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Why Erdogan Snubbed Biden

What is going on in Turkey right now reminds me very much of the last few scenes in the first Godfather movie, where Michael Corleone is settling all of the Family’s outstanding business. Corleone is seen in church renouncing “Satan and all his works” while he participates in the baptism of his nephew—shortly before garroting the baby’s father, Carl.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is certainly cleaning house. He has used last month’s failed coup attempt as an excuse to eliminate all his political opponents in the government and military bureaucracies, and he has now begun work on cleaning out the universities and the state schools. There have also been more arrests in the already-shackled media, including of senior editors. By some estimates, upward of 40,000 Turks have been arrested, while twice that many more have lost their jobs [1], and there are reports that the country’s prisons are being emptied of criminals to make room for the new arrivals. There is talk of bringing back the death penalty for those convicted of “treason” in the conspiracy to overthrow the government.

What do we now know for sure about the coup? It was indeed an attempt to overthrow the Erdogan government, possibly including plans to kill the president. It included some air force, army, and paramilitary police units but did not have the support of the major army commands. In my opinion and that of many others, Erdogan clearly had some prior knowledge that it was coming, as he was already preparing to arrest 3,000 military personnel. The news of the impending arrests reportedly forced the plotters to move more quickly, which took Erdogan by surprise, but he managed to rally his supporters, and the coup was put down with fewer than 300 deaths.

Arrests began immediately, with 12,000 detained within 24 hours, suggesting strongly that a list of suspects had been prepared in advance. Erdogan has, politically speaking, been the main beneficiary of the event. He has obtained emergency powers from parliament and is well-placed to be granted permanent unitary executive authority, which will weaken any and all checks and balances in the Turkish constitution—and ultimately benefit both him and his AKP party.

Erdogan and his supporters immediately blamed an opponent, Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and has plausibly been linked to the CIA. Gulen heads a movement called Hizmet, meaning “Service,” which has sometimes been likened to a cult. It allegedly includes many military and police officers, judges, and teachers. In my opinion, the clout of Gulen should not be minimized, but the idea that he could or would arrange a coup is a bit of a stretch. The military had plenty of reasons to loathe Erdogan without Gulen’s assistance, most notably the then-prime minister’s holding of a show trial that convicted [2] 330 senior officers back in 2012 without producing much in the way of evidence.

Turkish media, following directions from the government, have also declared that Washington was involved, a viewpoint shared by none other than [3] Zbigniew Brzezinski. The White House has strenuously denied any connection to the coup, and it defies all reason to suggest that the basically timid Obama administration would back a military coup to overthrow the elected government of a NATO member state. If such a coup were attempted and it were to leak, as it surely would, it would mean the end of NATO, a turn that would please many of us but is anathema to the establishment that the White House represents.

The innuendo coming out of Turkey, orchestrated both by government spokesmen and by the tame, officially controlled media, has convinced a majority of Turks that Washington was behind Gulen and also supported the coup attempt. Visits from high-level officials, including U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and more recently Vice President Joe Biden, have been intended to calm the situation, as has a private meeting [4] between Erdogan and Obama on Sunday, but the Turkish president believes he has the winning hand, and he is not interested in hearing platitudes or making concessions. The longer the issue remains at a boil, the more his hand at home is strengthened, as he can always claim that he is being bullied by Washington.

It is clear that some in Washington see Turkey as essential to the “war on ISIS.” Others are inclined to be skeptical [5], noting that Turkey has been playing both sides of the conflict in Syria, while its role in NATO is much diminished in an alliance that has largely lost its raison d’être. It also might be observed that Turkey has long pursued its own interests, buying Iranian oil when that country was subject to sanctions and more recently assisting ISIS more than opposing it. Understanding that, the Turkish government’s oft-repeated assertion that the U.S.-supported Kurdish militias in Syria are connected to the insurgent PKK inside Turkey and are terrorists as much as ISIS should have been setting off warning bells in the Pentagon and also at CIA.


All of which leads one to question how the White House managed to get into its current contretemps with Erdogan. The Turkish president clearly couldn’t have cared less about what the White House wanted when he recently made the decision to invade northern Syria. Joe Biden arrived in Ankara as the attack was beginning, a clear signal that Erdogan considered coordination with its American ally an irrelevancy. Biden dutifully supported the offensive and also committed to keeping the Kurdish militias behind the Euphrates in deference to Turkish sensitivities, but it was all political theater. Erdogan’s main target in Syria was never ISIS at all. Political Kurdistan, represented by America’s Kurdish allies, is and always will be enemy number one for Erdogan, for the very sensible reason that a newly created Kurdish state would inevitably obtain a large part of its population and territory from Turkey.

