Another Perspective

An Open Letter to the Turkish Embassy

A message from a former Arnold & Porter lawyer who represented the Turkish government in 1995.

By 6.9.10

Dear Embassy of Turkey --

In early 1995 as an associate lawyer at Arnold & Porter (I was later elected a partner, and eventually left practicing law in early 2006), I had the pleasure and honor of representing the Government of Turkey to defend against an effort by the Motion Picture Assn. of America to have certain U.S. government import and trade preferences taken away from Turkey to punish Turkey for alleged failures to enforce copyright protections over motion pictures -- especially videotape sales. I had the pleasure of meeting two of your trade attachés in your embassy on Massachusetts Ave.

Shortly after I was brought into the case, your Prime Minister at the time, Ms. Tansu Çiller, visited Washington and met with President Clinton. President Clinton issued statements very supportive of Turkey, and I advised that in the trade dispute, our primary argument ought not to be on the complexities of the copyright law or on the details of video sales, but on the larger international political priorities of the U.S. government: that at a time when the President was praising Turkey and promoting close ties, his own Department of Commerce would be contradicting the President's own broad policy if it were to take trade action against Turkey. It was at my initiative that we submitted and highlighted to the Commerce Dept. the President's own official White House statement, which I obtained from the White House Press Office officially and authoritatively.

While I was not privy to the internal deliberations inside the Clinton Administration Commerce Dept., the fact is that the Commerce Dept. took no action against Turkey, denying the MPAA request.

Since that time I have always had fond feelings towards Turkey, although I cannot say that I have ever been there, nor have I ever represented any Turkish interest since then. Nor am I a Muslim (I am a mainstream U.S. Episcopalian). However, as a partner, on a pro bono basis, I represented the Boroumand Foundation (which you can find on-line) which provides educational resources for persons in (or interested in) Iran who wish to see that country become more democratic and peace-oriented.

I am contacting you today because the actions of the current Turkish government with respect to the Gaza fleet, and announced possible future actions of the current Turkish government, present the greatest threat of war in the Middle East since 1948. I hope that you can get my message through to the Ambassador and to proper persons in Ankara.

The entry of Turkey into the Palestine conflict is very significant -- it is the first new open national ally that the proponents of violence have obtained since 1948 -- in 62 years. This has happened for two major reasons, the loss of the Russian "stick" and of the European "carrot":

(1) The weakness of Russia means that the Russian threat to Turkey, which is historical and based in geography (the Russian desire for warm-water ports) is the lowest it has been in about 150 years. Thus Turkey no longer feels the need to have a strong alliance with the U.S. This first manifested itself in the Iraq war when Turkey prevented transit of our planned northern invasion army. Russia no longer threatens Turkey with its "stick."

(2) The rejection by the European Union of Turkey as a member. Turkey has been trying for many years to become a member, and Europe has always dallied and then said no. I do not say whether Europe had or had not good reasons for this; but it has become obvious that it will not allow Turkey in, for a good many years to come. This is the loss of the European "carrot."

There is a third, more minor (at least I think more minor) reason, the loss of another "stick":

(3) Greece has for centuries (ever since the Byzantine Empire) been the historic enemy of Turkey. But Greece today is very weak, wracked as it is by its debt crisis and the evident refusal of Germany, France, et al., to help Greece out of it. This is the loss of the Greek "stick."

The Obama Administration's anti-Jewish (and I do mean anti-Jewish, not just anti-Israel) words and policies (I would like to see President Obama bow to the Prime Minister of Israel to balance-out his bow to the King of Saudi Arabia) has given the religiously-oriented government of Turkey the opening that has released it to pursue openly a state anti-Israel policy.

Had the Obama opening not been given, Turkey would not have acted, despite all the other changes (items 1, 2, and 3 above) that made it easier for Turkey to act.

