A lot of words have already been said in the past few days about the Turkish coup that couldn’t fly, but strangely enough some rather obvious things went unmentioned, so I’ll try to fill in a few gaps. Specifically, a lot of the things that have been said range from feeble-minded to utterly preposterous. If this is propaganda, then it sounds like very bad, weak propaganda. Still, there is no shortage of people endlessly repeating these talking points, whether because they get paid to or because they don’t know better. They are the ones I want to address.
Idiotic Theory #1: Erdoǧan staged his own coup in order to consolidate his power.
Prior to the putsch, Erdoǧan went on vacation, which is traditionally the best time to overthrow a leader. For example, Gorbachev’s tenure as “president” of USSR was ended by a putsch in August 1991 while he was on vacation. People who are busy staging a putsch to consolidate their power don’t go on vacations; they are too busy plotting and orchestrating.
Erdoǧan attempted to fly back to Turkey, only to find that he couldn’t land at İstanbul Atatürk, then found himself chased by hostile F-16s. He then flew toward Europe and requested political asylum in Germany, which was refused (bye-bye, Germany!). At some point it dawned on him that most of the army and virtually all of the people in Turkey were on his side, and so he called upon them to take to the streets in defense of the legitimate government. He did this using an improvised public communications technique that was almost a mockery of itself: his face on a cell phone held in front of a television camera. What followed wasn’t some peaceful, timid demonstration in support of the status quo but gonzo political action, complete with civilians laying down in front of tanks and getting crushed, followed by other civilians jumping on top of tanks and slitting the drivers’ throats. The putsch crumbled.
The optics of all of this are hard to misread. He went on vacation; he tried to flee; he begged his people for help over a cell phone. He ended up looking like a very weak and confused leader in a region where leaders either look strong or they don’t stay leaders for long. Do you still think that he planned all this? I don’t.
Idiotic Theory #2: Erdogan is wildly unpredictable and crazy.
No, the poor fellow just made a lot of mistakes. The modern world is very complicated, and he is just a national politician, not some geopolitical genius extraordinaire. He tried to work with the EU. Then, when Brexit happened, he realized that the EU is now a dead union walking. He tried to work with NATO; then he realized that NATO is a suicide pact that’s trying to provoke a suicidal war with Russia, with Turkey the inevitable loser. Here’s a really simple alternative theory: maybe he was just doing his best, which hasn’t been very good.
There is plenty more evidence of that. Erdoǧan has played all of his cards wrong:
• He did not stand in the way of the US and others supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria, a.k.a. Al Nusra, allowing Turkey to serve as a conduit for stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil which ISIS exported to Israel and elsewhere, and allowing weapons and jihadists to flow the other way. He also allowed his own son to profit from this shady business. Enriching your enemy is generally a bad plan.
• He did not hinder those who organized the European “refugee” crisis (George Soros et al.) only to realize, after several horrible terrorist attacks, that he had allowed thousands of terrorists to infiltrate Turkey just like they did the EU. Trying to curry favor with the EU (with the idea of joining it) while at the same time helping to undermine it by flooding it with terrorists, and destabilizing your own country in the process, was also a bad plan.
• He responded in exactly the wrong way to the unprovoked NATO shoot-down of a Russian plane over Syria, which resulted in painful Russian sanctions against Turkish agricultural exports, construction companies and tourist industry. Then he realized that he had made a bad mistake, made a sudden about-face and apologized to Russia. But by then he had squandered much of the hard-won good will of the Russian people. (Russia and Turkey had fought many wars, and Russians, like elephants, never forget.) Wrecking relations with a neighboring country, on which your country depends to keep your people employed and the lights on, is a very bad plan indeed.
All of this also made him look very, very weak.
On the other hand, the Turks are a strong people. Their army—at least the part of it that staged the coup—is a… NATO army, good at taking their uniforms off in public and running away (see photo), but the Turkish people can apparently handle the situation on their own. They clearly did not want to end up living under a pro-Western military dictatorship, like Egypt. Do you notice how little news there is coming from Egypt, in spite of all the terrible human rights abuses taking place there? That is because Egypt has been back under Western control ever since the democratically elected Moslem Brotherhood had been overthrown by the military. It doesn’t matter to the West that Egypt is no longer a democracy, or that human rights have pretty much gone missing there.
