Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed this week to reveal the “naked truth” about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi; however, in fact, he didn’t uncover anything extraordinary, but why?
It is significant that the day before Erdogan’s much-hyped speech to Turkish parliamentarians, President Donald Trump dispatched his CIA chief to Turkey to “investigate” the evidence of Khashoggi’s killing.
The involvement of the CIA at such a high level in an overseas criminal case is unprecedented. Surely, FBI crime investigators would have been more appropriate, if at all.
What was the real purpose of CIA director Gina Haspel going to Turkey? Haspel, or “Bloody Gina” as she is known, has an ignominious record of being personally involved in past CIA torture cases and destroying incriminating evidence. Was her trip to Turkey not so much about discovery of facts, and rather more about covering-up the truth of what really happened to Khashoggi?
It is subsequently reported by the Washington Post that Haspel listened to the secret Turkish audiotapes recording the moments of Khashoggi’s murder.
For his part, President Erdogan’s speech this week provoked much disappointment among many international observers who had been expecting him to reveal hard evidence incriminating the Saudis in a murder plot. There was an expectation that Erdogan would finally release audio and video tapes, which Turk investigators claim to have, which would expose the grim way in which Khashoggi was allegedly disposed of.
The Turkish leader certainly laid out plainly the charge that Saudi Arabia had carried out “a premeditated murder” in its consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Erdogan called it a “brutal” killing which implies Khashoggi was tortured and dismembered, as Turkish officials have been leaking for the past three weeks to media.
But Erdogan did not name names of who the Turks believe was ultimately responsible for ordering the assassination.
The Saudis have stated that Khashoggi was killed in a “botched interrogation” carried out by a “rogue” team of state security agents. They have strenuously denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 33-year-old heir to the throne, had any involvement in ordering the plot.
Prince Mohammed this week in his first public comments on the killing, called it a “heinous act” and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. Notably, in a conciliatory overture to Erdogan, the monarch also warned anyone trying to “drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey”.
Nonetheless, unnamed American and Turkish intelligence sources have separately told various media outlets they have telecoms intercepts implicating the crown prince in personally sanctioning the murderous operation.
The holding back of damning evidence by Erdogan this week suggests that the Turkish leader is trying to maximize his leverage over the Saudi rulers and President Trump to get a deal for his country. This may explain the real reason why CIA’s Haspel rushed to Turkey this week.
Erdogan is a renowned Machiavellian politician. He may have been personal friends with the doomed Khashoggi, but when Erdogan vows to “expose the full truth” while holding back purported damning evidence, what he is aiming to do is extract further concessions from the Saudis and the Americans.
Turkey needs the US to back off from its recent campaign of hostility and sanctions which have thrown the Turkish economy into turmoil. US-Turkish relations soured over the detention by Ankara of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, on charges of espionage. The return of the pastor earlier this month only days after the Khashoggi case emerged suggests the beginning of Erdogan’s gambit to appease the US for favors.
It can also be anticipated that Erdogan will extract eye-watering financial concessions from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has huge investments in Turkey. That could involve debt write-offs for Ankara or more soft loans into the future.
For the Saudis and Washington, they want the whole Khashoggi scandal to go away as fast as possible. President Trump has helped create the media narrative that the Khashoggi killing was a “horrible mistake” carried out by “rogue agents”. This week, ironically, Trump described the Saudi version of events as “the worst cover-up in history”. Cynically, what Trump means is that the alibi needs to be improved with a more sophisticated deception.
This US president has staked much of his Middle East plans on the Saudi crown prince, or “MbS” as he is known. Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor on Middle East affairs Jared Kushner is personal friends with the young monarch. The White House is relying on Prince Mohammed to sell what amounts to a pro-Israeli peace deal to the Arab world, which Trump has bragged about as being “the deal of the century”.
The Saudi monarch is also crucial to Trump’s policy of aggression towards Iran. The US needs the Saudis to ramp up oil production in order to offset the expected decrease in Iranian crude supply if Trump’s anti-Iran sanctions due to kick in next month are to succeed.
Maintaining multi-billion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia is, of course, another imperative reason why the White House does not want the truth about what happened Khashoggi to come out. It wants to whitewash the role played by senior House of Saud figures.
A bipartisan move by US congress members was launched this week to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia if President Trump does not show that senior Saudi royals were not involved in the Khashoggi killing. Trump is therefore under pressure to absolve the Saudi authorities of culpability.
For the Saudi rulers they have been caught in a global public relations disaster. Their image, never too positive anyway, has been shattered over the foul murder of a journalist. Saudi’s oil economy is not as secure as one might think. The military operation in Yemen and ballooning social costs internally are making the kingdom heavily reliant on foreign capital. The “Davos in the Desert” conference this week has seen many top investors stay away due to the Khashoggi scandal.
The House of Saud desperately needs to find a cover-up that absolves its senior figures in Khashoggi’s murder.
For these reasons, Turkey, the US and Saudi Arabia are positioning for a sordid deal which will involve burying the truth about what happened to Khashoggi and who ordered his murder.
For ordinary people around the world one might expect justice and truth to prevail. But in the dirty business of politics – especially involving these three arch-practitioners of dirty politics – justice and truth are values more likely to be liquidated.