Yesterday, both Donald Trump and Mike Pence blasted Turkey president Recep Erdogan for not releasing American Christian evangelist Andrew Brunson, threatening retaliation through “large sanctions.” Today the Washington Post provides the backstory to that anger, reporting that Trump had made a deal through Israel for Brunson’s full release. When it came time for Erdogan to fulfill his promise, however, he welched:
President Trump thought he had a deal. His NATO meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month had ended with a smile, a fist-bump and what Trump thought was an agreement to free Andrew Brunson, the American pastor imprisoned in Turkey for the last two years on what the administration considered bogus terrorism charges.
The deal was a carom shot, personally sealed by Trump, to trade a Turkish citizen imprisoned on terrorism charges in Israel for Brunson’s release. But it apparently fell apart on Wednesday, when a Turkish court, rather than sending the pastor home, ordered that he be transferred to house arrest while his trial continues. …
The Turks, according to a Trump adviser, had cheated by “upping the ante” for Brunson.
That would explain why both men blew a public gasket over Brunson’s continued detention. Israel had done its part, deporting 27-year-old Ebru Okzan on July 15th after being charged as a smuggler working for Hamas, avoiding a trial. On her return to Turkey, the Post notes, she publicly thanked Erdogan for being “kind enough to be very interested in my case.”
Three days later, however, the Turkish court only acted to change the terms of Brunson’s detention, moving him from prison to house arrest. Rather than step in to deport Brunson, which the Israeli government had done with Okzan and the White House clearly expected to happen with Brunson, Erdogan suddenly hid behind the supposed judicial independence in the Turkish system. When it became obvious that Erdogan wasn’t going to act to fulfill his part of the deal, especially after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s loaded comment that it “wasn’t enough,” Trump and Pence decided to blast him publicly for welching on the deal.
One analyst interviewed by the Post says the public lashing — including, presumably, the leaks which led to this report by the Post — have left Erdogan with no room for a face-saving retreat:
The angry outbursts by both sides raised questions about how the impasse would be resolved — and whether there was any way left for Erdogan to release Brunson without seeming to cave in to American demands.
“Pence and Trump have left him no graceful exit,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish American political scientist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who said the feud amounted to the worst political crisis between Ankara and Washington in at least four decades.
No one’s worried any longer about providing a double-crosser with a “graceful exit.” We should be much more worried about the security implications for Europe and the US. Erdogan wants to spin into Vladimir Putin’s orbit anyway, which is a much bigger problem than Brunson (as serious as the Brunson issue is), but at this point it might really not be a salvageable situation either. If Erdogan has gotten Putin Fever and he can’t be trusted with a simple prisoner swap, how can NATO justify Turkey’s continued membership? Put another way: why would we go to war to protect Erdogan in an Article V invocation to save Erdogan’s deceit, his open hostility to the West, and his desire to build an Islamic authoritarian regime?
It might not yet be time to cut bait. But the fishing time sure looks like it’s running out.