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Two old friends in the US have written to me asking what I think of the now failed coup attempt. So voilà. When I heard the news late last night, my immediate, visceral reaction was to hope that the coup would succeed, thereby ridding Turkey and the world of the unspeakable Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But I quickly got intellectual control of myself, objectively understanding that it was a very bad thing and with terrible potential consequences regardless of the outcome. If the coup succeeded, it would plunge Turkey into open-ended instability, indeed chaos, as a military regime would be angrily rejected—and indeed actively resisted—by the large portion of the population that supports the current president and his party—and particularly if it were to arrest RTE, proscribe the AKP, and throw thousands in prison. This would be a disaster. There is no way the opposition parties (CHP, MHP, HDP) could possibly support this, lest they be complicit in the suspension of democracy—as RTE and the AKP were indeed democratically elected, which no one contests—and plunging Turkey into possible civil war—which, given the already deteriorating security situation (IS, PKK) and the conflicts on its borders, is the last thing the country needs. And there is no way the US or the EU could possibly acquiesce in the action of the military or formally recognize its regime.
What were the Turkish military putschists thinking? Plus their sympathizers outside Turkey? This is 2016. One doesn’t go around overthrowing elected governments in modern, sophisticated countries and that have one of the top 20 largest economies in the world. The putschists embarked on a fuite en avant: a rash course of action the consequences of which were not at all thought out. Not smart at all.
But now that the coup attempt has failed, the consequences will no doubt also be terrible. RTE will certainly come out of this reinforced and vengeful. He will redouble his efforts to modify the constitution—to, in effect, make him sultan-for-life—and likely succeed. Turkey will descend further into authoritarianism, if not outright dictatorship, and with all the instability that will entail. As Walter Russell Mead wrote last night in his Turkey coup live blog, the near 100-year Kemalist era in Turkey has, with the coup attempt, come to an end. Despite the problems and shortcomings of Kemalism, this is not to be celebrated.
I’ve mainly been getting information and analysis via social media (Facebook and Twitter). Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and personal friend Dan Brumberg—whose analyses are always smart and well-considered—posted the following on Facebook yesterday:
Coup supporters in the US [such as, e.g., this one] are now trotting out the usual suspect excuses for backing the coup in Turkey:
1) The Military has always been the guarantor of Turkish democracy and secularism.
Not true. The military saw its role as the ultimate guarantor of Ataturk’s legacy and his ideology. That ideology was not only authoritarian, it was not “secular.” Under the state that Ataturk created the clerics and their institutions became employees and extensions of the state. Friday khutbas (sermons) were an important device in the efforts of successive governments to rally support. Moreover, at key points—in the eighties for example—the military invoked Islamic themes, a dynamic that had wider echoes in the region.
2) Military coups were designed to “restore democracy” and achieved this aim.
Also not true. Military coups were often undertaken against elected governments (as was the case today). Opponents of such actions were repressed. This is not democracy.
3) Under Erdogan, the Turkish state imposed an Islamist ideology and system, or was well on its way to achieving this aim.
Not true again. Under Erdogan, the government did push for Islamist policies of various kinds, and secular Turks had good reason to be worried. But as anyone who has visited Turkey in the last year or two will tell you, Erdogan and his ruling party did not succeed in uprooting the still vibrant sectors of urban secular Turkish society.
Erdogan’s primary goal is to enhance his personal power. There is little doubt that he seeks to build an electoral autocracy. That is the essential problem, and the essential challenge.
4) The only and perhaps even most effective way to prevent the creation of an electoral autocracy is via a military coup.
A familiar position but also very dubious. If the coup succeeds what will follow will be an onslaught of repression (see Egypt). If the coup fails, you can be sure that this act of folly was provide Erdogan and his allies precisely the justification they need for advancing their project.
Following up, Dan—who needs a blog—had this
Whatever its many faults, this Turkish Government was elected and has every right to remain in place and resist this coup.
See the interview in Slate with Jenny White, who teaches at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies: “How Turkey came to this: The attempted military coup isn’t the country’s first. But this time is different.”
Turkey specialist Claire Sadar, who co-edits the Muftah website, made this important observation earlier today
Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of the coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise. Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: We don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support has removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant that this coup attempt was doomed from the start.
