The Rand Corporation and Gulen
Did the U.S. government support the Gulen Movement abroad?
Page created June 2010; last updated Dec 16, 2012
In what may come as a surprise to many in the United States, the secular part of Turkey believes that the United States government supports Fethullah Gulen.
Several covers of books by Hikmet Cetinkaya that are scathingly critical of Gulen feature caricatures of Fethullah Gulen and former President Bush. Cetinkaya is a columnist for Turkey's national newspaper Cumhuriyet, which is known to be staunchly secularist.
It is noteworthy that Graham Fuller, who has past affiliations with the Rand Corporation, the National Security Council, and the CIA, wrote a letter in support of Gulen's visa application in 2008. It is also noteworthy that Fuller attends Gulenist events such as this one in Washington DC, organized in 2010 by the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians, where the political discussion took a very favorable tone towards the AKP party: http://www.turquoisecouncil.org/capitolhillevents/?n=16&t=transcript-graham-fuller-foreign-policy-davutoglu-vision (Turkey's AKP Party has had a close alliance with the Gulen Movement even though starting in 2012 a power struggle between them became more and more visible. Whatever their disagreements, they have been united against other factions in Turkey.)
All this raises many questions as to why the U.S. would support Gulen over the secularists within Turkey.
Several reports from the Rand Corporation may provide some insight into this question. One, by Cheryl Benard, entitled "Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources and Strategies," available for download here
identifies Fethullah Gulen as one of the "modernists" in Turkey. She then makes the following policy recommendation on page 47:
• "Support the modernists first, enhancing their vision of Islam over that of the
traditionalists by providing them with a broad platform to articulate and
disseminate their views. They, not the traditionalists, should be cultivated
and publicly presented as the face of contemporary Islam.
• "Support the secularists on a case-by-case basis."
This could perhaps be read as a blueprint for preferentially supporting Gulen and the AKP.
Jonathan Crince, in his 2009 Masters thesis from American University, noted that secularists in Turkey felt frustrated and abandoned by U.S. policy, and argued that favoring the AKP party over the secularists was not in the United States' long-term foreign policy interests.
In considering the possible influence of the Rand Corporation, it is worth noting that when Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania, a Gulen charter school in State College, Pennsylvania, became the subject of controversial news coverage in 2011, an individual named Caroline Wagner wrote a letter as a "parent" in support of the school. The letter was published in a State College local newspaper but can no longer be found at their website; it is republished at this Gulenist link. In the letter, Wagner advised other parents to "ignore the Gulen bugaboo." Her letter completely elided the issue of whether the school is in fact connected to the Gulen Movement (as if parents and taxpayers had no right to know or be concerned). It turns out that Wagner worked at the Rand Corporation for 12 years. Her biography at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs website states that "At The RAND Corporation, she was deputy to the director of the Science & Technology Policy Institute, a research center serving the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."
Evidence for US government support of the Gulen Movement?
The doctoral dissertation of Mustafa Gokhan Sahin, who has several Gulenist affiliations, contains references to US support for the Gulen Movement's activities outside of Turkey. Sahin, as of Dec 2012, was director of the Istanbul Center in Atlanta, an organization that follows Gulen's teachings. He was also Vice President of the Anatolia Cultural Center, a Gulenist organization in Florida, and has been a corporate officer of the Gulenist Coral Springs Foundation, which appears to be the legal name of the corporation running the Anatolia Cultural Center. Here are two quotes from his dissertation (boldface added):
"For many in Turkey this was exporting 'Turkish Model' to a region [Central Asia] which was under Iranian and Wahhabi influence. In policy circles, especially with U.S. support, the Turkish model of a secular state with a moderate pro-western Islam was the most highly regarded alternative. The international support for the Turkish Model also contributed to the expansion of the Gulen community in the region without any impediment until suspicion and resistance replaced the 'cautious acquiescence of Russia' and some other Central Asian states. At times the activities of the movement was [sic] considered too pro–American, and schools run by Gulen community both in Russia and Uzbekistan were closed by the state in late 2000." .....
"Recently scholars suggested that Erdogan had close ties with Nur community’s Fethullah Gulen, who was seen as supportive of a US backed 'Turkish Model' project favouring a moderate Islam in the Middle East."
It is unknown whether Sahin's statements are accurate, especially since his claim that Central Asia was "under Iranian and Wahhabi influence" is suspect and suggestive of the general Gulenist strategy of playing up presumed Islamist threats to drum up support for the Movement as a "moderate" alternative.
In late 2010, a book by Osman Nuri Gundes caused a stir in Turkey, as in it Gundes, the former director of the Istanbul Division of MIT (Turkey's CIA equivalent), wrote that the Gulen Movement cooperated with the CIA in its schools in Central Asia in the 1990s. This received very little press attention in the U.S., but was finally reported by Jeff Stein in the Washington Post on Jan 5, 2011. All CIA- or former CIA-connected officials that Stein interviewed brushed aside Gundes's claims as improbable, yet none of them explicitly denied them. (Note that there is no reason to expect these officials to give out candid information on CIA operations.)
The Gulen Movement has repeatedly argued that its critics are inconsistent (and therefore, they claim, all wrong) because those writing in Turkish say Gulen is/was backed by the U.S. and those writing in English say that Gulen is a threat to the U.S. (see Abdulhamit Turker's Zaman column of Nov 10, 2009, or Dogan Koc's article in the Gulen Movement's pseudoacademic journal "European Journal of Economic and Political Studies" 4(1) 2011). In fact these two positions could easily both be true. For strategic reasons some elements of our government have supported a number of individuals or groups of questionable character who may have later (or even simultaneously) acted against our interests; in some cases these policies backfired. For example, in the 1980's the Reagan administration backed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and then-presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld made supportive statements even after Hussein used chemical warfare against his own people (see this page at George Washington University website). Realpolitik is a messy and often morally compromising business. Its practitioners may sincerely believe that the ends justify all means; sadly, this is not always so.
As for the Gulen Movement itself, it has many faces and tells everyone what they want to hear while acting only in its own interests. If some branch(es) of our government supported it in the past, that does not prove that their support continues today. As more and more information comes out about the Movement, our government is (hopefully) wising up to its true nature. Some leaked diplomatic cables suggest that certain elements of our government have always regarded Gulen and his followers with suspicion.
Because power is divided in the U.S. government, and also because more than one agency is charged with foreign affairs, it is possible for different branches of the U.S. government to work at cross-purposes. This may be difficult for many outside the U.S. to grasp, as most other countries have centralized governments with a stronger executive branch.
If the United States did indeed support the Gulen Movement's founding of schools in Central Asia, then the Movement's expansion into our publicly-funded charter school system may represent one of the most significant cases of blowback in the history of our nation. For now, however, many questions remain.