Turkey and Erdogan – Looting, Lies and Audiotape
… by Gwenyth Todd, …former White House National Security Council
[ Editors Note: Ah yes, Miss Gwenyth is back, and with a barn burner to kick off this guest article for VT. She is a solid member of the “Been there, done that” club, so expect to see a lot of meat on the bones of her articles.
And today she is picking away at Mr. Erdogan’s bones, courtesy of her many years of professional work in the area with both the Pentagon and White House NSC.
The key to the success Veterans Today has had in attracting our very diversified audience has been in the eclectic band of merrier warrior we have here with front line experience. And by that I don’t just mean the military, but in the belly of the beast, which the Bush (43) White House certainly was.
I wish I could say she is the only one here who has survived assassination attempts, but she is not. Unfortunately, that can be one of the hazards of duty when you swim upstream amongst all the crap that is floating down.
But survivors have learned things that most others never will. It is an exclusive club because they have a lot to share, and we look forward to working with our lady from down under, including the baby kangaroos… Jim W. Dean ]
“The Devil once lived in Heaven, and those who have not met him are unlikely to recognize and angel when they see one.” … Richard Crossman, British MP, from the introduction of The God that Failed, with Arthur Koestler.
The reaction by Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to leaked tapes, purportedly revealing Mr. Erdogan and his son Bilal conspiring to hide hundreds of millions of undeclared Euros and dollars, is entirely in keeping with Mr. Erdogan’s dictatorial modus operandum.
Mr. Erdogan vehemently asserts that these tapes are fabricated as part of a vile conspiracy either by the opposition party founded by Atatürk, (the CHP or “Republicans’ People’s Party”) or by Mr. Erdogan’s former ally and Muslim cleric Fethullah Güllen, to bring Turkey’s ruling AKP down.
In a direct nose-thumbing at those who express frustration over systemic corruption within Mr. Erdogan’s AKP (“Justice and Development Party”), Mr. Erdogan just released five key political allies, including two former AKP ministers, arrested for corrupt activities.
I must note that I take this news with additional offense because one of those released directly threatened, and probably was instrumental in, the 2008 murder of one my closest friends and colleagues in Turkey, billionaire Ali Nuri Çolakoglu.
Mr. Çolakoglu told me shortly before his death that his life been directly threatened by Minister Muammer Güler.
Mr. Çolakoglu further predicted that he would be assassinated on one of his frequent private walks along the Bosphorus. In January 2008, Mr. Çolakoglu was found dead on a footpath along the Bosphorus, shot through the head. His death was hastily proclaimed a suicide, but there were no witnesses nor note found and I am confident he was murdered by Mr. Erdogan’s cronies.
Yet Mr. Erdogan seems sufficiently worried by these latest revelations that he is going to extreme lengths to quash the allegations. Where he usually only has to rely on one or two tricks in his repertoire to distract the average Turkish citizen as well as the international community, this latest scandal has caused him to pull out many additional stops as he moves into damage-control mode.
Examining his tactics over the past week gives observers a consolidated view of the range of tricks upon which Mr. Erdogan routinely relies to increase his personal power and wealth at the expense of the Turkish people, the Arab countries and Turkey’s NATO allies.
Because of Turkey’s location, oil and gas pipelines, these scandals and the tactics Mr Erdogan uses to sweep them under the carpet also affect other major players, including Iran and Russia.
As expected, Mr Erdogan has denounced these recent tapes as fabricated montages created by his political opponents. Given that Mr. Erdogan recently announced local elections at the end of March 2014, we should anticipate damaging revelations from all parties as they seek to get a leg up.
Yet with or without upcoming elections, cries of domestic and international conspiracies are always Mr. Erdogan’s knee-jerk approach. His reaction is usually accompanied by threats, denunciations and fiery rhetoric.
On a purely political level, this is predictable and not very significant, except that in casting a wide net of blame, Mr. Erdogan will likely succeed in restricting many rural and less educated voters from accessing information about his vast, secret, personal fortune that might otherwise cause them to vote against his AKP political party.
What is more significant is the steps Mr. Erdogan has taken to block any credible investigations or public discourse. It is impossibly convenient that in the days surrounding the release of these damning tapes, the Turkish Parliament passed a law allowing authorities to block Internet sites without a court order.
Mr. Erdogan has long seen the Internet as a threat to his control over his opponents and we should expect him to ensure that any organization or individual in Turkey who is suspected of opposing Mr. Erdogan’s or the AKP’s policies will have their Internet access blocked and could face serious legal trouble.
