Trump tries to help Saudis

As Kevin Drum notes, this is pretty disgusting:

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.

Trump and Erdogan also recently discussed another option to relieve tensions — the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced in May to 32 months in prison by a U.S. federal judge for his role in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, two people familiar with the discussion said. Erdogan has criticized the case against Atilla as a political attack aimed at undermining his government.

Erdogan has wanted to extradite Gulen for years because he claims Gulen was behind the attempted coup against Erdogan, but the US hasn’t complied because there is no real evidence, Now the Trump administration would be willing to give up this long time resident of the US to ease pressure on Saudi Arabia after they killed another long time US resident. And, as KD notes, this isn’t the first time that the Trump administration has been willing to give up Gulen:

A year ago the Wall Street Journal passed along a remarkable story about Michael Flynn, the crackpot National Security Advisor appointed by Donald Trump in late 2016 and then fired in early 2017. According to the Journal, Flynn and his son met in 2016 with some associates of Erdoğan who proposed to pay the Flynns $15 million to secretly kidnap Gulen and fly him to Turkey. This was in September, while Flynn was a top campaign surrogate for Trump. A second meeting was held in December, after Flynn had already been appointed NSA.

Now it seems there is pushback from the deep state:

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally. A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate, where he had come to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence. Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

The Trump administration really wants to work with the Saudis, after all Jared Kushner is best friends with the prince, even if it means sacrificing a US resident or two, we’ll see what other Republicans say.

Turkey, compare and contrast

Donald Trump is very upset with Turkey:

U.S. President Donald Trump intensified his spat with Turkey on Friday by imposing higher tariffs on metal imports, putting unprecedented economic pressure on a NATO ally and deepening turmoil in Turkish financial markets.

Why is he so upset?

Brunson, an evangelical Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina, was jailed for allegedly supporting a group that Ankara blames for an attempted coup in 2016. Brunson denies the

charge. His cause resonates with Christian conservative supporters of Trump, who could also be influential as Republicans seek to retain control of Congress in midterm elections in November.

This was a change:

At the U.N. General Assembly last year, Trump called Erdogan a “friend” who got “very high marks” for how he runs the country.

Just weeks ago, Trump was reported to have fist-bumped Erdogan during a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Now compare this to an incident last May:

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.”

The episode was not the first time that Turkish security forces have ignited violence in the American capital. The police and members of Mr. Erdogan’s security team clashed with demonstrators last year outside the Brookings Institution, where Mr. Erdogan was giving a speech. Brookings wrote on its website that his bodyguards had “behaved unacceptably — they roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese.”

After that incident, President Trump … still called Erdogan a good friend. So, roughing up US protestors in the US is fine but jailing an evangelical pastor crosses the line? This is life in the time of Trump.

The Turkey scandal

There’s so much attention on Russia that you might not have noticed that something’s going on with Turkey:

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.”

The episode was not the first time that Turkish security forces have ignited violence in the American capital. The police and members of Mr. Erdogan’s security team clashed with demonstrators last year outside the Brookings Institution, where Mr. Erdogan was giving a speech. Brookings wrote on its website that his bodyguards had “behaved unacceptably — they roughed up protesters outside the building and tried to drag away ‘undesired’ journalists, an approach typical of the Russians or Chinese.”

It seems that Turkey doesn’t know about this thing called Freedom of Speech:

Video of the incident shows protesters being attacked in what appeared to be three waves as D.C. police officers struggled to regain control. The Anadolu news agency framed the guards’ actions as a response to the presence of ‘‘terrorist’’ sympathizers – apparently a reference to Kurdish activists.

The news agency criticized U.S. police for failing to end the dissent; such protests are largely put down in Turkey.

And, as with much of what happens now, there is a scandalous Trump connection:

The investigation stems from the work Flynn did for Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by Alptekin, the Turkish businessman. On Aug. 9, Flynn and the Flynn Intel Group signed a contract with Inovo for $600,000 over 90 days to run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen, an reclusive cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan has accused of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey last summer.

When he was hired by Alptekin, Flynn did not register as a foreign agent, as required by law when an American represents the interests of a foreign government. Only in March did he file a retroactive registration with the Justice Department because his lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, said that “the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

Trump campaign officials first became aware of a problem with Flynn’s business dealings in early November. On Nov. 8, the day of the election, Flynn wrote an op-ed in The Hill that advocated improved relations between Turkey and the United States and called Gulen “a shady Islamic mullah.”

“If he were in reality a moderate, he would not be in exile, nor would he excite the animus of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government,” the op-ed said.

