In case you missed it, a former Turkish banking executive was convicted in American federal court this week of conspiring to violate UN sanctions against Iran. Mehmet Hakan Atilla was found guilty of quite serious charges in one of the more high profile cases of this type ever to go to trial. The chief witness against Atilla gave testimony about senior members of the Turkish government who were alleged to have been involved in the conspiracy, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself.
As you might imagine, Erdogan was less than pleased with this turn of events and quickly moved to declare the entire trial a rigged farce, accusing the United States of some massive plot against his government and declaring that the world is doomed because of these shameless actions by the Americans. (Reuters)
Tayyip Erdogan denounced U.S. justice on Friday and suggested Turkey could rethink some bilateral agreements with Washington, after a U.S. court convicted a Turkish banker in a trial that included testimony of corruption by top Turkish officials.
In his first public comments on Wednesday’s verdict, the Turkish president cast the case as American plot to undermine Turkey’s government and economy – an argument likely to resonate with nationalist supporters.
“If this is the U.S. understanding of justice, then the world is doomed,” Erdogan told a news conference before his departure to France for an official visit.
So where was this alleged American conspiracy against Turkey coming from? You might think he’d be blaming Trump or members of Congress or perhaps even the Illuminati. But as it turns out, Erdogan went back to playing the one card he breaks out in virtually every accusation he makes. He accused the judge and other “court officials” involved in the case of being in league with Fethullah Gulen, the Turkish cleric currently living in exile in Pennsylvania. This won’t come as a surprise to regular readers because, as you know, the Tyrant of Turkey blames virtually everything in the world on Gulen, up to and including his failure to get into the Bitcoin market sooner. (Okay… don’t quote me on that last part.)
Now Erdogan is implying that various agreements and areas of cooperation between the United States and Turkey are in danger. I suppose that’s of a piece with the on again, off again, buddy relationship between President Trump and his Turkish counterpart. This obviously isn’t going to get us any closer to securing the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson or any of the other American citizens currently being held captive in Turkey, but it appears that nothing is going to happen on that front unless we turn over Gulen to Erdogan’s less than tender mercies.
Erdogan continues to play a dangerous game of international politics and he seems to be very good at it. He knows that Turkey’s position relative to Iraq and Syria, as well as being the gate holding back an additional flood of refugees gives him a lot of leverage with the west. But he’s simultaneously building relationships with Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela, among other authoritarian regimes. In fact, he recently closed a major arms sale, purchasing missiles from Russia which are not compatible with NATO systems, casting further doubt on how cooperative he plans to be.
We need a new approach to our relationship with Turkey because, at least for the moment, Erdogan is getting very nearly everything he wants (with the exception of Gulen) and paying virtually no price in return. I’m not sure how to reframe this relationship and gain any traction with him, but then again, I didn’t run for President. Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson need to come up with something new and sooner would be better than later.