For now, many ordinary people in Turkey still labor under the delusion that they are safe in expressing their views on Facebook and Twitter but where Erdogan is concerned, no one who criticizes him is safe.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül, who has been very active in bringing radical Islam to Turkey for decades, also signed into law a bill that places significant restrictions on the judiciary’s ability to investigate and prosecute allegations of high-level corruption.
Turkish daily Hürriyet quotes Mr. Erdogan saying “the police officer sent to me and promoted Chief (while working) in my office meanwhile places bugs in the most private places and wiretaps me.”
Aside from the obvious questions about what private secrets Mr. Erdogan needs to hide, we also see him accusing his own police of treason. These are not the actions of an innocent man: they are those of a deluded, arrogant dictator who is not afraid to announce that Turkish laws do not apply to him or his côterie.
Particularly ironic is that Mr. Erdogan himself relied on bugs to fabricate charges against military personnel, politicians and businessmen suspected of threatening his grip on power. Now that Mr. Erdogan has been caught red-handed, President Gül has taken the necessary step to protect him and revoked police and judiciary authority to conduct swift, sweeping investigations and prosecutions of potential opponents within the Turkish military, media and other powerful sectors.
Over the past six years, the US and the European Union have stood by while hundreds of pro-Western Turkish military officers, have been imprisoned by Mr.Erdogan’s special courts. S
Some of those arrested were true US allies with whom I worked very closely during my years at the Pentagon and the White House National Security Council. These friends of the US were convicted en masse,based on evidence that ranged from flimsy to frankly ludicrous.
Now, in revoking the same judiciary powers he used to neutralize these potential opponents, Mr. Erdogan can act with total impunity and appears to be doing so. Meanwhile, the US has done nothing to demand the release of these former friends and allies, whom the paranoid Mr. Erdogan sent to prison on trumped-up charges.
The US lack of action is almost as appalling as Mr. Erdogan’s arbitrary creation, selective enforcement and timely annulment of these special powers for the Turkish police and judiciary.
In spite of the US Government’s abandoning of its Turkish military allies, or perhaps because of it, Mr. Erdogan does not trust the US. He is already issuing thinly veiled accusations against the US as he attacks Muslim cleric and former AKP ally Fethullah Gülen.
Gülen has been seen as a powerful adversary to elected Turkish governments for decades, and now lives in the US state of Pennsylvania, beyond the reach of the Turkish government.
Mr. Erdogan, who used Gülen’s supporters to neutralize the influence of the Turkish military in politics, now sees Gülen as a threat to AKP dictatorial ambitions, stating
“This structure [Gülen’s] is working for the intelligence agencies of other countries and involved in espionage and treason. If you haven’t done anything wrong, don’t stay in Pennsylvania. If you want to do politics, come and do politics in public squares. Don’t roil this country, don’t ruin the peace.”
The message is targeted in part at the US and demonstrates that the US Government has lost its ability to influence events in Turkey. At this point, even if the AKP was deposed and a new, more Western-oriented Turkish government comes to power, the US is unlikely to regain credibility with any future Turkish government, be it a true democracy, a religious dictatorship or a country under martial law.
For now, if the US does become too vocal in criticizing Mr. Erdogan, we should expect to see Mr. Erdogan expel the US Ambassador, Frank Ricciardone and recall Turkey’s Ambassador to the US, Namik Tan. I worked closely with both these fine men in the 1990s and do not want to say anything about them that might be misconstrued.
I do, however, suspect Mr. Erdogan worries about their private views of his activities, because both are highly intelligent, honest men of conscience. Still, both are loyal and professional diplomats who will toe the line, whatever Mr. Erdogan and Mr Kerry decide to do.
Mr. Erdogan likely still needs an extra diversion or two at the ready to ensure the global community does not have time to focus on his anti-democratic activity and suspicious, rapid accumulation of personal wealth. The best way to do this would be to accuse any foreign government that questions Mr. Erdogan’s behavior of conspiring against him because he is a practicing Muslim.
He learned well from the Israelis (who brand all legitimate critics as anti-Semitic) and has a winning formula to shame publicly any Western critic as acting out of anti-Muslim hatred.
In our politically correct world, the US does not want to risk being singled out as an enemy of Islam, so few if any senior US officials will risk publicly denouncing Mr. Erdogan. We should be alert to the possibility that Mr. Erdogan will resort to playing the Islam card if he feels threatened by US statements.
