Jeff Flake made more than he paid for — a job that upsets the peace in Ukraine

In his last job, Jeff Flake commuted to work every day at the risk of inciting the wrath of the most powerful person in the world: then-President Donald Trump.

Three years later he retired as a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona instead of keeping his mouth shut about the president, Flake found himself a new job. And somehow it can make his old one look like a breeze in comparison.

With the world on the rise Russia’s Brutal Invasion of UkraineFlake is stationed halfway around the world, serving as the United States ambassador to a complex ally with a unique ability to promote peace: Turkey.

When President Joe Biden nominated Flake for the position last year, the move was seen as a way for Biden to signal his commitment to bipartisanship — and perhaps as a reward for Flake, who has served campaign for Biden in 2020.

But in some corners, the former senator’s choice raised eyebrows. It has been 40 years since an unskilled diplomat was chosen for this sensitive and high profile job. Not only did Flake have no particular expertise in the region’s politics; I’ve never been to Turkey so much.

During a confirmation hearing in September 2021, Flake’s former colleagues in the Senate warned that his job had been cut in the Turkish capital, Ankara. But it was months before Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, immediately making Flake’s already complicated job all the more difficult.

Nearly every close observer of the Muslim country of 84 million people, divided between Europe and Asia, agrees that Russia’s attempt to capture and control Ukraine has put Turkey in a predicament. messed up.

As one of the 30 European and North American members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance, Turkey is inseparable from the West’s efforts to prevent war. And if Russia attacks any of the NATO members – a prospect that invades Ukraine has become a reality – Turkey will be forced to respond with force.

That decades-long obligation has kept Turkey close to American and European interests. But in recent years, the country’s increasingly autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has warmed to Putin, despite their historic rivalry in the region.

The two countries now have extensive relations, including in the field of defense. In 2017, Turkey bought a $2.5 billion worth of missile defense systems from Russia, a move that alarmed Washington and tough US sanctions against Turkey.

Now, some experts believe that the West’s ability to avert Russia’s bloody war may depend on Turkey’s willingness to help.

James F. Jeffrey, who served as US ambassador to Turkey during the Barack Obama administration, said: “It is difficult to imagine NATO’s success in this crisis without diplomatic support from Turkey. Ky.

So far, views on Turkey’s moves have been mixed. Some argue that Erdogan has taken a tougher line than expected on Moscow, while others feel that his government is playing both sides in vain.

Either way, Turkey will remain at the center. On Thursday, the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine met in the resort city of Antalya for the first face-to-face talks since the war began.

Late on Thursday, Biden and Erdogan spoke face-to-face by phone. A White House official said the two leaders “discussed their shared concerns about Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.” Biden also “expressed appreciation for Turkey’s efforts in supporting a diplomatic solution to the conflict.”

Flake now has the core responsibility of securing Turkish cooperation, which American observers say is crucial to turning the tide in Ukraine. And according to Jeffrey, he’s hardly a puppet in Ankara — the American ambassador is the one who plays a central role in the Turkish government’s diplomacy focused on protocol, for the diplomat not great time to shape high-level discussions between countries.

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, Flake said “my Embassy team and I engage daily with the Turkish government, as well as the Ukrainian Embassy here, to discuss ways of that we can help Ukraine.”

The ambassador heaped praise on Turkey’s response to the Russian invasion, saying that “Turkey has been steadfast in supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” noting in particular that the country welcomes Ukrainian refugees.

But Flake also took careful notes he made during his confirmation hearing, noting Turkey’s “democratic resistance” and attacks on press freedom, and mentioned to the alarm raised by their purchase of Russian-made defense systems.

“Members of Congress from both parties share these concerns, and I will keep these issues on the agenda with Turkey, as well as Washington,” Flake said. “But we also have great opportunities to expand trade and investment relations, strengthen people-to-people exchanges, and work together to resolve conflicts in the region.”

For Flake’s admirers, he is more than capable of performing the delicate balancing act his work requires. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who hugged Trump when Flake wasn’t, told The Daily Beast his former colleague was “uniquely positioned” to navigate the “flows” represented by Turkey’s unique status is as a “problematic but valuable NATO ally.”

“He was the right person in the right place at the right time,” Graham said.

It was an unexpected turn for Flake – something he openly admits. “I do not follow the traditional route of becoming an ambassador, although I have always had the utmost respect and interest in diplomacy,” he said in his statement.

The conservative Republican, who has served five terms in the US House of Representatives and one term in the Senate, has brought considerable international expertise to the job, just not in the vicinity of Turkey. Ky.

