The former Republican senator sees Turkey as an “indispensable ally” and “a bridge” between the West and the turbulent Middle East.
The US Senate has confirmed Jeff Flake, a former member of the upper chamber, as Washington’s next ambassador to Turkey, an important NATO ally.
Flake, a Republican, supported Joe Biden’s presidential bid against Donald Trump, earning the new president’s trust. Many commentators have thought that he will be awarded for his support to Biden.
“Cheryl and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve, and eager to get to know the extraordinary people of Turkey,” Flake wrote in an article after his nomination by Biden in July. Cherly has been Flake’s wife since 1985. Flake also described Turkey as an “indispensable ally, anchored in NATO and acting as both a bridge and a buffer to a region in constant flux.”
“Our national interest is served when the United States and Turkey work together to confront the very real threats to global peace and security that emanate from Russia, Iran, and elsewhere in the wider region,” Flake told US senators during his confirmation hearings last month.
But it’s not all clear Flake, who is not a career diplomat, is going to be able to repair damages done by recent disagreements between the two allies over a number of issues. Flake will be the first political appointee to the crucial American diplomatic post in the last four decades.
Most recently, Turkey was on the verge of expelling the US ambassador, David Satterfield, alongside 9 other Western envoys, who called for Turkish businessman Osman Kavala’s release. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw the move as an intervention into Turkey’s internal matters, urging Western envoys to step back.
Eventually, the US embassy in Turkey issued a statement saying that Washington will abide by article 41 of the Vienna Convention, which regulates that foreign envoys can not interfere with the host’s country’s domestic politics. After that, tensions appear to ease between the US and Turkey.
In recent years, Turkey-US ties have gone through turbulent periods due to some serious differences from Washington’s support to the YPG, the Syrian outfit of the PKK, to Ankara’s procurement of F-35 fighter jets.
The PKK, which has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across Turkey, is recognised as a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington, NATO and the EU. In response to the US blockade of F-35 procurement, Turkey has purchased Russian S-400s to secure its air defense.
A Christian missionary
Flake, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or commonly known as Mormons, worked as a missionary in South Africa and Zimbabwe when he was a young man in the 1980s.
The 59-year-old politician comes from a prominent Mormon family. Snowflake, the town he was born in, got its name from Flake’s great-great-grandfather, William J Flake, a past Mormon leader of Arizona.
As a result, Mormon faith has been an enduring aspect of Flake’s life even after becoming an elected Congressman in Washington, making him an ally of Mitt Romney, another Mormon senator, who was nominated as a Republican presidential candidate against Barack Obama in 2008.
Both Flake and Romney have opposed Trump’s politics, alienating themselves from most of their Republican colleagues. Flake was a member of the Liberty Caucus, a Libertarian-leaning group that defends non-interventionism in foreign policy.
From 2001 to 2013, Flake had served as a member of the House of Representatives. In 2013, he was elected as a senator from Arizona, keeping the seat until 2019.
He did not run in the 2020 elections in the Republican-leaning state, where both Senate seats went to Democrats in an unlikely outcome, enabling them to have a majority in the upper chamber. Arizona also voted for Biden in the presidential election.
In the past, Flake opposed the US Senate’s Armenian resolutions which called the 1915 events “genocide”, something Turkey firmly rejects. But during his Senate confirmation hearing, when asked about his stance on the issue, Flake nodded and said “Yes”, meaning he will recognise “genocide” allegations in the future.
If Flake changes sides on “genocide” allegations, he'll most likely run into trouble with Ankara.
“This is a pivotal post at an important time for both of our countries,” Flake wrote after his nomination by Biden, highlighting the importance of US-Turkey ties and striking the right chords in the minds of many Turks.