Turkey Benefits from the Khashoggi Disappearance
Turkey wants to become the dominant power in the Middle East. Its current regime, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is both an Islamist political movement and a movement that seeks to reconstitute the Ottoman Empire – the last, real Islamic caliphate – that collapsed at the end of the First World War. In order to accomplish this herculean task, President Erdoğan has had to make decisive moves that have pushed Turkey out of the West's orbit (Turkey has long been a key member of the NATO alliance) and has moved Turkey closer to Russia, China, and Iran.
While not entirely divorced from the West, Turkey can no longer be counted on to retain its previous pro-Western outlook. That is why the recent U.S.-Saudi row over the potential murder of Washington Post contributor Saudi-born Jamal Khashoggi, by a Saudi intelligence "hit team" operating in Istanbul, Turkey is so beneficial for the Turkish government. Finally, after years of deteriorating relations with the United States, Turkey is no longer Washington's most difficult "ally" in the Muslim world.
That honor now falls to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Real Jamal Khashoggi
What we know about Khashoggi is that he was not a journalist as the Western press continues claiming. In fact, Khashoggi was a member of the Islamist group known as the Muslim Brotherhood. This group began its bloody reign of terror back in 1923 as an Islamist opposition group to British colonial rule over Egypt. It soon became the progenitor for other, even more violent jihadist groups, such as al-Qaeda. (In fact, the current head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a proud member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who was imprisoned for his role in attempting to overthrow the secular Egyptian government in the 1970s.) The Muslim Brotherhood was ultimately the greatest beneficiary of the ill fated Arab Spring in Egypt, with one of its members, Mohammed Morsi, becoming Egyptian president for a short time.
In Saudi Arabia, a country that has a checkered history of both fighting and supporting jihadist terror groups, the new leader of the country, a young, Western-educated man named Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda for his country. The campaign has many rosy-sounding elements: cultural liberalization (things like allowing women to drive) and economic diversification. (MBS supports a plan to make Saudi Arabia's economy reliant on many different industries rather than only oil.)
Like all things in the Middle East, there is a darker side to the reform. Since Saudi Arabia is home to some of the most conservative sects of Sunni Islam, MBS has had to institute a harsh program of political repression directed against elements of the Saudi leadership that are both opposed to his rule and known supporters of jihadist elements. The reason is simple: Saudi Arabia is attempting to move much closer to the United States (and, by extension, Israel) in order to build an effective alliance meant to contain the potentially nuclear-armed Iran.
For Turkey, this is a grave threat. The closer to the United States Saudi Arabia (and the other Sunni Arab states) gets, the more powerful it is made relative to Turkey. The more powerful Saudi Arabia becomes, the less likely it will be that Erdoğan can realize his dreams of reconstituting the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.
Turkey Builds Its New Ottoman Empire
The West still does not know what, exactly, happened to poor Jamal Khashoggi. Everyone knows he disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His wife (and Turkish intelligence) suspects he was murdered. Turkish officials have released images of a known Saudi "hit team" entering Turkey and heading over to the consulate around the same time that Khashoggi was inside.
Western media sources have relied far too heavily on information provided by sources affiliated with the Turkish government. In the wake of the claims made against Saudi Arabia, American leaders of both parties – including President Trump himself – have vowed retribution against Saudi Arabia if evidence surfaces corroborating the claims made against Saudi Arabia. If that happens, the entire Trump foreign policy for the Greater Middle East falls apart.
Without a reliable axis of resistance in the Sunni Arab world against Iran, the Iranians will continue to run roughshod over the region. Meanwhile, as the Sunni Arab countries weaken without the United States, Turkey will be able to intervene and exert influence over the region, re-establishing itself as a regional heavyweight.
To become the new Ottoman Empire, Turkey has played a devious game in the region. In recent years, Turkey's government has all but abandoned its attempt to join the European Union; Erdoğan has decimated whatever nascent form of secular democracy was arising in Turkey when he assumed power; Turkey has moved closer to Russia, Iran, and China over the last few years; Ankara and Washington have feuded over whether an independent Kurdish state should be created to the south of Turkey; and Turkey has both supported jihadist terror groups and protected the rogue regime in Iran.
Turkey also supported various jihadist groups against American-backed secular strongmen, such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Libya's Moammar Gaddafi, and (until recently) Syria's Bashar Assad. In the case of Syria, however, once it was clear that the United States would not support the overthrow of Assad (and that both Russia and Iran had committed significant resources to ensuring Assad's survival), Turkey switched sides and entered into a pact with the Russo-Iranian alliance against the jihadist elements Turkey had previously supported in Syria. Today, should the Russo-Iranian alliance succeed in keeping Assad in power in Syria, Turkey hopes to benefit from the construction of a major natural gas pipeline taking Iranian natural gas through Syria and into Europe through Turkish ports.
Meanwhile, Turkey has become a major conduit for China's Belt-and-Road Initiative, which seeks to transform the whole of Eurasia (and Africa) into a Chinese-dominated sphere of influence. All of this would weaken the United States' ability to influence Eurasia while China and Russia increase their bid for greater access – and influence – over the greater Middle East.
Western Media Must Be Suspicious of Their Sources
Western media outlets must be suspicious of any information coming from Turkey about the Khashoggi disappearance. After all, Turkey (as well as Russia, Iran, and China) benefits from the sustained media campaign against Saudi Arabia (since it disconnects Riyadh from Washington). It also weakens the United States in the region.
Americans must also be dubious of Turkey's recent release of American pastor Andrew Brunson – coincidentally timed to occur in the midst of the Khashoggi murder mystery. This move brought Turkey closer to the United States. And, coupled with the spate of information dumps from Turkey about Saudi Arabia's potential involvement in the Khashoggi disappearance, it has effectively damaged the budding U.S.-Saudi alliance against Iran.
Therefore, Turkey benefits the most from these developments – as do its partners in Iran, Russia, and China.