Deep State vs Rule of Law: comparing Ankara with Washington

In a recent podcast interview, Ekim Alptekin alluded to the existence of a “deep state” in the United States. This was part of his efforts to have the pending criminal charges against him either dropped or reduced so that he could pursue his business and personal interests without fear of U.S. extradition from other countries.

Is he right? Does there exist a deep state within the United States reminiscent of a similar clandestine organisation of jurists, retired and active military officers, business interests and academics in late 20th-century Turkey that styled itself as the guardians of secularism and modernity? Or is Mr. Alptekin grasping at straws to avoid facing American justice for his misdeeds committed while working on behalf of the Turkish government, led by the Justice and Development Party, in its actions against its erstwhile ally Fethullah Gülen?

Though this author favours the latter explanation, one always finds a grain of truth within the conspiracy theories put forth – whether sincerely or not – as explanations for a series of events.

It is no secret that an overwhelming majority of U.S. government employees favoured Hilary Clinton in the 2016 election. It is also no secret that many of them organised to oppose President Donald Trump’s initiatives and have continued to attempt to stymie or, at least, delay his initiatives over the course of his administration.

In this, they have allies among most university academics, major media outlets, journalists and opinion writers. Joining them are Democratic members of Congress, many former government officials and retired civilian and military officers. Finally, there certainly are judges throughout the U.S. federal court system that do not share the views on the powers of the president under the U.S. constitution that Mr. Trump and his supporters hold.

But, that does not constitute a “deep state”, an alternative government that sees itself as the guardians of democracy prepared to subvert the constitutional electoral process in order to protect the country from a president they see as usurping the constitution. It becomes a bit convoluted, and in the United States, it is certainly a bit too transparent. And, if it were as powerful as Mr. Alptekin alleged, why then is Mr. Trump still presiding over the government of the United States?

In Turkey, the deep state network of military, judicial, academic, business and media interests had real power, and, whether by display of military hardware, coerced resignations of civilian leaders or induced change of government by memorandum, the members of the network could and did reverse elections, remove elected officials and controlled the course of political events by legal and illegal means, as the leading elements of the network determined what was in the best interest of the Republic.

None of this has occurred, yet, in the United States, nor is it likely. 

Fringe elements in both major U.S. political parties have floated wild theories about the aftermath of the November 2020 elections – some suggesting military coups to enforce Trump’s removal from office. In reality, the transfer of power, or its retention by Mr. Trump, will be in accord with the U.S. Constitution and the laws passed by Congress as interpreted under the constitution by the courts. 

Though radical elements of the Democratic party as well as extreme elements of the Republican party would hate to admit it, they share a profound misunderstanding of and lack of faith in the dedication of public servants to the rule of law and of the American electorate to the constitutional electoral process. 

So where is the grain of truth that Alptekin has developed into a U.S. government-wide conspiracy against Trump’s presidency that has swept him up in its evil plot? 

In 2016, certain elements of the United States grew concerned about actions of the Russian government to disrupt or influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections. Some of them, influenced by a personal animus against Mr. Trump, suspended their professional ethics and committed serious errors as they pursued what they believed had to be true regardless of the evidence to the contrary, that is, that President Trump and his campaign conspired with Russia to secure electoral victory to the ultimate benefit of Vladimir Putin. 

We now know that there was no criminal conspiracy between Mr. Trump, or his campaign, and the Russian government to secure electoral victory. The public revelations of the misdeeds of some FBI and other U.S. government officials, as reported in the Justice Department Inspector General’s report and as seen in the recent guilty plea of Mr. Clinesmith, provide evidence that a deep state does not exist in the United States. To the contrary, the rule of law, imperfectly applied at times as it is imperfect and sometimes corrupt persons who apply it, continues to function.

But, Mr. Alptekin did not restrict himself to alleging that the Democratic Party affiliated career functionaries of the U.S. government had formed a vast conspiracy to usurp the Constitution to remove Trump from office by extra-legal means, but that these same bureaucrats and officials were in league with Gulen.

Here too we find a grain of truth within the fanciful construction of a vast grand conspiracy.  Gülenists were involved in the July 2016 coup attempt, Gülen does have many well-cultivated contacts within the U.S. political power structures and there have been calls for investigation for visa fraud into some of the U.S. schools affiliated with Hizmet, Gülen’s charitable and education group. 

But those grains do not constitute evidence Gülen or his adherents have co-opted the Department of Justice. And, most importantly for Alptekin, there is no evidence that charges were brought against him at the behest of Gülen anymore than they were brought at the behest of anti-Trump U.S. bureaucrats. 

In sum, Mr. Alptekin seeks to distract the audience from the real questions at hand: Did he misrepresent himself as a private citizen when hiring Michael Flynn and Bijan Kian for anti-Gülen public relations work when in fact he was working on behalf of the Turkish government? And, did he continue to lie about it when the relationship between him and the Turkish presidency became undeniable, as the U.S. Department of Justice alleges?

In the United States, he’ll get a fair hearing because, for all its flaws, the U.S. remains subordinate to the law, not the other way round as the case often is in Turkey.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.