The Turkish military launched Operation Euphrates Shield on the border region on August 24, initially rolling over the town of Jarabulus, which was reportedly controlled by ISIS. The army units were aided by militiamen from the CIA-trained Sultan Murad Brigade. The U.S. had been discussing a cross-border operation with Ankara since 2015, but, uninformed of the impending assault, the embassy as well as Biden were taken by surprise when the Turks actually moved into Syria. Washington belatedly provided limited air support, which terminated when the Turkish army drove south into Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces-controlled territory and the true objective of the incursion became clear.

What followed was Washington’s latest nightmare [6]. Two groups of rebel fighters supported and trained by the U.S., the Kurdish YPG and the Sultan Murads, wound up shooting each other. The Turks are clearly trying to carve out a “safe” or buffer zone all along its border with Syria, which will be both ISIS- and Kurd-free, a task that they are describing as “cleansing” the area. How they expect to maintain that and repopulate it without Kurds is unclear, and the danger that embedded U.S. advisors will be killed in the process has preoccupied the Pentagon. The White House is now calling the Turkish incursion and its cleansing of Kurds “unacceptable” and a “source of deep concern,” but it is wrapping its complaints in a broader critique that the internal fighting is not helpful in the war against ISIS, which means that it is essential toothless.

There is, of course, no solution to the Syrian farrago short of the obvious way out: working with genuinely committed players who actually have skin in the game to end ISIS and stabilize the political situation. That would mean cooperating with al-Assad, Russia, and the Iranians. The Turkish incursion into Syria demonstrates that a capable army well-supported can mop the floor with a debilitated ISIS, but the politics of the situation mean that eliminating the terrorist group has become secondary to other, unstated objectives. As President Erdogan has made clear that he will unhesitatingly do what will sell well with the Turkish public, his turning on the Kurds as enemy number one should not surprise anyone, yet Washington is consistently caught flat-footed by what should be obvious to any competent observer.

And the White House is not the only party that is clueless. Hillary Clinton is likely to be the next president and is dedicated to confronting ISIS, Russia, Iran, and al-Assad simultaneously, so the prospects for pulling together any viable coalition to end the bloodshed do not look good.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "Why Erdogan Snubbed Biden"

#1 Comment By John S On September 8, 2016 @ 7:32 am

Where does Zbigniew Brzezinski make this claim? The article Giraldi cites links to another site which shows a screen capture of a tweet with a screen capture of a precis of an article supposedly by Brzezinski. But there is no such tweet on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Twitter account, there is no precis, and there is no article at The American Interest.

#2 Comment By Johann On September 8, 2016 @ 10:55 am

Good point and detective work John S. And that supposed Brzezinski screen-shot shown on the AWD News site has some pretty awkward English, like for example

“If Erdogan had the smallest bit of wisdom, he should have come to the understanding that he could not make an independent credibility with the help of some “decayed” Arab countries.”

Hard to believe its actually Brzezinski. Course, I guess it still could have been him, and he could have deleted the tweet, but I have my doubts.

#3 Comment By Jsmith On September 8, 2016 @ 11:13 am

I am unconvinced that the Turkish coup was real and not something Erdogan cooked up. Many of the folks “participating” in it, were surprised it was going on, the Turkish military would have done a better job, and the arrests lists were already on hand.

#4 Comment By sglover On September 8, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

Echoing John B. The link points to an article that within a few paragraphs jabbers about the Trilateral Commission. I thought that fever dream bogeyman went out of fashion around 1985 or so. Are we going to be citing Lyndon LaRouche next? “GlobalResearch.ca”?

It’s a shame, because I’ve always liked Giraldi’s stuff. Maybe this is a one-time lapse, but at least for me, you only need to cite cranks once or twice before I tune out permanently.

#5 Comment By sglover On September 8, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

The most plausible (to me, anyway) explanation for the fizzled coup has it that a broad personnel review was pending in August, and that it was likely to purge — or at least believed likely to purge — officers with even slight ties to Gulenists. So some officers decided to act while they still had some command authority. Then, when it failed, Erdogan pulled out his enemy lists, and leaped on the opportunity for a really serious purge.