A devout Mormon, Flake completed his mission in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and later lived in Namibia. He speaks Afrikaans, the original Dutch language widely spoken in southern Africa. In the Senate, he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee focusing on Africa.

When Biden nominated Flake, Namik Tan, the former Turkish ambassador to Washington, made it clear in an article that he “did not have enough experience with Turkey and the region”.

“On the other hand,” Tan added, “Flake’s limited experience with Turkey and the surrounding region could help him. [make] move without any prejudice regarding Turkey”.

Defne Arslan, senior director of the Turkey program at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think-tank, noted that Biden’s appointment of a non-vocational diplomat came after Erdogan sent a close political ally to Washington.

Speaking from Turkey, she told The Daily Beast that Flake’s pick was “an interesting choice, but… I think a good one.”

“It tells me there is a big intention on the part of the United States to get things right,” Arslan said. “As a political appointee, with direct ties to President Biden, and also ties to Congress, I think Ambassador Flake could play some sort of role.”

In his ambassador class, Flake quickly impressed colleagues with his acumen, despite never having been to Turkey before his appointment. One diplomat specifically cited Flake’s experience as one of the only Republicans to support Trump’s populist takeover of the Republican Party as a predictor of success. in his future as an ambassador to a great power country.

“Any Republican willing to stand up to Trump, essentially alone, is a sign of personal courage,” the diplomat said.

Another diplomat pointed to Flake’s membership in The Church of Latter-day Saints – a community that prides itself on honesty, integrity, and service – as evident in his training. before confirmation.

“He takes it very seriously – he understands the stakes of the job and the stakes of misthey say.

Flake faced mild questions during his hearing, and he was confirmed in the Senate in October by voice vote, a sign that his appointment was unlikely. controllable. Russia invaded Ukraine just a month after Flake arrived in Ankara in January to present his credentials to Erdogan, confronting the newly minted ambassador with an immediate test of fire.

Western experts see Erdogan as a personal favorite of Putin, despite their proxy stalemate in the region – most notably in Syria, where they have backed opposing sides in a brutal civil war of the country. In 2021, Erdogan publicly defended Putin after Biden called him a “murderer”, saying the comment was “inappropriate for an American president.”

But Erdogan still publicly condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And Erdogan’s spokesman said that in a separate call on Sunday, the Turkish President planned to tell Putin to stop the war.

In addition, Turkey has mobilized its power under a nearly century-old treaty to prevent Russian warships from passing through the straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean during times of “war”, limiting Putin’s ability to utilize the power of Russian naval forces in Ukraine. Turkey has warm relations with Ukraine, and Kyiv’s military has brought in Turkish-made drones for use in strikes against Russian targets.

When asked about the West’s success in projecting Turkish influence on Russia, Jeffrey, the former US ambassador, said that’s “what you’re seeing”.

“The Turks are seeing that Putin looks weak, and the West looks good,” he said. “Everybody wants to go with a winner.”

Others are less certain. Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, argues that Turkey is trying to do it both ways – to moderate Russia’s important moves towards the West while emphasizing their departure from Moscow.

Erdemir explained that Turkey cannot alienate Russia too much because the country’s ailing economy relies heavily on Russia. Turkey imports more goods from Russia than any other country, needs money brought in by Russian tourists, and depends on Russia for energy.

All of which helps explain why Erdogan broke with the US and most other Western countries in refusing to impose sanctions on Russia after it launched its invasion. On top of that, Turkey is the only NATO country left open to Russian aircraft and is currently Russia’s most essential air route to the rest of the world.

Erdemir said the Biden and Flake administrations were giving “generous praise” and a “positive message to Ankara, calling it “an attempt to encourage Ankara to see the Ukraine war as an opportunity to make adjustments.” its foreign policy”.

“It sounds like an interesting plan, but easier said than done,” Erdemir said.

In his statement, Flake made it clear he would not give up on bringing Turkey along, saying, “We need to play a long game.” And he said he hopes his former colleagues, some of whom are harshly critical of Ankara, can do the same.

It will not be an easy task. That’s perhaps fitting for someone who has attempted a lonely, doomed campaign to weaken Trump’s hold on the GOP.

“When the Biden Administration approached me about being an Ambassador, I said I would be honored, but I wanted to serve somewhere for that reason,” Flake said. “Turkey is certainly in the aftermath.”

—With a report from Scott Bixby Jeff Flake made more than he paid for — a job that upsets the peace in Ukraine

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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