I have been following the Israel-Palestine issue since 1974 when as a student at Pomona College, I participated in the "Model United Nations – Far West" program. In 1973 the PLO had made a big push to be admitted to the UN as a member state, and the organizers of the Model UN Far West decided that to reflect this, a college participating in the Model UN Far West would be asked to "represent" the PLO. Pomona was the college chosen, and I volunteered to be a member of the PLO delegation, and was assigned as the PLO representative on the Special Committee for Refugees. It was in this context that I first undertook to research the political and sociological and legal and religious history of this dispute.

In my opinion we are now on the verge of the most dangerous threat of war in that region since 1948. Turkey's open entry, combined with the development of nuclear weapons by Iran and with Iran under a violence-oriented government as it is, present a far greater threat than ever before, even if Egypt sits on the sidelines -- and it probably will not just sit, as things heat up.

If war happens, it will be disastrous not only for the world's Jews, but also for the world's Muslims, because it will trigger the entire billion-plus worldwide population of Muslims to take an open religious stand in favor of armed conquest of territory (the land now governed by Israel) and thus cement in the eyes of all non-Muslims of the world that Islam, as a religion, believes in the use of government military power to impose religious power. The non-Muslim world, all over the world, will react against that in a very pronounced way, which will make it very difficult for adherents of the Muslim faith to persuade non-Muslims to adopt their religion.

Thank you for passing this message "up the line."

Sincerely Yours, Edward Sisson


Later, I followed up with this:

Dear Turkish Embassy --

With respect to the message I sent you earlier today, a few more thoughts:

Things are rapidly getting to the point where, if Turkey continues on its present and proclaimed course, the only protection for the Gaza blockade will have to come from the United States Navy. When the subject of the U.S. Navy comes up, I speak with some authority, as the son and grandson of Navy captains and the descendant of U.S. Navy officers going back in an almost unbroken line to the year 1799 (yes, 17 not 18) -- and that officer, Daniel Todd Patterson, was one of the prisoners captured by the Bey of Tripoli in the Barbary War. My father was a nuclear missile submarine commander; his father was an aircraft carrier commander in the Korean War and World War II; my earlier ancestors, or their brothers and brothers-in-law, include the naval commander at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814-1815 (the same Patterson, then a Commodore); the top admiral in the United States Navy in the Civil War (David Dixon Porter); the admiral in charge of the Asiatic Squadron when retired President Grant visited Japan (Thomas Harmon Patterson); and the admiral who commanded both the Atlantic Fleet and the Pacific Fleet just before World War I (Cameron McRae Winslow). My great-uncle was the naval aide throughout World War II to Admiral McCain (grandfather of the current Senator); great-uncle Charlie Sisson was aboard the USS Missouri a personal witness to the surrender of Japan in 1945. You do not want to go to war with the U.S. Navy.

Turkey must reverse its present disastrous course before the Turkish government takes any more steps that will so commit its honor and reputation to its current course, that it cannot change direction without destabilizing its own internal respect and legitimacy. I feel that what we are seeing with Turkey today is similar to what was happening with Japan in the late 1920s and early 1930s: the government is beginning to take open military steps from which it will feel unable to withdraw.

I have recently been reading Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert Bix. You can read large portions of it yourselves, online, on "Google books." Just do a Google search on the book's title and it will pop right up.

I urge Turkish government diplomats and officials to read from page 214 to 254. Japan's military involvement in China arose initially to defend Japanese civilians resident in China, who in 1927 were threatened by violent acts of China's Nationalist Revolutionary Army. See page 214. This led to increasing Japanese military involvement, which triggered American concerns and economic sanctions, that then ultimately led Japan to attack the U.S. and begin the great Pacific War.

Turkey's own increasing involvement in the Palestine dispute has many similarities with the reasons Japan involved itself in China in 1928 and after. Please learn caution from the lesson of Japan.


Sincerely Yours, Edward Sisson

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Edward Sisson, a Washington attorney, is a former partner at Arnold & Porter.