I don’t believe that Erdogan has any scruples about manufacturing incidents for his own benefit. I just don’t think he has the competence to pull it off convincingly.

#6 Comment By John S On September 8, 2016 @ 2:51 pm

Good point, Johann.
“…a major blow to the US reputation.”
“…after failure in the Syria…”
Clearly Kremlin disinformation. Sad that Giraldi is propagating this.

#7 Comment By Phil Giraldi On September 8, 2016 @ 3:25 pm

John S., Johann – Here’s another link:
I included ZB’s alleged comment in my piece because I was rather surprised that he would say something like that. It might be a complete fabrication.

#8 Comment By chris On September 8, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

“The White House has strenuously denied any connection to the coup, and it defies all reason to suggest that the basically timid Obama administration would back a military coup to overthrow the elected government of a NATO member state.”

But this is not to say that they had no knowledge of it, and thus had aquiesced to it.

With nuclear weapons in Turkey it’s critical strategic location vis-a-vis Russia, Iran, and Syria, it is impossible that the US was taken by surprize ! (you know that, Phil; we all know that)

#9 Comment By cecelia On September 9, 2016 @ 12:33 am

Geez – if there are so called foreign policy experts in Washington who actually do not understand that every country is working in its own interest than they are fools and need firing. And if there are really any so called experts in Washington who did not recognize that Erdogan was never as concerned about ISIS as he was about the Kurds than they are fools and need firing.

#10 Comment By John S On September 9, 2016 @ 9:51 am

Mr. Giraldi, that link also cites the same fraudulent tweet. I think we can be certain that it’s a complete fabrication.

#11 Comment By Franz Liebkind On September 9, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

Mr Giraldi,

The Turks are clearly trying to carve out a “safe” or buffer zone all along its border with Syria, which will be both ISIS- and Kurd-free, a task that they are describing as “cleansing” the area. How they expect to maintain that and repopulate it without Kurds is unclear

There are thouse who think that the Nusra Front’s rebranding itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is a distinction without a difference. But what if a divorce from Al Qaeda makes it palatable for Erdogan to cooperate with that group? After all, Isis, now at war with Turkey, can no longer perform that function.

#12 Comment By too late wise On September 9, 2016 @ 5:31 pm

Those who know what they’re talking about have said from the outset that Turkey was the single most important player here, that it would move slowly, deliberately, but very decisively when it did move, and that whatever it did would be in pursuit of Turkey’s long-term interests.

Our own second-rate foreign policy establishment has discredited itself in Syria repeatedly by its incoherent, mindlessly belligerent, wasteful and self-destructive machinations. It treated Turkey as an afterthought, a convenient means to our own incoherent ends, rather than as an ally whose interests should figure prominently in our regional calculations.

The course of wisdom has always and obviously been for us to STAY THE HELL OUT and let Turkey and others take care of it. Turkey is now doing that, and showing how stupid it was for us to jump the gun and entangle ourselves in this mess in the first place.

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On September 9, 2016 @ 6:49 pm

“Hillary Clinton … is dedicated to confronting ISIS, Russia, Iran, and al-Assad simultaneously, so the prospects for pulling together any viable coalition to end the bloodshed do not look good.”

That’s good news to the investors at that Rothschild 100K dinner for Hillary on Martha’s Vineyard.

#14 Comment By Old Ranger On September 9, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

I see that Turkey’s incursion forced the US and Russia to reach a “peace deal” re Syria.

As far as I’m concerned, Turkey can take bigger and bigger bites out of Syria until it’s gone. It can eat its way to Cairo for that matter. The region was better run by the Ottomans – smaller tribes, ethnic and confessional groups were certainly better off than they are under the dictators, corrupt puppets, and fanatic tribalists we’ve been supporting or imposing.

In any case it’s for the Turks and their neighbors to decide. Not us. Any more than we would want the Turks telling us how to deal with the failed state to our south.

#15 Comment By Tassel On September 15, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

There is no doubt that Turkey has been a major supporter of ISIS, and I am surprised when anyone expresses any doubt about this.

Here are the titles of two studies by Columbia University that prove it:

“Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey Links”
“Research Paper: Turkey-ISIS Oil Trade”

They are both on Huffington. Read them please.

#16 Comment By McDruid On February 24, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

The Brzezinski quote is some 223 characters. When did Twitter loosen the 140 character rule?