Last Saturday Andrew Brunson returned to the United States after spending about the last twenty years in Turkey. The last two were spent as a prisoner of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s regime. Most of that time was spent under house arrest, not in a Turkish prison. The more time that passes the more this looks like a ruse on the part of both Erdogan and American President Donald Trump. Let’s explore.
Brunson is an American citizen but left North Carolina about two decades ago. Saying he lives in North Carolina is about the same as saying I live in New York which I left in 1999.
Erdogan and Trump are buddies. In fact Trump idolizes people like Erdogan who rule with an iron fist and with little regard for their people’s welfare or their country’s laws. In July of 2016 there was an unsuccessful coup d’etat attempt to depose Erdogan. In its aftermath Erdogan rounded up thousands who he suspected as being part of the plot. Brunson was among them. According to the latest reports there are still a little over 20 Americans being detained in Turkey; most as of a result of the post-coup roundup.
Erdogan and Trump both found themselves in uncomfortable positions as a result of the Khashoggi situation. Brunson was a convenient diversion/publicity stunt. Turkey never wanted someone like Brunson on their soil in the first place. Officially a secular nation, the population is almost exclusively Muslim and certainly not a welcoming place for a Christian missionary which is essentially what Brunson has been for decades. Trump is coming into a difficult mid-term election and needed something to help motivate the Christian Right part of his base to show up at the polls.
Turkey gets rid of what they perceive as a problem and Trump gets a talking point for his right wing propaganda machine.
Now for some speculation: I think there may very well be a “player to be named later” in this trade. Erdogan desperately wants Turkish born Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who is living in Pennsylvania. Trump and his core supporters could care less about him. A straight up trade before the mid-terms would look too suspicious. My theory is that somehow the Trump administration will allow Gulen to fall into the hands of the Erdogan regime relatively soon after the elections are concluded. This would not be the first time the United States did a deferred compensation trade involving Turkey. The most famous example in my lifetime was part of the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev removed Russian missiles from Cuba but needed something to save face with the “boys in Moscow”. Kennedy agreed to pull missiles out of Turkey but only quietly and after a few months had passed so it didn’t look like a direct deal.
Another Turkish prisoner came to my attention recently. He is Dr. Serkan Golge. Dr. Golge is Turkish born and became a United States citizen in 2010, the same year he received his Ph. D. in Physics from Old Dominion University in Virginia. (You can fake a lot of things; physics isn’t one of them!) He was arrested as part of the post-coup sweep. At the time he was visiting family in Turkey and was employed full-time as a NASA contractor with an office in Mission Control in Houston.
Which one was in a position to make a more significant contribution to America? Which one could Turkey have use for?
I don’t see Trump and his administration making much of an effort to secure Gulen’s release. He is a Muslim and the Trump administration has next to no use for science. I’m always glad to see an American detained in a foreign country returned to America and that certainly includes Brunson. Trump can brag all he wants but the reality is that he is about 1 for 20 on gaining the release of Turkish held American citizens. Since it is currently post-season in major league baseball I thought I’d put it in batting averages terms – .050. That doesn’t keep you in the lineup.
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