The damage control effort following King Abdullah’s interview with The Atlantic has begun. Today, the Turkish Foreign Ministry sought clarification regarding comments King Abdullah was said to have made regarding Prime Minister Erdogan. In the interview, King Abdullah said “I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey.” Regarding Prime Minister Erdogan, King Abdullah said that “Erdogan once stated that democracy for him is a bus ride…Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” He also compared Erdogan to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, saying “Instead of the Turkish model, taking six or seven years, [instead of] being an Erdoğan, Morsi wanted to do it overnight” He also had more critical comments to say about Morsi, saying that “There is no depth there” and gave the example of Morsi’s attitude towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. The interview also contained criticism of King Abdullah’s family, who he said behaved more like royalty the further they were from the throne (and said he would punish them sometimes to send a message), the Islamic Action Front (who he said wants to overthrow the government), the National Current Party headed by conservative and loyalist former Speaker Abdul Hadi al-Majali (which he said lacks a political platform), and the GID, which he criticized as well, as well as an anecdote about Bashar al-Assad being unfamiliar with jet lag, as well as comments about his relatively strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
From a PR standpoint it was a disaster. After Turkish diplomats complained about his comments regarding Ergogan, the regime has moved into full damage control mode. King Abdullah posted on his facebook page that the interview was “inaccurate and dishonest.” Jordanian officials have said they will give a “public general explanation” regarding the interview. What could such an explanation entail? Either King Abdullah made these remarks about the leaders of neigboring or nearby countries such as Egypt or Turkey or he did not. Either Jeffrey Goldberg is a fabricator (which would require a substantial amount of evidence to back up) or perhasp, as might be more likely, King Abdullah thought his comments were off the record. Even if this is the case it overlooks a larger point – even if King Abdullah did not expect these comments to be published, they were still what he said and still what he thought.
There is a larger danger here, not just for King Abdullah but for any leader who speaks off the record in a manner that is substantially different from when they are on the record. What do these comments achieve? They hurt Jordan’s relations with several countries and caused potential internal strife without achieving any gains. Turkey, like Jordan, borders Syria and is heavily involved in addressing the conflict in that country. Egypt is a major supplier of gas to Jordan, and yet both of those countries are not likely to take kindly to these comments. The damage control has begun.
What is clear from this interview is this: even if some of the things that King Abdullah said are arguably true, they should not have been said by someone who has stated he aspires to be a constitutional monarch. It is also, regardless, imprudent to damage Jordan’s relations with states in the region and damage its diplomatic position without any corresponding gains.