Streetwise Professor

October 27, 2018

When You Strike at a King, You Must Kill Him

Filed under: Military,Politics,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:44 pm

Ralph Waldo Emerson penned those lines in a letter to Oliver Wendell Holmes more than 150 years ago: in the last 27 months, a latter day sultan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has put them into practice.  In the aftermath of the July, 2016 coup that failed to topple him, Erdogan has ruthlessly cracked down on anyone he or his minions even suspected were involved in, or even supported, the coup.  The military and civil service have been purged, and Turkey lives in fear.  Anyone with the even remote ties to the Gulenists whom Erdogan believes were behind the coup is at risk of losing his/her job, and even his/her liberty.  People struck at Erdogan, failed to kill him, and he is taking his revenge.

Today, Erdogan is taking advantage of the Khashoggi killing to strike at a monarch–in this case, an actual monarch, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (and by extension, his father, King Salman).  One wonders if Erdogan is paying proper heed to Emerson’s warning, or whether he is merely an arrogant chancer who is failing to recognize that MBS will respond as ruthlessly to an existential threat as Erdogan did to his own.

Erdogan imagines himself the leader of world Islam, and views this as his chance to strike at his main rival for that distinction.  Indeed, MBS (or his creatures) committed a blunder by killing Khashoggi, and on Turkish soil no less.  But despite this blunder, Erdogan’s success is far from certain.

Turkey is only months past a near collapse of its currency, and its economy: only a climb down in the Brunson conflict with the US bought Erdogan some breathing room. (At the cost of considerable ridicule within Turkey, I might add, given Erdogan’s boasts that he would NEVER let the American pastor go.)  But the fundamentals that led to the crisis over the summer–not merely huge debts, unfavorable foreign balances, and most notably, Erdogan’s impetuosity, arrogance, and economic idiocy–remain.  Turkey is still divided.  Although Erdogan won an election that effectively granted him an imperial presidency, it was by a narrow margin.  Turkey’s position in Syria is problematic.  And crucially, its relationship with the US is still fraught.

If Erdogan truly tries to go so far as to threaten MBS’s and King Salman’s preeminent position in Saudi Arabia, MBS will have no compunction about responding in kind.  And they have weapons at their disposal.  No not military–there is no common frontier, and regardless, the Saudis have proven themselves to be militarily inept (something KSA shares with most Arab militaries).  But economic?–Definitely.  It is well within Saudi capability to launch a speculative attack on the lira.  And the KSA has other financial weapons it can wield.

Indeed, the Khashoggi affair shows how ruthless the Saudis can be when confronted by even a rather trivial challenge.  Think of how they will respond if they really feel threatened.   Turkey’s currency and economy are an Achilles Heel that they could readily strike.

Further, the United States could squash Turkey financially like an overripe grape.  Even modest US measures, like tariffs on Turkish metal imports into the US, greatly exacerbated the swoon in the TRY–think of what would happen if Trump really put his mind to it.  This is not something that the US would want to do, given that Turkey is a Nato member, and has some strategic value to the US.  But KSA has strategic value too, arguably greater than Turkey’s, and if Erdogan overplays his hand with Saudi Arabia, and/or continues to be a pain on issues like the US support for Syrian Kurdish forces, Trump could bring a world of hurt onto Turkey and Erdogan.

So Erdogan must tread very carefully indeed, and keep Emerson’s injunction in mind.  And what are his odds of knocking off MBS, or even damaging him all that severely?  Not great, given the nature of the Saudi regime, MBS’s obvious willingness to use all measures necessary against internal opponents (who can disappear with far less attention than Khashoggi did in Istanbul), and its economic and geopolitical leverage.

But one should never underestimate Erdogan’s arrogance.  Given this arrogance, it is quite possible that he will ignore Emerson, overplay his hand, and be the ultimate loser in this Game of Thrones.

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 Comments »

  1. “a blunder by killing Khashoggi, and on Turkish soil no less”: the killing was done on Saudi soil, to wit in the embassy. But the murderers crossed Turkish soil to do it.

    I suspect that Turkish views on Arabs, and vice versa, might not include the milk of human kindness.

    Comment by dearieme — October 28, 2018 @ 6:11 am

  2. Erdogan has a trump card. 4.5 million migrants desperate to reach Europe. The EU will continue to pay the danegeld to keep them out, and if that means propping up Erdogan they will overlook that he’s a nasty piece of work.

    Comment by zut alors! — October 28, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

  3. I got the distinct impression that Erdogan dropped the Brunson case – intended to exert leverage (aka blackmail/extortion) over the States – not because the States was threatening him but, by the gift of Allah, MBS dropped an even stronger trump card onto Erdogan’s capacious lap in the form of the botched Kashoggi murder and cover-up.

    “Bring me the head of the dog”, indeed. These guys have been watching too much Hollywood pap. Anyone remember the Sam Peckinpah classic: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia??

    Finally, a note on the purported chopping off of Kashoggi’s fingers. Well, what do you think journalists type with? You can only imagine what would have gotten chopped off if the transgression had involved intimate relations with MBS’s sister!! 🙂

    Comment by Simple Simon — October 29, 2018 @ 10:44 am

  4. The murder occurred on Turkish soil. Only the embassy in Ankara would be Saudi soil.

    cf. The Meaning of Treason by Rebecca West for a discussion of this.

    Comment by bidrec — October 29, 2018 @ 12:48 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress