Like any prospective new Ambassador, the much-travelled John Bass has to have his nomination confirmed by a Senate Committee. As he has now been nominated to serve in Turkey, he has had to face the usual questions. Unfortunately for him, and the rest of the world, one of the committee members is Senator John McCain, who represents either Arizona or the manufacturers and suppliers of illegal arms to terrorists, depending on whether you have read the list of his campaign contributors or not.
As an ambassador, Bass is obliged to foster good relations between the US and the countries he serves in, not foment hostility. Yet Senator McCain repeatedly asked him whether or not Turkey was drifting towards authoritarianism, in order to give him a stick to beat Turkey with. Bass did his best to be diplomatic and evade the question, but McCain continued to press for a direct answer.
This is the same John McCain who appears in all the world’s trouble spots saying how much “we” (he is a Republican and not a member of the US Democratic Party government) support the struggle of one armed group or another. Strangely enough, those groups then start using American weapons, made and supplied by people who fund McCain’s campaigns, which they have no legal right to obtain.
It is therefore obvious why McCain wants something to use against the Turkish government, with the PKK and many similar groups pursuing separatist causes in various parts of that country. Seeing he had no way out, Bass did eventually suggest that Turkey might be drifting towards authoritarianism. He will therefore be going there to take on the authoritarian Turkish government, regardless of the official US position on Turkey. But should he have been put in such a position, by someone who isn’t part of the US government, before he has even taken office and seen conditions on the ground for himself?
What McCain won’t say
Ambassador John Bass knows only too well than there is more than a drift towards authoritarianism in Turkey today. He is also aware thatthe US-created ISIS, the brainchild of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command, plans to destabilise the region and set up a Kurdish State in Northern Iraq with US support. This will obviously impact upon Turkey, whose own Kurdish minority has been demanding a similar state for several generations. Any US criticism of Turkey is encouragement of its internal separatist groups, and Bass knows this.
The US has supported the PKK for a number of years, collecting intelligence and waiting for the time it can use a trusted friend in the region to fulfil its objectives. The Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, are well-trained but doesn’t have friends in Iraq proper:it has been protected until now in its own enclave, set up with the help of the Americans.The no fly zone established prior to the invasion of Iraq was an attempt to keep suspicious planes away from this enclave, because that is where the zone was. Exactly the same support has been given to ISIS, which is now slaughtering Kurds and Christians in northern Iraq.
At the end of June ISIS declared the establishment of the Islamic State, which does not only include parts of Iraq but also Syria. As the US is losing ground in Syria this divides that country and enables US forces to withdraw to the new state with some dignity, sending troops to die for the US fighting troops inserted and trained by the US.
Drawing the Turkish Kurds into this equation would stabilise this new country as a truly representative Kurdistan. But the US needs an excuse to steal territory from an ally to suit itself, and accusing the Turkish government of authoritarianism is the start of one. When such accusations come not from the government itself, but an opposition Senator, this makes them not political but an expression of common knowledge, making it all the easier to lop off chunks of Turkey in the name of democracy.
John McCain is known for objecting to what he sees as political appointments to diplomatic posts. Back in February he objected to the appointment of Ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, who exposed his ignorance of Norway by praising its non-existent president and agreeing with the non-existent US denunciation of the Progress Party, which is part of the Norwegian government. He also objected to Colleen Bell, Obama’s nominee as Ambassador to Hungary, who is best known as a TV soap opera producer.
However none of this applies to John Bass. He is a career diplomat who has worked in the region before and knows better than McCain what is going on there. The problem McCain has with him is exactly the opposite: not that he knows too little, but that he knows too much.
If roles were reversed, and Bass was on a committee approving nominations for Senator, he might well ask McCain about the abundance of photographs, videos and other evidence which shows himhanging out with groups he now calls terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Much of this evidence is mysteriously disappearing from Youtube and other sites, and is not being removed by the users who put it there. This is somewhat ironic, given that restricting access to social media is one of the Turkish government actions John McCain described as authoritarian.
Whether McCain is a fit and proper person to be a US Senator in the light of this evidence, which could easily see him prosecuted under a raft of security and anti-terror legislation, is rather more of a concern than what Bass thinks about the Turkish government. The attempt to put Bass in a corner is an attempt to both deflect such questions and prevent Bass answering them by attacking McCain’s own credibility.