And wait there’s more:

According to the report, Flynn declined a request from the Obama administration to approve an operation in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, effectively delaying the military operation. His reasoning wasn’t reported, but Turkey has long opposed U.S. military operations in cooperation with Kurdish forces.

President Erdogan isn’t known as a friend to human rights:

We should expect no substantial discussion of the 150 journalists detained in Turkey on misleading or bogus charges, or the elected politicians from peaceful pro-Kurdish parties who remain behind bars. Also unlikely to be on the agenda: The fate of the 50,000 people swept up on overly broad terrorism charges, or even the more than 100,000 civil servants permanently dismissed with no right of appeal.

This means that Trump likes Erdogan, as he seems to like many dictator-types:

US President Donald Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders across the globe has been one of the few constants during his chaotic first few months in office.

From Russian President Vladimir Putin to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Trump has gone out of his way to lavish praise on some of the world’s most notorious strongmen.
As always, Trump makes me proud to be an American.

Turkey

I haven’t been following the situation in Turkey very closely so I’m not sure which side I agree with, but I know Erdogan has gone too far in a few ways:

  • the initial protests were peaceful and yet the crackdown was violent, much more than necessary. Erdogan has never really apologized for this.
  • he has widened the crackdown further than what is reasonable:

 taking aim not just at the demonstrators themselves, but also at the medics who treat their injuries, the business owners who shelter them and the foreign news media flocking here to cover a growing political crisis threatening to paralyze the government of Prıme Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

  • his language has been eerily similar to that of Assad in Syria:

Mr. Erdogan then singled out BBC, CNN and Reuters, saying, “for days, you fabricated news.”

“You portrayed Turkey differently to the world,” he continued. “You are left alone with your lies. This nation is not the one that you misrepresented to the world.”

Mr. Erdogan said Sunday that even the owners of luxury hotels near Taksim Square who had provided refuge to protesters fleeing the chaos of the police raid were linked to terrorism.

“We know very well the ones that sheltered in their hotels those who cooperated with terror,” he said at the rally. “Will they not be held accountable? If we do not hold them accountable, then the nation will hold us accountable.”

By Sunday, Mr. Erdogan sought to thoroughly delegitimize any opposition to his governance, linking the effort to save the park to a recent terrorist attack in Reyhanli, in southern Turkey, which was connected to the Syrian civil war and killed dozens.

“I wonder what these foreigners who came to Taksim Square from all corners of the world were doing,” he said. “We have seen the same plots in Reyhanli.”

His opponents are foreigners and terrorists. This is dangerous language aimed at dehumanizing the opposition and could easily lead to more violence.

Turkey and Syria

This is very troublesome:

Turkey’s Parliament authorized military operations against Syria on Thursday and its military fired on targets there for a second day after deadly shelling from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish border town.

For its part, Syria admitted it was responsible for the shelling that killed five people in Turkey and formally apologized for the deaths, a top Turkish official said.

This is not a declaration of war, but it does make it more likely. A war between countries in the Middle East would not be a fun time.

Israel, Palestine, and Turkey

  • Turkey has pulled out of Iraq for now, which is good, but the battles will continue.
  • The situation in Gaza has taken a turn for the worse as Hamas has increased its missile attacks (including longer range ones) and now Israel has made a major strike into Gaza killing at least 54 (and at least two Israeli soldiers) and at least 70 have died since Wednesday. I don’t quite see the point from either side: the rockets won’t do any real damage and Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas. It’s almost as if both sides want a war.

Kenya and Turkey

  • Ok, now it seems that it might get better in Kenya with the signing of an agreement for power sharing between the main rivals. We will still have to wait and see if the agreement can work in practice, but it looks like all parties are ok with this and that should go a long way.
  • I’m sure this idea is all over, but isn’t this a bit hypocritical of the Bush administration:

Turkish leaders resisted calls by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for a swift end to Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish guerrillas on Thursday, offering no timetable for withdrawing their troops from northern Iraq.

Mr. Gates came to the Turkish capital with a stern message that the Turkish winter offensive in the mountains of northern Iraq should wrap up within days. But after three hours of meetings with senior civilian and military leaders on Thursday, Mr. Gates said he had received no assurances on when the Turkish offensive would be over.

After all, President Bush is adamantly against timetables for the US in Iraq. It seems even more similar to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 which the US mostly supported.

I do think Turkey has been too heavy handed with the Kurds. Giving them more autonomy and rights in Turkey would probably go a long way to ending the conflict (it was illegal to speak Kurdish as recently as 1991 and Kurds are still discriminated against in Turkey).

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