U.S.-Turkey narrative shifts as Khashoggi murder fades from front pages - scholar

The outrage at Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the hands of a Saudi hit squad is slipping from the headlines and forcing the U.S. media narrative around Turkey to revert to older issues, international relations scholar Bülent Alirıza has said in an article for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Khashoggi was posthumously named man of the year by Time Magazine this month for “taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths.” The outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid the highest price for his opposition to the de facto ruler of the Kingdom on October 2, when he was killed, dismembered and disposed of by a 15-man hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey’s possession of recorded evidence demonstrating the location and manner of the journalist’s death have allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to spin out the story to a world audience over months, forcing Riyadh to change its story several times before admitting the killing was premeditated and indicting 21 officials.

By doing so, Alirıza said, Erdoğan aimed to exert the maximum pressure on Prince Mohammed, a rival in the region who had proven himself an opponent of Turkish policies. He also hoped to strengthen Turkey’s ailing ties with the United States while simultaneously improving Turkey’s international profile after years of negative coverage for a dismal rule of law and human rights record.

However, far from seeking to distance himself from Prince Mohammed, U.S. President Donald Trump has doubled down on his support for the crown prince. In response, Turkey has sought to keep the issue alive by applying to the United Nations for an international investigation.

“As the Khashoggi murder fades from the front pages, it is also ceding its prominent position on the agenda of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship. While it is difficult to ascertain with any degree of accuracy the impact on relations, it is safe to say that Erdogan’s disappointment in Trump’s stubborn reluctance to act against MBS is matched by Trump’s reciprocal disappointment in Erdogan for pursuing an issue he never wanted to handle with such determination,” Alirıza said.

“To be sure, Turkey enjoyed the unusually positive press coverage it received in the U.S. as it defended the need to take action against the instigator as well as the perpetrators of the Khashoggi murder. However, as the interest of the U.S. media inevitably drifts elsewhere—not least to Trump’s growing legal problems—attention shifts back to all the other seemingly intractable issues on the U.S.-Turkish agenda,” he added.