How the International Media Willfully Plays Along with Erdogan’s Hypocrisy
Guest post by Iranian-American activist Sophie Baron
How the international media willfully plays along with Erdogan’s hypocrisy.
Since the day Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, almost all of Western media has parroted the Turkish government’s narrative and accusations against Saudi Arabia. The media assumes that the Erdogan regime is a credible government operating under the rule of law; that’s certainly not the case. Putting aside the question of whether or not Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was ultimately personally culpable and regardless of what actually happened to Khashoggi, Erdogan himself is guilty of attempting to illegally abduct a Turkish dissident living abroad.
In March 2017, former CIA director Jim Woolsey disclosed that he had been present during 2016 meetings between Turkish government officials and advisors of then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump. At said meetings, the Turkish representatives called for the Trump aides to extrajudicially arrest and hand over Erdogan’s main opponent, Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in exile in Pennsylvania since 2000. According to other accounts of later meetings between Turkish officials and Trump staffers, the Turks went as far as offering former national security advisor Michael Flynn $15 million dollars to arrange for handing Gülen over to them.
An Islamic spiritual leader with a large following, Gülen had for years been a key ally of Erdogan’s religious-based Justice & Development Party (AKP). As Erdogan attained and secured his power base however, he dropped Gülen, fearing him as a possible rival. The key breaking point came in 2013, after pro-Gülen elements in the Turkish police and judiciary exposed the money laundering of AKP leaders helping the Tehran regime sell oil secretly, in violation of international sanctions. After that, Erdogan’s crackdown on the Gülen movement intensified. Declaring them a terrorist group, Erdogan’s crackdown slowly escalated until finally, in the summer of 2016, he alleged that a coup d’etat attempt by the Turkish military had been directed by Gülen, from abroad. Many, including former high-ranking Turkish officials, have questioned whether a coup attempt actually did occur, or if it was just a Reichstag fire type false flag; in other words, a ruse on the part of Erdogan, in order to justify a dictatorial power grab. Gülen denied playing any role in the coup, and the US government did not feel the accusations against him were credible enough to justify his extradition to Turkey.
In the aftermath of the supposed coup, Erdogan pushed through a series of constitutional changes dramatically expanding his powers. Observers at the time said that these changes possibly marked the end of Turkish democracy and the secular state, built almost a century ago by Kemal Ataturk.
Almost every dictatorial regime requires a bogeyman to justify their internal repression. In Turkey, Gülen has filled that role. Erdogan and the AKP have demonized, him as supposedly constantly scheming to grab power for himself. It is difficult to judge how much popular support Gülen really has, and what his ambitions and intentions actually are. What is important for now, is that Erdogan obviously fears him to such extent that he was willing to defy international laws and norms to capture the exiled cleric.
Since gaining his expanded presidential prerogatives, Erdogan has done a lot in defiance of international standards. His intervention in the Syrian Civil War was widely said to have been aiding and abetting ISIL (Daesh). He has built up a new friendship with Russia, after a few rocky patches, in opposition to Turkey’s historically Western tilt. He has also established close relations with the regime in Tehran, to give a few examples of his recent geopolitical maneuvers. These come amid an ever-worsening internal human rights situation, isolated cases which were well publicized, such as the detention of pastor Brunson and the incarceration of basketball star Enes Kanter’s father.
In light of all this, it should be immediately apparent that Erdogan cannot claim any moral superiority in the Khashoggi affair. His actions are not motivated by altruism or a desire for justice.
What is Turkey really after, then?
Rouhani, Putin, and Erdogan in Sochi
The logical answer given all the variables is Erdogan’s above-mentioned foreign policy shift towards Russia and Iran, and against the United States and its regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia. Over the past year, the US has been working to build a regional alliance to contain and restrain the Tehran regime’s expansionist policies and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is playing a key role in this. Erdogan has opposed these moves, and Turkish-Saudi relations have been marked by tensions and a series of crises during this time. Last month, Erdogan met with Tehran’s president Rouhani and Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, where the three countries made agreements on better coordinating their regional activities.
The Khashoggi affair, then, could not have come at a better time for Turkey and Tehran because, not only does it divert international attention away from both regimes’ flagrant human rights abuses, but it also disrupts and stalls the American effort to unite and focus the region around stopping Tehran’s empire building. Instead of blindly allowing themselves to be used as tools for Erdogan’s geopolitical meddling, the willingly exploited members of the media should ask the Turkish president how, what he attacks Mohammed bin Salman for doing, is any different than what he himself would to do to Fethullah Gülen, given the chance?