Would Trump be happy if Erdoğan had been toppled?
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan was among the first leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on the day he was elected as the 45th president of the United States on Nov. 8.
Ankara had actually calculated that Hillary Clinton would win and made all preparations accordingly. Clinton’s approaches on Syria and Iraq, the anti-terror fight, human rights, judicial independence and media freedom were already known. These approaches were not exactly in line with Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, but at least Clinton was the devil they knew.
President Barack Obama’s administration was hesitant about extraditing Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamist preacher, an old ally of Erdoğan who is now seen as the mastermind behind the bloody July 15 military coup attempt. Documents show that Gülen and his network donated a total of nearly $2 million to the Clinton campaign, and were also linked through the same PR companies.
What’s more, one of Trump’s closest aides, retired general Mike Flynn, had published an article on the eve of the election in The Hill magazine, saying the U.S. should not continue to carry the burden of Gülen and his network. When considered together with the words of an unnamed U.S. official who recently said Gülen’s network resembled a money-laundering gang, rather than an innocent religious convent, it started to look like an Al Capone-style future could be waiting for Gülen, if not exactly an Usama bin Laden-style end as Erdoğan desired.
Flynn has since been named as Trump’s National Security Advisor and is scheduled to start in the post on Jan. 20, 2017. In the meantime, a number of his controversial remarks - such as when he said he found Islamophobia “rational” – have started to be reported in the media.
In particular, a video has emerged showing Flynn as the speaker at a Trump campaign meeting in Cleveland on July 15, the day of the military coup attempt in Turkey. His words there about the “ongoing coup” in Turkey were unusual and are likely to draw a reaction from Erdoğan and the Turkish government.
Flynn is seen in the video saying that as he spoke it must be around “three or four o’clock in the morning” in Turkey, which was exactly the time when the pro-coup soldiers were raiding the buildings of private broadcaster CNN Türk and daily Hürriyet newspaper. At around the same time when Flynn was speaking in Cleveland, I was involved in an argument with the army captain leading a team raiding our newspaper office.
“I don’t know whether they [the Turkish military] are going to succeed or not,” Flynn says, adding that it has been resisting “for many years” against “a secular country, a regular nation state moving toward an Islamic state under Erdoğan, who is very close to President Obama.”
“So I will be fascinated to see what happens. Because if the military succeeds [it can say] ‘we recognize our responsibilities with NATO, we recognize our responsibilities with the U.N., we want to make sure that the world knows we want to be seen as a secular nation,’” he adds.
After receiving applause from the hall, Flynn praises Egyptian general Abdel Fettah al-Sisi, who toppled the elected president Mohamad Morsi in 2013. He says Sisi has managed to strip ideology from the religion of Islam.
We may draw a few conclusions from the video footage that has emerged:
• Flynn did not have any information about what was going on in Turkey, despite being a former intelligence chief. He was simply expressing his hope that Erdoğan was being toppled.
• Flynn had no objection to a military coup toppling the elected president of a NATO country and in fact was ready to applaud it.
• Flynn was seduced by the false calls of the coup plotters’ declaration praising the secular order and continuing Turkey’s alliance with the West, without properly understanding what was going on.
We may also wonder if Flynn had some information about what was going on in Turkey and only decided to favor getting rid of Gülen after the failure of the coup attempt.
Whatever the truth, Flynn and president-elect Trump certainly have to come up with an explanation of Flynn’s remarks on Turkey’s failed coup attempt before assuming office.