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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What conclusions to draw regarding the recent events in Turkey, and how those events impact U.S. policy in the region.

Link: Attempted Coup In Turkey- NY Times

When I first saw the televised announcements last weekend regarding what appeared to be a coup attempt in Turkey, it didn't take long for me to realize that whoever was attempting to take control of the government in Turkey had absolutely no idea what they were doing.  There is good reason for my surprise; coups are not uncommon in recent world history, with Turkey having already experienced a few in the last half-century.  As I tried to make sense from what little information was available, I kept expecting to hear that the government had been taking into custody, the airport secured, and heavy armor rumbling down every major thoroughfare.  The plotters were able to gain control of the radio for a limited time, during which they announced that the coup was necessary to protect against further erosion of civil liberties.  The plotters announced a governing council and promised to adhere to all existing treaties.  This message should have continued playing, or at least a blackout should have gone in affect.  Instead, almost immediately after the attempted coup was announced in the western press, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on FaceTime and Skype, instructing the people to stand up to the coup by occupying the town squares and taking to the city streets, which they did, en force.  Within an hour or two, Erdogan was holding a press conference at Ataturk International Airport (I'm still not sure why he was on a plane to begin with), announcing that the coup had failed, and that the plotters would be treated harshly.

In order to understand what occurred in Turkey, a bit of background information is necessary.  For centuries, Turkey existed as the Ottoman Empire.  In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire was an international superpower, at times occupying European territory up to the gates of Vienna.  The Empire was ruled by a Sultan, who was also recognized as Caliph, the religious leader of Muslims.  As history demonstrates time and time again, all Empires seem to have an expiration date.  The Ottomans, in an attempt to rejuvenate a crippled economy and recapture international respect, made the mistake of joining the losing side in World War One (Austria-Hungary and Germany).  For most folks, the war ended in 1918, but Turkey suffered through both a civil war and a war of independence simultaneously.  A leader emerged from the struggle who was destined to transform Turkey.  Kemal Ataturk was a former highly-decorated Ottoman Army Officer, and he ushered in what we know today as modern Turkey.  Ataturk was determined to create a secular Turkey.  He abolished the Sultanate and the Caliphate, and required that Turkish be taught in public schools.  Women were encouraged to abandon the headscarf and men stopped wearing the fez.  During the Second World War, Turkey remained neutral until the very end, with Ataturk in firm control of the government.  When Ataturk finally died, he left behind a democracy backed by a very strong military.  Over the years, when the military has grown concerned about corruption, or the rise in religious extremism, or what it perceived as a threat to secular Turkey, it has called out the troops and tanks and removed certain governments.  At times, the military has kept control of the government much longer than anticipated, but democratic elections would eventually take place.  Turkey has had a thriving democracy in part because of the military's willingness to protect its secular traditions. 

In the last five years, Erdogan has moved Turkey further and further away from this tradition.  Most recently, he has boldly moved against the media, not hesitating to arrest any journalist who speaks against his Administration.  Erdogan has always governed in coalition with Islamist parties, and has already taken steps to remove military officers who might oppose his future intentions.  The idea that the Turkish military would attempt a coup was not a surprise.  The surprise was that this coup never had a chance of succeeding.  Erdogan blames the coup on disgruntled military officers and Turks in exile who he considers enemies.  But nothing he says makes any sense, and I'm not alone in my suspicion.  I believe that Erdogan either planned or encouraged the coup himself.  The plotters never took the necessary actions to give their efforts any hope of success.  Where was the Air Force, the military branch which has been traditionally the most hostile to Erdogan?  Why wasn't the airport occupied and Erdogan's plane shot down when it approached for landing?  Why wasn't the government arrested or at least detained?

Regardless of who was behind the coup attempt, the result is particularly frightening.  Erdogan is purging everything short of elementary schools.  Anyone who had ever acknowledged any type of opposition to Erdogan has been arrested or fired.  The Turks who came out into the streets, shouting their support for Erdogan and waving Turkish flags, now have the dictator they deserve.  The first to suffer will be the Academic community, then the economy will grind to a halt.  Erdogan will blame the West, in particular the United States.  As far as I'm concerned, removing our military presence from Turkey is overdue.  I'm fed up hearing stories of our servicemen and their families being harassed by Erdogan's nationalist thugs.  If the Turks don't want us in Turkey, then we should leave.  Let Erdogan negotiate his way out of NATO.  He's already guaranteed that Turkey will never be a member of the European Union.  I think Erdogan has visions of resurrecting the Ottoman Empire, but those days of grandeur are long gone.  Turkey does not have the economy or the infrastructure to be a superpower.  Don't be surprised, though, if Ankara starts to resemble Caracas.

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