In case being labeled anti-Muslim is not a sufficient deterrent to would-be critics, Mr. Erdogan has additional cards to play. His pet one right now is Syria. The escalation of civil war in Syria was, in large part, a result of Mr. Erdogan’s own actions. By originally encouraging the rebel Free Syrian Army to locate itself inside Turkey’s borders, Mr. Erdogan rightly claims credit for igniting the catastrophic Syrian conflict that has ensued.
Erdogan proudly portrays himself as the champion of rebel forces supposedly seeking to establish democracy in Syria. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan’s government’s own egregious human rights violations and corruption are conveniently eclipsed by the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria.
To distract attention from continuing violent protests in Turkey against Mr. Erdogan’s corrupt administration, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has gone on the offensive, berating Western critics for not focusing on graver problems in Syria. Recently, Davutoglu predictably announced that the world has failed Syria, and that the crisis has become a “threat to all.”
He stated a robust international strategy and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters was necessary to end the conflict. These comments came against the backdrop of protests against Mr. Erdogan’s apparent illegal self-enrichment activities.
Still, Davutoglu avoids any public assertion that Mr. Erdogan’s government is actually stoking the Syrian civil war. If the above approaches fail to divert attention from Mr. Erdogan’s dictatorial, corrupt and thuggish actions, there is always the ultimate, obvious fallback of Israel.
What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is one issue that no person of conscience, regardless of faith or origin, can deny. Mr. Erdogan can always raise the spectre of his staged heroic 2010 Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident when all else fails.
That well-publicized high-seas adventure rarely fails to gain sympathy and accolades, even from those who criticize Mr. Erdogan for his corruption and brutality at home.
It is a cheap ploy but I have seen such tactics used at the highest levels of even the US Government. It tends to work, at least as a last-ditch temporary diversion to buy time, in this case while Mr. Erdogan and his cronies quickly pass new laws, free from jail those who might unmask AKP corruption, and brutally silence internal opposition.
Should all other avenues fail and last ditch effort to gain domestic and international sympathy is required, Mr. Erdogan seems ready to follow the lead of various other dictators when confronted with credible corruption allegations: spread the word that he is having a health crisis and make it clear that his life might be in danger.
Playing the sympathy card can help a lot, especially if one can create concern among the public without going too far and causing them to question one’s ability to govern. Unfortunately, no one important has raised the health issue lately, so the AKP made sure it was added to the agenda last week by taking the opportunity to deny that Mr. Erdogan is ill, even though no one had made claims that he was ill to begin with:
“Deputy Head of the ruling Justice and Development Party of Turkey Huseyn Chelik has denied the information about the sudden worsening of the country’s prime minister’s health condition, Turkish Milliyet newspaper reported on Feb.27.”
The non-rumor was quashed before it even had a chance to be born, a cheap trick to conjure up the compassion of the general Turkish population over a fabricated health crisis.
At least his supporters should know by now that in the event Mr. Erdogan were to actually suffer health problems, he has sufficient personal funds to afford the best medical treatment available anywhere on Earth, in the form of millions of Euros hidden from the police by his own son at Mr. Erdogan’s recorded instructions.
Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. New scandals involving Mr Erdogan and his AKP party members keep popping up.
When a new scandalous revelation reaches the general public, Mr. Erdogan throws up one smokescreen after another, buying time and counting on the international and domestic community to shift focus to ever-emerging new crises around the world.
By blaming political opponents, arbitrarily changing laws, silencing journalists, imprisoning or killing internal oppositionists, threatening international critics with diplomatic expulsion, paying powerful lobbyists around the world to burnish his image as a promoter of human rights and democracy, and disappearing from the public eye citing sudden health concerns, Mr. Erdogan has made it virtually impossible to find the fire generating the smoke.
But we have to ask ourselves, at what point does the smoke become so heavy and toxic that the precise location and nature of the fire behind it is irrelevant? Mr. Erdogan’s smoke, whatever its source, poses a real threat to Turkish, Arab, European and US interests alike.
Editing: Jim W. Dean
Gwenyth Todd is a former adviser to four US Secretaries of Defense, spanning appointments from Dick Cheney to Bill Cohen, as well as a former Director for various countries in the European and Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs offices at the White House National Security Council.
After leaving the US Government, she established her own security consulting business and worked with clients including the US Navy Central Command in Bahrain.
Veterans Today archives detail her efforts to help counter the influence of the Israeli Lobby in the United States and her successful efforts to prevent the George W. Bush Administration from using false flag operations to justify expanding US military involvement into Iran.
Her unfettered access over the years to key players across Washington DC, as well as in Turkey and the Persian Gulf region, gives her unique insight into regional developments. She is a proud contributor to Veterans Today, where she is able to discuss issues openly without political editorial interference.