More to follow.
UPDATE: The excellent Vox website has a number of articles and interviews with Turkey specialists, all grouped in a category on “Turkey’s coup.” Among them:
I’ve had several posts on Fethullah Gülen in past years and with links to numerous articles. To see them all, go here (and follow the links in the first paragraph).
2nd UPDATE: Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA and who knows Turkey well, agrees that the attempted coup was a “lose-lose” proposition.
3rd UPDATE: MENA specialist and friend Steven A. Cook, who’s at the Council on Foreign Relations, has a piece in WaPo, “Turkey has had lots of coups. Here’s why this one failed.”
See also the post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog by Syracuse University political scientist Yüksel Sezgin, “How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest.”
4th UPDATE: BuzzFeed News Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi has a dispatch from Diyarbakir on “Why the failed coup will hurt Turkey in coming months.” Quoting specialist Henri Barkey: “This is a coup where everyone loses.” Hélas.
5th UPDATE: Sabancı University political science professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu, writing in OpenDemocracy, asks if the coup d’état attempt is “Turkey’s Reichstag fire.” The lede: “We are witnessing the consolidation of a new form of authoritarianism with a populist streak.”
6th UPDATE: Dani Rodrik—who is worth reading on any subject he writes about—has a commentary in Project Syndicate, “Turkey’s baffling coup.”
7th UPDATE: The well-known journalist and commentator Cengiz Çandar, writing in Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse, asks the question that’s on many minds: “Was Turkey’s coup attempt just an elaborate hoax by Erdogan?” One should naturally be wary of conspiracy theories—and which are a dime a dozen in Turkey and elsewhere in that part of the world—but sometimes there are conspiracies. If such was the case with the attempted coup—and which does indeed smell a little fishy—the truth will come out, and probably sooner rather than later.
8th UPDATE: Philip Giraldi—executive director of the Council for the National Interest, former CIA officer, and Turkey-watcher—has an interesting piece in The American Conservative (July 18th), “A very predictable coup? Opponents of Turkey’s strongman have only solidified his position,” in which he suggests that Erdoğan may have had wind of the plot.
9th UPDATE: The well-known intellectual Cengiz Aktar, presently a senior scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center, has a tribune (July 18th) in Le Monde, “Les putschistes ont offert à Erdogan le régime présidentiel dont il rêve.”
10th UPDATE: Cihan Tuğal, who teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, weighs in with an essay (July 18th) in OpenDemocracy, “Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism.” The lede: “Predictions about the consequences of Turkey’s failed coup focus on how it fulfils Erdoğan’s desire for an omnipotent presidency. But the danger that awaits is much greater than that.”
11th UPDATE: Voilà three “snapshot” analyses in Foreign Affairs:
“Erdogan’s prophecy: The coup attempt will leave him stronger,” by Michael J. Koplow (July 18th).
“Where the Turkish military fails, Egypt’s succeeds: Here’s why,” by Steven A. Cook (July 19th).
“Turkey’s troubling turn: Terrorism and security after the attempted coup,” by Soner Cagaptay (July 19th).
12th UPDATE: Claire Berlinski, writing in City Journal (July 20th), asks “Who planned Turkey’s coup?” The answer: “It probably wasn’t President Erdoğan.”
Also see Claire’s piece in The American Interest (July 20th), co-authored with Izmir-based blogger Ali Kincal, “Dark days ahead: The plot against Erdoğan has laid bare dangerous undercurrents in Turkey.”
On the Ricochet blog, Claire has reproduced an English-language version of an interview her friend and colleague Okan Altiparmak—an Istanbul-based filmmaker and Turkey director of the website Muslim World Today—gave to an Iranian publication on the attempted coup.
13th UPDATE: Aaron Stein—Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East—has a post (July 20th) in the War on the Rocks blog entitled “Inside a failed coup and Turkey’s fragmented military.” Monica Marks—a sharp doctoral candidate at Oxford University and with specialized knowledge of Turkey—writes on social media that this is “by far the most detailed account [she’s] seen in Turkish or English of how Friday’s coup attempt transpired and its implications for the Turkish military. Well worth reading and spot on…”