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Amigos, Then and Now

Senator Lindsey Graham and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on January 18, 2019 (Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Presidential Press Office / Handout via Reuters)

A tweet from Steven A. Cook caught my eye. He is a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. This was the tweet: “It is one thing to negotiate with the govt of #Turkey; it is quite another to spend a lovely evening out with the leading jailer of journalists in the world.”

I’ll be darned. Included in the tweet was a photo of Lindsey Graham, smiling with Erdogan at a concert. (Erdogan was smiling too, if not so brightly.)

I agree with Cook. Deal with these dictators, if you must. But cool it on the chummy stuff. For one thing, it doesn’t look good to the political prisoners. I often quote Vladimir Bukovsky, who said (I paraphrase), “Go about your business, doing what you must. But, every once in a while, pause and wonder: ‘How will it look to the boys in the camps?’”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has built a brutal dictatorship. Untold thousands of his critics are imprisoned and tortured, and still others are kidnapped abroad. I wrote about this recently in a piece for NR: “Whisked Away.”

Incidentally, I did not know that either Graham or Erdogan was a concertgoer. And, short years ago, I could not have pictured them going together.

What was the concert? As I said before, I’ll be darned. It was a concert of Fazil Say, the (Turkish) pianist and composer. Brilliant man, possibly a genius. One of the best Mozart players of our time (if idiosyncratic). I did a podcast with him — a Q&A — in 2016, here.

He was at odds with the Turkish dictatorship, to put it mildly. He had been prosecuted for blasphemy. And these days he is giving something like official concerts, for Erdogan and his American visitors? Yikes. (For an article on the concert, go here.)

To cope in a dictatorship, people do all sorts of things. Sometimes it is impossible to begrudge them.

Once upon a time, people spoke of “The Three Amigos.” These were Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman. There had been a movie by that name: “The Three Amigos.” Anyway, these senators traveled around together and shared a worldview. They had their foes, on left and right. They were often called “neocon,” “warmonger,” “Israel Firster” — you get the picture.

McCain died last summer. And the other two amigos — are on interesting tracks. If Graham wants to be a reborn Realpolitiker, fine with me. Also, I appreciate his efforts to mitigate damage in Syria. I really do. But Realpolitik, as I understand it, does not require evenings out with Erdogan. (By the way, who among us does not consider himself a realist?)

And Lieberman? Say it ain’t so, Joe. In recent days, he has registered as a lobbyist for ZTE, the Chinese telecommunications giant. It is, in effect, an organ of the Chinese Communist Party. Lieberman himself once recognized the company as a threat to U.S. security.

I liked the old Amigos movie better than the new one. And you find that, in politics, nothing surprises you. If tomorrow Senator Mitt Romney came out for legal gambling and prostitution in Salt Lake City …

Well, let me not be too cynical.

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