine the American position and make the replacement of the Saddam dictatorship very difficult. This included twisting Turkish arms to block a vote in favor of the United States using Turkish soil to create a northern front [italics Chatterbox’s].

Reading over the speech text, Chatterbox stopped and puzzled over this passage. The French had clearly campaigned energetically (and very annoyingly) to block approval of the Iraq invasion by the U.N. Security Council. But Chatterbox was unaware that the French had also influenced the Turkish parliament’s decision to keep U.S. troops off Turkish soil. If true, this French arm-twisting would be somewhat scandalous, since for Turkey the troop decision was an internal matter (albeit one with international ramifications). Gingrich’s allegation hadn’t surfaced in the press, and a well-wired French reporter whom Chatterbox consulted had no idea what Gingrich was talking about. So Chatterbox decided to put the question to Gingrich himself. On what did he base his matter-of-fact claim that the French were behind Turkey’s decision to keep American troops out of Turkey?

Chatterbox asked various Gingrich aides at AEI and elsewhere. No one had a ready answer. Chatterbox also sent Gingrich an e-mail. Earlier today, Chatterbox received the following reply:

Dear Mr. Noah:Thank you for your comments.Here is a link to my full remarks.,filter./news_detail.aspRegards,
Newt Gingrich

This answer struck Chatterbox as incomplete, so he made one last phone call to Gingrich’s AEI office. Eventually, Gingrich’s press spokesman, Rick Tyler, called back to say, “I can’t name the source. I can only characterize it.” Tyler then proceeded to describe Gingrich’s informant. “It’s someone the speaker knows,” Tyler said, “a Middle East expert, who has friends in the Turkish government going back 30 and 40 years. Highly reliable. Other than that you’ll have to take his word for it.”

Gingrich, then, is accusing the French of meddling in Turkish affairs based on a second-hand account from someone he refuses to identify. He does not appear to have made any independent effort to confirm what he was told. No reputable news editor would agree to publish, as fact, so incendiary a charge on such a flimsy basis. Possibly a newspaper or magazine would print it with some sort of caveat emptor characterization of where the information came from, such as, “according to a source close to the Turkish government.” But apparently they don’t require that sort of hedge at Washington’s most influential think tank.

Maybe the French (who have been extremely snotty about letting Turkey into the European Union) really did twist arms in Ankara. (Chatterbox would be glad to hear from anyone who can confirm Gingrich’s claim.) But there’s a much simpler explanation why Ankara would refuse our request to base troops in southern Turkey. As noted above, Gingrich said in the same speech that 95 percent of the Turkish population opposed the Iraq war. Perhaps Gingrich is right that this was Colin Powell’s fault. No matter whose fault it was, though, France—if it did twist—wouldn’t have needed to twist very hard. Gingrich can blame Powell for Turkey’s intransigence, or he can blame France. But he can’t blame both.

[Update, April 25: Chatterbox is ready to hazard a guess at who Gingrich’s “Middle East expert” is: Michael Ledeen. Unbeknownst to Chatterbox, Ledeen has been peddling the “France (and Germany) pressured Ankara” line since late March in the New York Sun  and National Review Online. Ledeen holds the “Freedom Chair” at AEI, so more than likely he passed this wisdom onto Gingrich over a plate of trout amandine in the AEI dining room.]