What Bass himself won’t say
If McCain wanted to object to Bass he does have grounds. As stated in a previous article, Bass has well-established links with engineering, oil and security companies which suddenly become defence contractors in the countries he serves in. These have then played a part in ensuring forcible regime change and conducting illegal arms shipments. Is appointing him the message the US wants to send to Turkey and its government, particularly when he is also forced to declare that that government has something wrong with it before he even arrives?
But this was of no concern to McCain. He made no mention of Bass’s previous postings. Nor did he question him on his knowledge of the Turkish political structure and the dynamics of the Turkish State, despite asking these questions of other nominees he has objected to. His concern was to get the ambassador to take the position he, McCain, wanted him to, rather than the one the government is sending him there to take.
As Bass did eventually agree with the opposition Senator that Turkey was drifting towards authoritarianism, regardless of what the official US position was, this in turn brings his suitability as an ambassador into question. He is there to represent his government, not Tom, Dick or Harry who happens to be American.
But McCain responded by telling Bass that he was putting his nomination in jeopardy by refusing to answer the question. McCain and his party cannot defeat a nomination: it requires 51 votes, and there are 45 Republicans in the Senate. So what exactly was McCain threatening Bass with?
McCain hopes that John Bass is being sent to Turkey to establish a Kurdish State which will include chunks of Turkey as well as Northern Iraq and Syria. This has long been recognised to be the US agenda by insiders. Such a state could only come into existence with US support, as the repeated failures to establish it until now demonstrate. This is the work Bass has done before, through his network of civilian “defence contractors” and miltary supply routes.
But McCain wants this for a reason. He has too many fingers in too many pies. A victory for people who use his sponsors’ guns which establishes a new state will correct what will suddenly be presented as a historic injustice – the fact that the Kurds, a recognised people, have never had a state of their own. It will create justification for his own dirty deeds, which Bass must know better than he himself does, because it is his job to do so.
Any ambassador knows what his country’s politicians are doing in the country they are working in at any given time, and what his country’s commercial concerns are also doing. The ambassador has to know because their job is to present these activities as positively as possible and encourage greater engagement. If you think otherwise, talk to a former diplomat. Their breadth of knowledge about who is who and what is what will make your hair stand on end, and they can back everything up with facts and examples, and tell you where to look if you want to know more.
Bass won’t say what he knows – yet – but McCain knows what he might say, and to whom. He has to know that Bass is loyal to McCain first, and the US government second. By eventually answering McCain’s question the way he wanted him to, he demonstrated this at the confirmation hearing.
Bass is unlikely to actually expose McCain’s links or agenda. When he was Ambassador to Georgia he was involved in setting up U.S. Government-supported “Centers for Civic Engagement” in 10 Georgian cities, which offered the public places to meet and confidently engage in open discussion of issues of public concern. At the same time he refused to acknowledge that these were necessary because the US-backed Georgian government was refusing to allow people to discuss these issues openly, as people do in democratic countries. So both Bass and McCain have ample tools to bring each other down, and both know it.
What neither man knows is how reliable the other one will be if things do go according to plan. Bass hasn’t said that Turkey’s drift towards authoritarianism justifies direct military action or arming and funding separatist groups on its own list of international terrorist organisations. McCain hasn’t said that if he intervenes in support of such groups, once again, he will abide by US policy in that conflict rather than plot his own course to achieve his own solutions.
McCain has won round one by showing Bass that he has the stronger position. Bass can be removed at any time if he isn’t compliant, McCain can only be removed by his electors, and that is unlikely. He is warning Bass to stay loyal, and not say too much about him.
And if he doesn’t? If a country does wrong on someone else’s territory, the ambassador has to explain it away or carry the can. Regardless of what actual US policy in Turkey might be, it will be the end of Bass’ career, not McCain’s, if McCain’s own deeds catch up with him. That was what McCain was really threating Bass with at the confirmation hearing, and time will tell if either of them are man enough to break this vicious cycle; they need to act in the public interest rather than their own.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs together with Dutch National, On Special Assignment, Marcel Marie Brandsma, Holland exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.