We now live in a world where truth is always stranger than fiction.
That’s become a defining characteristic of the geopolitical landscape. Everyday we wake up to another batch of headlines that are even more bizarre than the ones we got yesterday.
This week, for instance, bondholders were forced to weigh the relative merits of flying to Caracas to meet with Tareck El Aissami, who earlier this month was put in charge of leading Venezuela’s efforts to restructure the nation’s crushing debt burden. The problem: El Aissami is a literal cocaine kingpin.
And while it’s impossible to say definitively what geopolitical story takes the proverbial cake for sheer absurdity, there’s a strong argument to be made that when it comes to outright ridiculousness, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s long-running quest to secure the extradition of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen has a legitimate claim on the top spot.
If you know anything about Turkey, you know that Erdogan believes everything is a Gulen conspiracy. If the President stubs his toe on the bed post in the morning, well then that bed post will be immediately jailed on charges of being a suspected Gulenist.
Remember that diplomatic crisis that almost spiraled out of control early last month when Erdogan arrested a US embassy employee? Yeah, that was about Gulen.
Here’s a quick summary from the New York Times that should help you get an idea of how truly absurd this has become:
One is a NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey. Another is a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real estate agent.
They are among a dozen Americans who have been jailed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in a failed coup last year.
Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown since then has swept up tens of thousands of Turks — military officials, police officers, judges, journalists and others — in prosecutions and purges that are wrenching Turkey back to darker eras it had appeared to have left behind.
And amid deteriorating relations with the United States and Europe, Turkey is also arresting increasing numbers of foreign nationals. Most, including the Americans, are accused of ties to the Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says orchestrated the conspiracy from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Basically, Erdogan is going to keep arresting people until the U.S. agrees to extradite that damn Gulen whose fate would surely be something much worse than death if Erdogan ever gets his hands on him.
As The Times goes on to write in the article linked above, “a presidential aide [recently] said in an interview that the government had been surprised by the scale of the Gulen network, and believed it had infiltrated nearly every major institution of power.”
Sadly, the English language isn’t sufficient to convey how hilarious that is to anyone who doesn’t follow politics in Turkey.
And don’t think the Reza Zarrab case isn’t about Gulen too, because it is. Zarrab is the gold trader who you might recall was implicated in a truly ridiculous plot to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. A week ago, the lira plunged and yields on Turkish bonds soared after court documents revealed that Erdogan’s named was used in phone calls Zarrab made while the scheme was still going on.
Erdogan was furious. This is how concerned he is about that situation (from The Washington Post):
Erdogan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary. He demanded his release as well as the firing of Preet Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab. Erdogan’s wife pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden. Turkey’s then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October to argue that the case was “based on no evidence” and that Zarrab should be released.
Erdogan appealed personally about the matter in his last two phone calls with President Barack Obama, in December and early January, former aides say. “Our operating assumption was that Erdogan’s obsession with the case was that if it moved forward, information would come out that would damage his family, and ultimately him,” said one former senior Obama official.
Again, Erdogan says Fethullah Gulen is behind the whole thing. Among other things, he claims Gulen was the mastermind behind the leaked evidence about Zarrab in 2013 and as the Post also details in the same piece linked above, “when Erdogan met with Biden a year ago, he claimed bizarrely that Preet Bharara was a Gulenist tool.”
And on, and on, and on. Here’s how we put it on Wednesday while Pence was busy meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim:
Yildirim: "extradition of Fethullah Gulen will be discussed with Pence; All of the documents have been sent. We don’t need to send any new documents. We’ve presented more than needed. Our expectation is for U.S. authorities to take action." pic.twitter.com/jTusZhzgs6
— Walter White (@heisenbergrpt) November 8, 2017
You think we’re joking with that meme, don’t you? Well we’re not.
Remember last weekend when NBC broke the news that Robert Mueller has enough evidence to indict Michael Flynn? Yeah, well recall that one of the things Mueller is looking into is whether Flynn tried to orchestrate the extradition of Fethullah Gulen in exchange for “millions of dollars.”
That brings us to Friday morning and a new piece out from the Wall Street Journal who reports the following:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.
So Flynn and his son were actually going to try and kidnap Gulen, throw him on a private jet, and fly his ass to a Erdogan-controlled prison island.
You’re reminded that the long-running Flynn story centers in part on his lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkish interests. His failure to disclose that is a “big league” problem.
The December meeting described above was a actually a follow-up to a September meeting attended by former CIA Director James Woolsey. That meeting was previously documented by the Journal as well, and was later described by Woolsey as a discussion about “a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away.”
Hilariously, Flynn and his son have a habit of accidentally incriminating themselves. Consider for instance these excerpts from an Op-Ed the elder Flynn penned for The Hill literally on election day last year:
It is fair to say that most Americans don’t know exactly what to make of our ally Turkey these days, as it endures a prolonged political crisis that challenges its long-term stability. The U.S. media is doing a bang-up job of reporting the Erdoğan government’s crackdown on dissidents, but it’s not putting it into perspective.
We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests. Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region. It provides badly needed cooperation with U.S. military operations. But the Obama administration is keeping Erdoğan’s government at arm’s length — an unwise policy that threatens our long-standing alliance.
The primary bone of contention between the U.S. and Turkey is Fethullah Gülen, a shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania.
Yes, “a shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania” – but not for long if Flynn had gotten his way.
Because if everything had gone according to plan, Gulen would have been kidnapped by Flynn, actually thrown onto a jet, and transported to a Turkish prison island. Then, at some later date, Erdogan would have paid Flynn and his son some $15 million, according to the Journal.
That entire Op-Ed Flynn wrote for The Hill on election day is a Gulen hit piece and just in case you had any questions about the extent to which it was entirely disingenuous, here is the disclaimer The Hill was forced to add months after it was published:
Editor’s Note: On March 8, 2017, four months after this article was published, General Flynn filed documents with the Federal government indicating that he earned $530,000 last fall for consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey. In the filings, Flynn disclosed that he had received payments from Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president and that Inovo reviewed the draft before it was submitted to The Hill. Neither General Flynn nor his representatives disclosed this information when the essay was submitted.
So, in case you didn’t think Michael Flynn was up a creek without a paddle, you can go ahead and disabuse yourself of that notion right now. Because if the Journal knows that much about the December meeting, well then just imagine what Mueller knows.
Flynn is finished. Plain and simple.
As for Erdogan, well, if you think tensions between Washington and Ankara are already running high, just wait until Mueller indicts Flynn on a plot to kidnap Gulen.