Note: This is the first of a three-blog series discussing the desired outcome of the Khashoggi saga to Erdogan, Trump, and Muhammad bin Salman.
A conservative daily newspaper in Turkey, Yeni Safak, reported the gruesome details of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The reporters claim to have heard an audio recording of the murder.
The report says that Saudis began chopping up his body while Jamal Khashoggi was still alive. It shreds the ‘interrogation gone wrong’ narrative that Saudis were trying to build.
Trump, Erdogan, and Muhammad bin Salman are devoid of the nobility to recognize the greatness of Jamal Khashoggi or the courage it takes to rebel against the order.
Just like Obama, Trump despises the freedom of the press albeit more bluntly and calls the press ‘enemy of the people’. Erdogan has jailed thousands of critics and dissidents including his political opposition. And the less said about the Saudi record on critics the better.
Erdogan, Trump, and MBS are selfish and worry only about their thrones. None of them cares about the murder of a journalist. All they are focusing on is what they can get out of the Khashoggi saga.
As much as we want to see the Khashoggi’s murderers brought to justice, it remains unlikely to happen. If Saudis could get away with 9/11 attacks, what is a writer’s murder?
Despite the global outrage, the Khashoggi saga is likely to end in a tri-party deal between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
In this blog, I will go over what Turkey would hope to get out of this sage. I will write at least two more blogs discussing the best-case scenarios for the US and Saudi Arabia.
Background on Turkey’s Predicaments
Back when ISIS was gaining ground and calling for attacks around the world, Obama had a plan. Syrian civil war was already underway with a number of rebel forces trying to topple Assad. As grave a danger as ISIS became, Obama was not willing to put Assad’s ouster on hold to destroy ISIS.
Erdogan refused to cooperate with the US denying them access to Turkish air bases. He thought that by not supporting the US, he was defanging ISIS. He held that if Turkey didn’t attack ISIS, ISIS wouldn’t attack Turkey.
During this time, Obama looked for a rebel group that was fighting ISIS and Assad simultaneously. He finally decided on YPG, a Kurdish rebel group, and began arming them.
By this time, ISIS had hit Turkey and killed dozens of civilians. PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters also attacked state forces to protest Turkey’s refusal to help Kurdish forces in Syria. The 40-year-old war that Turks and Kurds had been fighting in the hills was now fought in urban areas.
From the beginning, Erdogan argued that YPG was an offshoot of PKK, a terrorist organization. Turkey never could prove the link to their Western allies but insisted that links existed.
Turkey finally agreed to help the US in both toppling Assad and fighting ISIS. But more than once Turkish forces attacked YPG in Syria as well as Iraqi Peshmerga, both Kurdish military forces.
The reason behind the attacks was that YPG had secured all but 60 miles of the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey thought that that could mobilize the Kurds within Turkey as PKK had warned of an ‘internal civil war’ in Turkey. Finally, the US took control over the airspace between Turkey and Syria to keep the two sides from getting into a direct conflict.
Turkey asked the US to stop supporting YPG, but the support never stopped.
How and what Turkey could get from the deal
With pressure mounting on Saudi Arabia and the United States through leaks from the Turkish officials to different media outlets, Turks hold the keys in the Khashoggi saga. They are yet to release audio/video evidence as well as the findings of their inspection of the Saudi consulate and the consul general’s residence.
Erdogan has not publicly commented on the reports, thus his options remain open.
So what does Erdogan want?
Stopping the US Support for YPG
With Saudis and the Americans under his thumb, Erdogan can ask the US to stop supporting YPG in northern Syria. Rather than offer a blunt quid pro quo, he can use strategic arguments. With ISIS destroyed, YPG is of no use to the US as the war to topple Assad is now lost.
Although wicked, that is what has been the US position in many a conflict. After creating, arming, and training Al-Qaida and the Haqqani Network to fight the Soviet forces, US quickly made them into enemies when the same ideologies that US-backed Saudi clerics had instilled into militants began threatening American interests in the region.
If Erdogan could get the US to agree to end or reduce their support to YPG, it will help him dampen the hopes of Turkish Kurds who want to have an autonomous region of their own.
Even though Erdogan doesn’t have to contest elections for years, the extremist religious elements that see him as a hero in the Muslim world will see it as a great victory.
Investment Commitments from the Saudis
The second thing Turkey would demand is investments from Saudi Arabia. As Turks face an economic crisis, they might ask Saudis to pump the dollars in.
By securing funds from the Saudis, Erdogan could appeal to the moderate elements who though oppose his religious agenda, might support his economic policies if he can stop the devaluation of Lira.
Erdogan has arrested, detained, and sentenced thousands of journalists, reporters, newspaper editors, critics, dissidents, bloggers, and members of the civil society among many. It is hard for me to imagine that Khashoggi’s murder concerns him.
Even if the Turkish investigators release evidence implicating the Saudis, Erdogan is unlikely to rebuke them. Tourism from Saudi Arabia alone contributes billions of dollars to the Turkish economy.
Amid the purge, the tourism to Turkey has gone down sharply. Erdogan cares about his image too much to worsen the economic crisis by taking a stance on human rights.
If individual nations do take actions against the Saudis, it will be countries like Canada, Norway, and Denmark while the US, UK, and France might voice outrage but will not stop selling arms to the Saudis. If the plight of millions of Yemenis didn’t shake them, why would Khashoggi’s death affect them at all?
Next blog in the series: How Saudi Arabia Wants to End the Khashoggi Saga