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Turkey’s Erdogan is a Dangerous Tyrant

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Turkish prosecutors Monday launched an investigation into the head of Turkey’s main opposition party after he called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a ‘tinpot dictator.’ The chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara launched the probe on charges of ‘openly insulting the president,’ the official Anatolia new agency reported [on January 18].

Asked on his return from a visit to Saudi Arabia whether an executive presidential system was possible while maintaining the unitary structure of the state, President Erdogan said “There are already examples in the world. You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.”

In President Obama’s speech on World Press Freedom Day in 2015 he declared that “in too many places around the world, a free press is under attack by governments that want to avoid the truth or mistrust the ability of citizens to make their own decisions.”  Quite right.  And he criticized three countries “that severely restrict the freedom of the press”: Vietnam, Ethiopia and — inevitably — Russia.

There wasn’t a word about Saudi Arabia which “has one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” nor about President Erdogan’s Turkey which, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, “remains among the worst jailers of journalists worldwide.”

Erdogan persecutes those who do not “want to avoid the truth.” According to Reporters Without Borders, two journalists were arrested last November on Erdogan’s orders for making it known that the Turkish intelligence service, MIT, had been supplying weapons to Islamist extremists in Syria.  There is no doubt that this was taking place, because as early as August 2014 a representative of the Islamic State terrorist group told The Washington Post that “Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies” (Jihad Watch has a full report).

The White House could not have been unaware of the provision of weapons by Turkey to terrorist groups in Syria, as US surveillance of the region is total. But Obama chose to ignore this dangerous trickery, just as he ignored Reporters Without Borders reporting that “what with media blackouts, denial of accreditation and constant prosecutions, the [Turkish] authorities have stopped at nothing to prevent journalists from working.”

The message is that Erdogan can get away with almost anything, so far as Washington is concerned, providing he pursues his malicious confrontation with Russia.

(It should be noted that Senator John McCain said on the Morning Joe program that “Erdogan has become a real Islamist. Even worse, he has become an oppressive dictator. A real disappointment. The Turkish media is under real pressure. There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in Iran.”)

On February 10 Erdogan insulted the United States, but it was not surprising that Washington failed to reply to his arrogant offensiveness because of his value as a tool in the US-NATO anti-Russia campaign.  Speaking of the Pentagon-supported Kurds in the Kobani region of northern Syria, the YPG, who Mr Erdogan’s army is illegally bombarding with massed artillery, he was reported by the US online journal Veterans Today as saying “Oh America! I told you many times, you are [either] beside us, or all of these terrorist organizations. You haven’t had a good grasp of them, and that is why the region has turned into the sea of blood. We have written proof!  We tell the Americans ‘it’s a terror group.’ But the Americans stand up and say ‘no we don’t see them as terror groups.’ Allies don’t tell each other my enemy’s enemy is my friend. You must have principles. But there are no principles here.”

The only US response came in the feeble words of Defence Secretary Carter on being asked by a reporter if he had “any reaction to President Erdogan’s comments yesterday about America contributing to a pool of blood by supporting Kurdish fighters in Syria?”  Instead of saying simply that Erdogan is an unprincipled and dangerous buffoon, Carter replied that “obviously Turkey is a good and longstanding ally of the United States. We’re not going to agree with them in all matters. We staunchly agree with them, and always have, that we oppose terrorism in any form . . . we also continue to work very closely with Turkey.”

Of course Washington works closely with Turkey.  After all it was President Erdogan who ordered the shooting down of a Russian aircraft last November, and Washington can rely on him to indulge in bombastic hostility to Russia at the drop of a fez. Following the terrorist bombing in Ankara on February 17 Russia “expressed its deep condolences to the people of Turkey” but the Turkish government’s response consisted of  “warning Russia once more : if these terror attacks continue, they will be as responsible as the YPG [the US-supported Kurdish militia group in Syria which combats Islamic State fanatics and which has emphatically denied being involved in the bombing].”

