What Is Turkey’s Game?
The steady drip of reports from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government-controlled news media over the past three weeks, exposing grisly details of the killing, has drawn the world’s attention to the ruthlessness of the kingdom’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, even as the Trump administration gave every sign of longing to look away.
On Tuesday, Mr. Erdogan again drew the world’s eyes to this atrocity by addressing the issue at length for the first time, in a speech to members of his party.
He described the killing as “premeditated murder” and laid out a chronology of what happened. He also demanded that the Saudis provide more details — many questions remain unanswered — and extradite the 18 suspects they detained to face justice in Turkey. And he suggested that Prince Mohammed or someone close to him had directed the assault, which took place at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
“On whose orders did those individuals go there?” Mr. Erdogan demanded.
Such an open challenge to Saudi Arabia, a regional power that has cultivated a close relationship with President Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an audacious move. What does Mr. Erdogan hope to achieve?
It’s unlikely that he is much moved by the killing of a journalist, given Mr. Erdogan’s record for abusing journalists and restricting press freedoms. Last year, media freedom groups once again judged Turkey to be the world’s worst offender for jailing reporters for their work.
If not press freedom, then what principles is Mr. Erdogan defending?
No doubt Mr. Erdogan is outraged that a foreign power committed such a brazen killing within Turkey’s borders — indeed, in Istanbul, the president’s hometown. Saudi Arabia flew in a 15-man hit squad to carry out the crime, and Mr. Khashoggi’s body is still missing.
And perhaps Mr. Erdogan sees an opportunity, as American officials and other experts have speculated, to use the murder to extort money from the Saudis to shore up Turkey’s failing economy in exchange for eventually helping to shift the blame away from the Saudi regime. The Turkish lira has been falling steadily and inflation has been rising, squeezing Turkish workers and the government.
Though one hasn’t materialized, some sort of Saudi-Turkish compromise to keep further details of the crime a secret remains a possibility, even though the full truth and accountability for the killers are what’s needed. Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, was in Istanbul on Tuesday to be briefed on the case.