There probably isn’t a journalist left on earth who hasn’t read John Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened. I too read the book — it gives a lot of insight into how the Trump administration works. However, it is also a gem in terms of being able to see how things have been working in Turkey. 

Bolton first mentions Turkish President Erdoğan’s name on page 24. His impression of Erdoğan is not positive: Bolton thinks Erdoğan resembles the Italian dictator Mussolini.

“The Erdoğan call turned out to be an experience. Listening to him (his remarks were always interpreted), he sounded like Mussolini speaking from his Rome balcony, except that Erdoğan was talking in that tone and volume over the phone. It was as if he were lecturing us while standing on the Resolute desk. Erdoğan seemed to avoid any commitment to join U.S. strike plans but said he would be speaking to Putin imminently.”

We have known that Halkbank has been an issue between the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey basically helped Iran bypass sanctions through Halkbank, and the U.S. has been determined to apply sanctions against Halkbank. Bolton claims in his book that Erdoğan had been pressing Trump about the Halkbank issue because he personally had financial interests in that matter. However, he does not give details.

Erdoğan saw an opportunity to mend Turkish-U.S. relations — this is public knowledge. Even today, the Turkish pro-government press stands with Trump against the “Black Lives Matter” rallies. There are interests at stake, without a doubt, but ideological proximity can also be a factor. Bolton, however, makes a rather sentimental analysis of the Erdoğan-Trump relationship, defining it as a bromance. 

“Erdoğan also complained about Kurdish forces in Syria (which Trump didn’t address) and then raised Fethullah Gulen, asking yet again that he be extradited to Turkey. Trump hypothesized that Gulen would last for only one day if he were returned to Turkey. The Turks laughed but said Gulen needn’t worry, since Turkey had no death penalty. Fortunately, the bilateral ended shortly thereafter. Nothing good was going to come of this renewed bromance with yet another authoritarian foreign leader.”

One salient claim Bolton writes is that Turkey had been financially supporting both Hezbollah and Hamas. Hamas is no surprise, but the claim about Hezbollah is unusual. There used to be a Turkish Hezbollah that was completely different from the Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah. I wonder if he confused those groups. The Turkish Hezbollah was active in the ‘90s and was responsible for the deaths of many intellectuals and Kurdish opinion leaders. There had always been suspicions about the organization, with some claiming Turkey had used Hezbollah against the PKK. On the other hand, the Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah is Iran’s ideological military tool that is used for Iran’s inside and outside operations. The groups are strictly Shia-dominated, and proximity to Turkey does not sound plausible. 

There is one other important piece of information to be found in Bolton’s book. U.S. Joint Chief of Staff General Dunford meets with his Turkish counterparts and claims that the Turkish Army was reluctant when it came to military operations in Syria. 

“Meanwhile, I learned that Dunford thought Turkish military commanders were a lot less interested in going into Syria than Erdoğan and were looking for reasons they could use to avoid conducting military operations south of their border, while simultaneously saying they were protecting Turkey from terrorist attacks. To them, said Dunford, ‘this is our Mexico border on steroids.’”

It is a long and detailed book with much insight, though I could not help but wonder: if one of Turkish President Erdoğan’s aides dared to write such a book, what would happen? 

In Turkish political culture, it is not unusual for ex-advisors to come up with books about their experiences: Cüneyt Arcayürek wrote about Demirel, and Ahmet Sever wrote about Abdullah Gül, for instance. Ahmet Sever was sued by three people — Mr. Erdoğan, Mustafa Varank and Mustafa Şentop after his book came out. Sever was sued for insulting state officials and the President. He had to move to Brussels for a while, and it took a while for him to be able to come back and sort his legal issues out.

Trump now says that Bolton will be tried for disclosing state secrets. The instincts of the states and statesmen to protect themselves is understandable, but people’s right to know is actually more important. Trying to govern with dirty secrets usually does not bring much good. Politicians and bureaucrats are obliged to give an account of their actions.