Presidents Obama and Erdogan have different aims in the region.  Mr Obama wants to overthrow Syria’s President Assad, presumably in the same fashion as he facilitated the murder of Libyan President Gaddafi in 2011 (“We came, we saw: he died” in the laughing words of his then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and also to destroy Islamic State barbarians.  On the other hand, Erdogan’s main aim is to divide and suppress the Kurdish people, especially Turkey’s fifteen million Kurdish citizens who have the temerity to seek a voice in their own country.

Mr Erdogan’s antics on the international stage continue to be a cause of concern to all but the US-NATO military alliance, and his recent US-directed display of irritation was no more bizarre or malevolent than any of his other actions.  At the end of January he again claimed that a Russian aircraft had violated Turkish airspace and threatened “consequences.” Even the western media did not follow up on this allegation, because it was so obviously garbage — but neither did any western media report that “Turkish Air Force fighter jets violated Greek airspace 22 times on Monday February 15.”

Greece is a member of NATO, but not an important one because it is not in favor of confronting Russia, with which the Athens government prefers cooperation and trade.  So when Greek airspace is violated by Turkish fighter aircraft there is no reaction from the United States.  When Secretary of State John Kerry was in Athens last December a reporter asked him “does Greece have the right to protect its borders? And I’m talking about violation of Greek airspace, just like in the case of Turkey. Or are there two standards in this?”

Kerry is essentially a decent man, and tells only occasional lies, but replied weakly that “Well, no, of course there shouldn’t be two standards . . . I simply encourage Greece and Turkey . . .  as NATO allies . . . to work together to maintain good neighborly relations.”

Turkey will never try to maintain good relations with Greece, because Erdogan knows very well that he can insult, confront and threaten it as much as he likes without US or NATO disapproval.

Neither will there be the tiniest reproach from Washington when Erdogan manages to achieve his most important personal objective, which is to replace his country’s parliamentary government with an all-powerful executive presidency.  This, indeed, is the main reason for all his bluster and arrogance.

Most members of Erdogan’s deeply Islamic Justice and Development Party are in favor of their leader becoming Turkey’s supreme ruler.  If they manage to achieve a major majority in parliament they will alter the Constitution so that “the head of state would have the power to issue executive and legislative decrees, which effectively would mean that both the executive and legislative powers would be concentrated in the president’s hands. Parliament would retain its legislative function, but the president would have veto power over the laws it passes . . . The president would appoint the ministers and half of the members of higher courts, and would have the power to dissolve parliament.”

Some western media noted this markedly authoritarian ambition and in January The New York Times stated that “Mr Erdogan, who is pushing to imbue the largely ceremonial presidency with sweeping executive powers, told reporters that ‘In a unitary system [such as Turkey’s] a presidential system can work perfectly.  There are already examples in the world.  You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany’ . . . Mr Erdogan did not elaborate, but his comment raised the question of why the leader of one of the world’s most influential countries, an American ally and member of NATO, would mention Hitler in the context of his own tenure.”

President Erdogan is backed devotedly by his prime minister, Mr Davutoglu, who visited Ukraine on February 15 to highlight Turkey’s anti-Russia posture.  It was unfortunate but amusing that he met with the prime minister and president at the very time that “Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has asked Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to resign, saying he has lost the support of the governing coalition.”

Yatsenyuk — “Yats,”  to use the affectionate diminutive bestowed on him by the US State Department functionary Victoria Nuland who said before Kiev’s US-supported coup of 2014 that “I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience” to be the US frontman in the replacement regime — is a spent force, and neither he nor his equally corrupt president will last much longer in power.  But they and their successors will continue to champion Washington’s anti-Russia campaign — and will in consequence be as benevolently regarded as the energetically erratic Erdogan.

Erdogan appears to be out of control to the point of being a psychotic menace, but that means nothing to Washington which is not choosy about who it selects as allies, just so long as they are anti-Russia.  He will continue to confront Russia, persecute the Kurds, jail reporters,  prosecute politicians who criticize him, insult the US government and treat Greece with contempt.

Little wonder that on February 20 Erdogan’s prime minister declared that “The only thing we expect from our US ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts.”

You got it, Turkey Buddy.  And such support will help President Erdogan to create an executive presidential system that “can work perfectly” in his country.  After all, as he tells us, “You can see it when you look at Hitler’s Germany.”

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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