The Morning Jolt


Turkey vs. Saudi Arabia: The Pot Is Calling the Kettle Black

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters phoot: Umit Bektas)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Turkey continues its campaign of strategic leaks to destroy Saudi Arabia, while few bother to look at Turkey’s own treatment of journalists; a Minnesota senator ducks a debate; Democratic hopes for winning the Senate fade and control of the House comes down to a roll of the dice — or maybe just one six-sided die.

What Is Turkey Getting Out of All of This?

The Saudis went through the trouble of having one of their operatives exit their consulate wearing Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes . . . but they didn’t think that anyone would notice that the faux Jamal Khashoggi had grown a full head of dark hair and put on about twenty pounds? What is this, a disguise aiming to fool observers with cataracts?

CNN reports about the not-so-convincing body double, citing “a senior Turkish official,” and showing images from “law enforcement surveillance footage, part of the Turkish government’s investigation, that appears to show the man leaving the consulate by the back door, wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, a fake beard, and glasses.”

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pledging to reveal many details of the Saudi operation in a speech to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday.

Turkey is bringing a surprising amount of glee to its efforts to torch Saudi Arabia’s reputation in these past weeks. These two countries have never been the best of buddies — the Turks remember that they used to rule Arabia during the Ottoman Empire days, and one of my lessons from my time in Turkey way back in Bush’s second term was that the Turks almost always believe that almost everyone else is out to get them. In the Saudi-Qatar fight of last year, the Turks took the Qatari side.

But this is something from Ankara: new, bolder, more aggressive, almost reckless. There’s no way that Turkish-Saudi relations can be fixed while Muhammad bin Sultan has a high-level position in Saudi affairs.

It’s not as if Erdogan has a moral objection to mistreating journalists; Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in the world. That’s right — more than Saudi Arabia, more than China, more than Russia. As of October 7, “Of those in prison, 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.”

Is Turkey beating the drums about the Khashoggi murder to distract from Turkey’s record? Probably not, although it is remarkable how little Turkey’s record is getting discussed among the furious denunciations in U.S. media circles. Erdogan is probably motivated by old grudges, opportunism, and a strange alignment of allies of convenience who want to see the U.S.-Saudi relationship broken. Think about it, Erdogan’s got an abysmal record on press freedom and human rights, he’s cozying up with Russia and China, trying to work around sanctions on Iran, and somehow he’s convincing the American press that Saudi Arabia is the most malevolent menace in the region.

Congressman Peter King is now calling the Saudi government “the most immoral government that we’ve ever had to deal with.” Really? Ever? Worse than Stalin during World War II? The Shah? Ferdinand Marcos? Pinochet? Nixon met and had grand summits with Mao. We reached out to Nicolae Ceausescu. We worked with Hafez al-Assad during the Gulf War.

Are today’s Saudis really that much worse than the Iranians that the previous administration wanted to embrace so badly? That much worse than today’s nuclear-armed, double-dealing Pakistanis?

I expect this kind of historical illiteracy from some schmuck on Twitter, not from a congressman! Who has Peter King been hanging around with to have such a morally topsy-turvy view . . .

Oh, the Irish Republican Army. Okay, that explains a few things. I do remember that Congressman King spent much of the 1980s telling people to put their money into an IRA — just not the IRA most people expected.

On the other side of the aisle, we’ve marveled as Democrats became Cold Warriors again. Liberals who yawned at the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014, and Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015 suddenly rage against Moscow because they’ve chosen to believe that Russia helped Trump steal a presidential election. Now it’s Saudi Arabia’s turn. Domestic politics can now redefine our perception of foreign countries on a dime.

Media and political voices that never paid more than intermittent attention to Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human-rights record have spent weeks furiously denouncing the kingdom, both over Khashoggi’s murder, but also for the sin of being on good terms with the Trump administration.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, revealed his hand Friday when he suggested that the key co-conspirator in Khashoggi’s murder is a name and face much more familiar to American news audiences. During an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Castro said:

The reporting that Jared Kushner may have with U.S. intelligence delivered a hit list — an enemies list — to the crown prince, to [Mohammed bin Salman], in Saudi Arabia and that the prince then may have acted on that, and one of the people that he took action against is Mr. Khashoggi.

Now, you know that you’ve gone way out on a limb when the CNN anchor has to declare, right then and there, that their network hasn’t reported that accusation, hasn’t heard that accusation, and can’t verify that accusation. But Castro was undeterred, declaring, “I’ve seen reporting to that effect. That needs to be investigated.”

Castro knows exactly what the right response to Saudi Arabia is: an investigation of Jared Kushner. Which just happens to be what he wants to do if Democrats take control of the House, anyway.

Maybe Joaquin Castro can blame his unverified accusations on an evil twin.

(I seriously would like to see a poll of Texas voters to see how many know that Joaquin Castro and Julian Castro are not the same guy.)

Minnesota Senator Tina Smith Is Just Too Busy to Debate Opponents

Minnesota has two U.S. Senate elections this year. Incumbent Democrat Amy Klobuchar is running for reelection against Republican Jim Newberger, and Senator Tina Smith, who was appointed to replace Al Franken, is running for the remainder of Franken’s term (two years) against Republican Karin Housley.

It’s Minnesota, so Republicans probably shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. But a new poll does have Housley within six points. I mean, it’s not as if an unelected senator is going to just skip out on debates . . .

Wait, Senator Tina Smith really did skip out on the debate.

This debate has been months in the making. From the start, it’s been our goal to bring the candidates together to help you make an informed decision in November. Unfortunately, one of the candidates will not be present. Democrat Tina Smith declined our invitation to participate due to a “complicated schedule.” We will still feature a 15-minute interview with her opponent, Republican Karin Housley.

Five Eyewitness News understands having a single candidate in a debate may give the impression of unfairness to a candidate who does not participate. We believe it would be unfair to Minnesota voters to allow one candidate not appearing on the only statewide, primetime debate to silence his or her opponent in this important race. We will always put Minnesota citizens first.

They kept the empty podium; it’s a nice visual for the Housley campaign.

Smith refused to debate anyone in the Democratic primary, too. That’s not “Minnesota nice”!

‘Democrat Hopes of Winning the Senate Have Faded’

If we’re being honest, two of the questions that drove much of the 2018 elections coverage are now almost resolved.

No, there’s no sign that Beto O’Rourke is going to beat Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.

No, Democrats are not going to win control of the Senate. Politico this morning:

Democratic hopes of winning the Senate have faded in the final weeks of the 2018 election, with the party now needing to win every one of more than a half-dozen competitive races in order to capture control of the chamber.

It’s a far cry from a month ago, when Democrats saw a path to the majority opening wider as several battleground races trended in their direction. But in recent weeks, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-N.D.) seat has slipped away and looks likely to be a Republican pickup, and Democrats have not opened advantages in any of the three GOP-held seats where they’re on offense, instead trailing in public polling in Nevada and Tennessee.

You know what that means, right? A lot more confirmations for President Trump’s judicial nominations.

ADDENDUM: Michael Graham points out that if the chances of the GOP keeping control of the House are indeed one in seven, as Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight calculate, that’s not all that far from rolling a one on a six-sided die — i.e, the sort of thing that is rarer than other outcomes but still happens pretty regularly.

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