With the inauguration only days away, I have to admit that I’m growing increasingly concerned with the possible direction Donald Trump will be taking in terms of our relationship with Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Obama administration, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, has totally failed to respond to what amounts to the abject collapse of Democracy in that nation and the rise of tyranny under their current president. With a stronger leader like Trump (who pulls no punches on the foreign policy front, as we’ve already seen) I was hoping for a more robust response, but there are obviously a lot of forces at work behind the scenes.
Trump’s getting plenty of input from the wrong people so far, and another example of this showed up this week in the form of an editorial at The Hill written by former Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg. Titled, “Resetting Turkey-US relations“, this piece could just as easily have been written by anyone on Erdogan’s staff.
As the United States prepares for the incoming administration and President Donald Trump, there stands an opportunity for a reset of an important relationship – that of the United States and Turkey. The hope is that President Trump and his officials will cultivate more closely a diplomatic relationship with Turkish President Erdogan than President Obama had left fallow over the past eight years.
In such a tumultuous time, there will be many issues that concern the two world leaders. And one of the issues hovering at the top of that list will be Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based Imam and leader of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) – the same person who orchestrated the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 of this past year.
Those opening paragraphs give you a feel for the entire piece, which goes on to continually denounce Fethullah Gulen as the author of last year’s coup in Turkey (a charge which has yet to be proven anywhere but in the mind of Erdogan), and demand that Trump extradite him in the name of improving relations with our historic ally. There is zero mention of the tens of thousands of people languishing in Erdogan’s dungeons, the closure of all media not approved by the state, the imprisonment of police chiefs, professors and political opponents, Erdogan’s attempts at cleansing the nation of Kurds or his efforts to rewrite their constitution to make him essentially a dictator for life. Also missing from Rehberg’s essay is a single mention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who still remains locked up in one of Erdogan’s cells in the hope of using him as a bargaining chip against us. If you haven’t been keeping up with events in Turkey and the unfolding disaster of the Erdogan presidency, just scan the headlines of our previous coverage.
It’s worth noting that the former congressman isn’t coming into this argument out of a vacuum. He’s been a pro-Turkey advocate for years and was formerly part of the Congressional Turkey Caucus. That group was stirring up trouble on the Hill for quite a while, prompting Michael Rubin to take to the pages of Commentary back in 2014 calling for the entire caucus to be disbanded. His analysis of the dangers of Erdogan, including his obvious history of antisemitism and antipathy toward Israel remains a must-read to this day.
Unfortunately, it’s probably not just Rehberg who will be urging such passivity on Trump’s part. Erdogan himself has been showering praise on Trump, most recently for “putting the media in their place.” Now, I’ll be the first to note the many shortcomings of American mainstream media, but we deal with the problem through free market forces, not by throwing Wolf Blitzer in a dungeon and scheduling him for an acid bath.
There may be other forces seeking to influence Trump on this score as well. His national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, has much to recommend him, but as Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller revealed back in November, Flynn has some deep ties on this score. His lobbying firm, the Flynn Intel Group, was hired by an obscure Dutch firm specifically to promote Erdogan and his agenda. He also wrote an op-ed (again, in The Hill by the way) just before the election which alarmingly mimics Rehberg’s piece, describing Turkey as being “in crisis” and in need of “our support” while calling for the extradition of Gulen with no mention of Erdogan’s many other sins.
Trump himself has a history of seeming a bit too friendly with Erdogan as well. Shortly after the aborted Turkish coup last summer the President Elect gave an interview to the New York Times in which he seemed to be singing Erdogan’s praises and sounding as if he was ready to believe anything he had to say about Gulen, as recounted by Gregory Pappas.
“I give great credit to him for being able to turn that around,” Mr. Trump said of the coup attempt on Friday night. “Some people say that it was staged, you know that,” he said in the interview. “I don’t think so.”
When the interviewer asked Trump if he believed that Erdogan was exploiting the coup attempt to purge his political enemies, Trump deflected the answer and criticized the nation he wishes to lead in January of 2017, saying that the United States wasn’t a good messenger of moral authority over other countries.
“When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger,” he said.
Trump told the NYTimes reporter that he was convinced that he could convince Erdogan to spend more emphasis on fighting ISIS.
As with all things, we won’t know Donald Trump’s final decision and course of action until he lets us know himself. But the early signs are more than worrying. I hope he’s getting a broad range of input from his team and listening to more voices than just the ones which seem to be in Erdogan’s pocket. We have a serious problem with Turkey but it’s not just the need to secure their further cooperation in fighting ISIS. That formerly democratic ally of ours is collapsing before our eyes. Erdogan is a thug who is no friend of Israel or the west. The purge he is currently carrying out should horrify anyone and now he’s brazenly taken an American hostage. He needs to be dealt with from a position of strength, not an immediate willingness to compromise.