No one can say that the Turkish government does not know the importance of public relations. In Europe, where Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the Economic Community is hampered by the government’s poor human rights record, Ankara has hired the top-ranked British advertising firm of Saatchi and Saatchi — for a fee rumored to be nearly 1 million pounds sterling — to boost the country’s image.

In the United States, Turkey’s main concern is to sell itself to Congress, particularly to the committees that appropriate military aid. Ankara claims it needs at least $1 billion per year to hold up its end of the NATO alliance, but Congress has appropriated only 60 percent of that in recent years.

Turkey has long had a $1 million-a-year PR contract with Hill & Knowlton. This past year, though, Turkey added International Advisers, Inc., to its payroll. Turkey now has an annual lobbying budget in the US of more than $2 million, putting it in a league with South Africa and South Korea. IAI, incorporated in January 1989 “to provide service exclusively to the Embassy of Turkey,” might just be able to deliver what the Turkish generals want. The chairman of IAI’s advisory board is Richard Perle, who served the Reagan administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy until May 1987. In this position he supervised US military assistance to Turkey and other countries.

According to Turkish press reports, Perle sold the IAI idea to Prime Minister Turgut Özal when he visited Ankara in May 1988, and sketched out a proposal to Turkish Foreign Ministry officials in a subsequent visit in November. During these visits he stayed at the home of the US ambassador. Perle had gone frequently to Turkey in his official capacity, and was responsible for overseeing the buildup of US air bases at Incirlik, Batman, Muş and other sites in the eastern part of the country.

When IAI registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent in January 1989, it had no office, no telephone, no personnel and no budget. All it had was an $875,000 contract with the Turkish government. And Richard Perle’s name did not appear anywhere in the documents, since conflict-of-interest regulations bar him from working as a lobbyist himself. He remains the sole member of IAI’s advisory board.

IAI’s main task, according to its application at the Justice Department, is to “assist the [Turkish] efforts for the appropriation of US military and economic assistance.” Perle subsequently characterized IAI to the Wall Street Journal as “an honest intellectual effort to find a group of people who will give expression to ideas.” The intellectuals Perle recruited to this effort include Douglas Feith, who served as Perle’s deputy at the Pentagon, and Col. Michael McNamara, who until recently was responsible for the Turkey desk at the Defense Department.

The main idea promoted by IAI is more military aid to Turkey. McNamara told Middle East Report that IAI’s focus has been on overturning the “decade of ossified thinking” responsible for the 7-to-10 aid ratio Congress imposes on military aid to Greece and Turkey. McNamara describes IAI’s success so far as “nothing short of amazing,” though efforts to scrap the 7-to-10 ratio have been set back at least temporarily by the MiG-29 incident late this May. (One of the “talking points” in IAI’s presentation is the economic sense of aiding Turkey: Turkish conscripts are paid less than a dollar a month, in contrast with the $646 starting salary of a US private.)

Perle’s devotion to US-Turkish relations is not a singular one. Perle was assistant to the late Senator Henry Jackson for 11 years before moving to the Pentagon, where he developed a formidable reputation as an opponent of arms agreements with the Soviet Union and a proponent of close military relations with Israel. Strobe Talbott, who has chronicled US-Soviet arms negotiations in several well-regarded books, described Perle in 1983 as having “had more impact on the substance of US policy in INF and START than any other official in the US Government.”

Perle is not entirely new to the lobbyist world. A month before he joined the Pentagon, he got a $50,000 consulting fee from Soltam, an Israeli firm trying to win contracts to supply mortars to the US Army. A year later, in an official memo, Perle urged the secretary of the army to evaluate Soltam’s product. While at the Pentagon, Perle hired as one of his deputies Stephen Bryen, who had earlier been accused of passing classified defense information to Israel.

IAI seems to see some advantage in Perle’s pro-Israel reputation. Morris Amitay, the former head of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, has joined IAI as a consultant. Amitay wrote in his Foreign Agent Registration form that he would “apprise [members of Congress] of Turkey’s importance to the United States, NATO and the West.”

Amitay is not averse to doing Turkey the odd good turn on his off hours. In an article in the Washington Jewish Week in July 1989 about the oppression of the Kurds, Amitay mentioned Turkey only once, as one of the countries where Kurds lived. The full responsibility for Kurdish suffering was laid at other doors — Iraq and Iran — and contrasted, unfavorably of course, with Israel’s efforts to suppress the Palestinian uprising.

Written with Roger Kenna

Sources: Guardian; Economist Intelligence Unit; Foreign Agents Registration papers filed by IAI with the Justice Department; Wall Street Journal, February 16, 1989; Time, April 18, 1983; Washington Jewish Week, July 13, 1989; various issues of Cumhuriyet.

How to cite this article:

Joe Stork "Talking Up Turkey," Middle East Report 160 (September/October 1989).

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