So amazingly gross that I can’t believe they’d actually entertain the idea. The stench would linger for years. The public backlash would actually end up damaging relations with Saudi Arabia instead of restoring them, which is the ostensible purpose of this insanity.
Imagine that the “solution” to the Saudis getting caught red-handed murdering a prominent dissident by the Turks is the U.S. helping the Turks to murder one of their own most prominent dissidents.
If this were to happen, which is highly unlikely, we’d have to reassess last night’s point that “Trump’s not a fascist, he’s a golfer.”
Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.
The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey’s case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said…
Justice Department officials responded to the White House’s request saying the review of Turkey’s case against Gulen two years ago showed no basis for his extradition and that no new evidence to justify it has emerged, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said…
They said the White House specifically wanted details about the terms under which Gulen resides in the U.S. Officials from the law enforcement agencies informed the White House there is no evidence that Gulen has broken any U.S. laws, the U.S. officials and others familiar with the requests said.
Gulen, you probably know, is a Muslim cleric who’s been Erdogan’s public enemy number one for years. Erdogan blamed him and his movement of “Gulenists” for the 2016 coup in Turkey that briefly jeopardized the sultan’s hold on power. No doubt Gulen would have been killed long ago if not for the fact that he’s been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s and has held permanent legal resident status in the U.S. since 2001. The Turks really, really, really want him extradited but the U.S. has refused, knowing the fate that awaits him and citing the fact that he’s no broken no laws to justify extradition. Whatever evidence Turkey has supplied to the U.S. of his alleged role in the coup, it wasn’t enough to get us to hand him over.
How badly does Erdogan want to get his hands on him? A trip down memory lane, from March of last year:
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting.
The discussion late last summer involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed.
I.e. kidnapping. If you believe Woolsey, the Turks were kicking around ideas with the leading contender to be Trump’s NSA about a rendition on U.S. soil, presumably with the tacit acquiescence of Trump and Flynn. Flynn emphatically denied the allegation but don’t forget that he was being paid at the time to the tune of half a million dollars as an unregistered foreign agent by a Turkish businessman with ties to Erdogan’s government. He wasn’t in the strongest position to object if the idea was broached. Coincidentally, per NBC, soon after Trump was sworn in as president and Flynn as NSA, the DOJ was asked by the White House for the first time to review Gulen’s status to see if there were legal grounds to extradite him. Turkey’s been pursuing the matter with the Trump White House ever since, bringing him up repeatedly during negotiations over the release of Andrew Brunson. Now they have new leverage, albeit indirectly, over the U.S. in the form of evidence that Trump’s friends in Riyadh had Jamal Khashoggi murdered. Guess what they want in return to make that evidence go away.
This is the logical outcome of the strong-form realpolitik arguments offered last month in favor of looking the other way at Khashoggi’s assassination. Yes, yes, it’s sad, it was said, but we need Mohammed bin Salman’s help with containing Iran. If that means shrugging it off when he has a journalist based in America murdered for criticizing him then that’s what it means. And if that’s what it means, then maybe it also means handing over a cleric based in America to Turkey so that they can murder him for criticizing the leader there. And if that’s what that means, why even bother with the niceties of extradition? Just send the CIA to Gulen’s door in Pennsylvania and have them murder him. You know how the Turks do business with dissidents. There’s no mystery about the fate that awaits Gulen. Might as well cut out the middleman, for the sake of realpolitik.
As I say, if in fact Gulen were extradited on trumped up charges to placate Erdogan, U.S. complicity in his murder to cover for another murder by the Saudis would look so bad that it would poison American public opinion further against Riyadh. Democrats would scorch Trump for it, as would some Republicans who are typically reliable allies for the president. Interventionists like Rubio who pound the table about human rights abroad would recoil; so would anti-interventionists like Rand Paul, who have used the Khashoggi killing as an argument for unwinding some U.S. ties to Saudi Arabia. Trump must know that. Which makes me wonder if the sensational news today about the White House leaning on the DOJ to take another look at Gulen is less about real intent to remove him than it is to prove to the Turks that they’ve checked the box of inquiring about it. Or maybe it’s a fake-out designed to make Congress more comfortable with the idea of wrist-slapping Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi matter. That is, once it becomes clear that the U.S. isn’t going to go after Gulen to make life easier for the Saudis, the token measures we actually have taken to punish them for killing Khashoggi might appear more substantial than they did initially to the anti-Saudi crowd in the Senate. That’s the best I can do to explain this. Obviously it’s not going to happen.