Erdogan will not forgive the Obama administration for leading him
up the garden path on Syria, convincing him that Washington was leaving
no stone unturned to overthrow the Assad regime
The Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s sensational demand on
Saturday to US President Barack Obama to extradite the Islamist preacher
Fetullah Gülen living in exile in Pennsylvania does not come as
surprise. It had to happen sooner or later.
|Turkish President Recep Erdogan told his supporters on Saturday that although he had shared with Barack Obama the intelligence on a likely coup attempt by Gülen’s followers, the US President sat on it|
But then, Erdogan has
chosen to speak publicly on such a highly sensitive issue instead of
using the confidential channels of communication.
Any long-time observer of Erdogan and his political personality can
make out that he is taunting Obama within the week of the NATO summit in
Warsaw. These are excerpts from Erdogan’s public remarks in Istanbul on
Please meet our request (on Gülen’s
extradition) if we (Turkey and US) are strategic partners. I asked you
(Obama) previously either to deport him or surrender him to Turkey. I
told you that he is considering the coup d’état, but you didn’t listen.
The crowd listening to Erdogan began chanting, “Death to Fetullah.”
be sure, Erdogan knows how to work up the crowd. And he knows that if
the mood turns ugly in Turkish-American relations, his strength lies in
his massive support base.
This is becoming very personal, too.
Erdogan mentioned Obama by name. It is an open secret that the chemistry
between the two statesmen has been poor.
Erdogan will not forgive
the Obama administration for leading him up the garden path on Syria,
convincing him that Washington was leaving no stone unturned to
overthrow the Assad regime. The then CIA Director David Petraeus visited
Turkey more than once to urge Erdogan to kickstart the intervention in
Obama himself lauded Turkey as a role model for the Muslim
Middle East, pandering to Erdogan’s notions of his own tryst with
destiny in the erstwhile territories of the Ottoman Empire.
Erdogan’s stunning disclosure on Saturday that he had shared with Obama
the intelligence on a likely coup attempt by Gülen’s followers and that
the US president sat on it can only mean that the Turkish leader
suspects Washington’s intentions toward him.Erdogan would know there isn’t a ghost of a chance that the US will extradite Gülen. No country’s intelligence would simply surrender such a “strategic
asset.” Gülen’s version of political Islam had seamless uses for the US
regional strategies in many parts of the world, especially in the former
Soviet republics of Central Asia, which constitute Russia’s “soft
Suffice it to say, Erdogan is preparing for a period
of deep chill in Turkish-American relations. These are early days, but
the move to cut off power supply to the Incirlik base where the US-led
coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is based, may
convey some hidden meaning.
Most certainly, the US forces have
installed top-notch electronic systems in Incirlik to eavesdrop on
communication. The Turkish intelligence would be wondering whether the
US privy to the coup. This is one thing.
The timing of the coup is
extremely significant. It comes after the setback to the US plans to
push for a permanent NATO presence in the Black Sea, challenging
Russia’s historical pre-eminence in those waters, aimed at encircling
the Russian naval fleet in Sevastopol and threatening Crimea.
Montreaux Convention (1936) forbids permanent naval presence in the
region by non-Black Sea countries and gives Turkey control over the
Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles Straits. Plainly put, without
Turkey’s cooperation, the US stratagem to encircle Russia in the Black
Sea (and Mediterranean) becomes a non-starter.Erdogan’s decision
to render an apology for the shooting down of a Russian jet last
November also took everyone by surprise, including Washington. The
acceleration of the Turkish-Russian normalization would have unnerved
heralded that in one sweep, the co-relation of forces in the West’s
standoff with Russia might change once the Turkish-Russian rapprochement
gathered pace. Erdogan and Putin are likely to meet in a near future,
It cannot at all be ruled out that the Russian intelligence
tipped off the Turkish counterparts on the likelihood of a coup. The
Russian intelligence has traditionally kept a strong presence in Turkey.
the backdrop of the intervention in Syria, Russia also must be
maintaining highly sophisticated electronic communication gear airbase
in the Hmeimim airbase.
What must be noted is that the Russian
reportage of the coup in Turkey was unabashedly ‘pro-Erdogan’. In a
manner of speaking, Russia has become a stakeholder in Erdogan’s
continuance in power – although Turkey is a NATO power.
certainly, the coup itself appears to have been hastily assembled, and
was predicated on hopes, perhaps, that it would draw large-scale support
from within the army. It probably hoped to capitalize on the officers
with ‘pro-Islamist’ leanings who were inducted into the officer corps of
the army by Erdogan following the great purge of ‘Kemalists’ during the
Arguably, Erdogan was aware that the newly-inducted
military cadres also included Gülen’s followers, and a further purge
would become necessary at some point. Curiously, Erdogan was due to take
the crucial annual meeting of the Military Council in Ankara next month
to decide on the promotion and transfers of top ranking officers.
Here we run into a paradox.
fact of the matter is that the ruling Justice and Development Party
(AKP) also has elements, including at the leadership level, who
empathize with Gülen and his version of political Islam.
Simply put, if the coup had succeeded, it would have essentially led to a ‘Gülenist’ takeover of the AKP itself.
bottom line is that even if the coup had succeeded, it wouldn’t have
made the least difference to Turkey’s historic lurch toward political
Again, what needs to be factored in is that Gülen has
enjoyed cordial equations with Saudi Arabia. “Green money” has played a
big part in the AKP’s ascendancy. The so-called “Anatolian tigers” –
business elites from Anatolian region – who financed the AKP have been
major beneficiaries of “green money.”
Of course, Saudis have kept
their dealings with Gülen under the wraps, and it remains to be seen
what impact the failed coup attempt would have on Erdogan’s uneasy
equations with the Saudi regime.
The Saudis have been watching
with unease the nascent signs of shift in Erdogan’s interventionist
policies in Syria. (By the way, Iran’s Fars news agency, which is close
to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, reported Saturday that
Turkish intelligence officers deployed in Aleppo in Syria have begun
evacuating on instructions from Ankara, signalling disengagement from
the rebel groups fighting the government forces in that region.)
it is not without significance that the Iranian statements on the coup
attempt in Turkey have been strongly supportive of Erdogan. Without
doubt, one can hear a sigh of relief in the corridors of power in
Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s National Security
Council, made a hugely meaningful remark on Saturday that both Tehran’s
vehement condemnation of the coup attempt in Turkey and the role that
Iran itself plays in Syria fundamentally stem from the same