But this does seem to matter a great deal to the Turks! The only part of this that has been hard to predict is how long it would take Erdoǧan to actually understand what’s happening and to start responding adequately to the demands of the situation.
Idiotic Theory #3: Erdoǧan is a “new Hitler”
First, see above; Erdoǧan is weak. (Was Hitler weak?) But in spite of being weak, and in spite of making a lot of tactical errors, he is a popular leader pursing a correct overall strategy. He has taken the country in the direction in which the wind is blowing throughout much of the world anyway—away from failed Western liberal stage-managed democracy and toward resurgent populist conservative authoritarianism à la Moslem Brotherhood, or United Russia, or the National Front in France, or Donald Trump in the US, or any of the other popular movements that are poised to be voted into power in many parts of the world over the coming years. What Turkey needs in order to fight off the mutually supportive combination of Moslem Extremists and Globalizing Corporatists (ME+GC) is a stronger leader, not a weaker one.
Second, when various mouthpieces in the West start calling somebody “Hitler”—watch out for “regime change”! But their regime change machine seems to have stopped working a while ago. They tried it on Putin; that fizzled. They tried it on the Ukraine; that’s the last time it worked. They’ve been trying it on Assad for five years; he is still there. Now they are going to try it on poor embattled Erdoǧan? Let’s hope it doesn’t work on him either. The US and NATO had a good long run destroying one country after another—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Ukraine, Syria, Yemen—but there’s hope that this wave of destruction is finally over. Let us hope that they do not succeed in turning Turkey into a failed state along with all the others.
Third, the stated reason for calling Erdoǧan terrible names is that he is antidemocratic. Here, a couple of observations are in order. Lack of democracy is never a problem as far as the West is concerned: look at Egypt. If the people insist on electing someone the West doesn’t like—forget about democracy! Live under a military dictatorship until you have learned your lesson! Then, have you noticed just how badly Western-style representative democracy tends to function in ancient, tribal societies throughout the Middle East? Well, it turns out that democracy doesn’t work in these societies, and that popular authoritarianism is a much better way to go—unless what you want to produce is a failed state and a refugee crisis.
Erdoǧan is no Hitler. He may not seem like the most fabulous national leader ever, but if you look around, he actually doesn’t look that bad in comparison. Look at the US, whose Black President has driven blacks to start assassinating policemen. Or look at Greece, which went from the birthplace of democracy to the deathplace of democracy in one easy referendum followed by instant capitulation. Or France, with its François “get used to terrorism” Hollande who pays thousands of euros a week just to keep his balls shaven. Or Brexitania, which dumped PM Fooked-A-Pig only to replace him with dug-up Margaret Thatcher. And then there’s the Ukraine, with its alcoholic president Porky, parliamentary crotch-grabbing maneuvers and a Speaker who needs a speech therapist… No, Erdoǧan is looking pretty good, actually. Be happy, Turks, you got a winner!
Since its founding as a modern nation-state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey has remained at a crossroads between the east and the west. In recent decades, while the European project was showing some promise, Turkey looked west; now that the European project is in shambles, it is time for it to face east again. The idea of Turkey’s ascension to the EU is dead already. Now what Turkey needs to do is to extricate itself from the ridiculous, incompetent suicide pact that is NATO and make new security arrangements within a broader Eurasian context. (John Kerry recently said something about kicking Turkey out of NATO for being antidemocratic; that sounds very much like “You can’t fire me; I quit!”)
Then Turkey has to deal with the nasty contingent variously known as Wahhabists, Salafists, Takfiris and Jihadists. (If you don’t know who they are, you can call them “Moslem Extremists” (ME) but don’t just call them “Moslems” or you’ll sound ignorant.) And then of course there are the Globalizing Corporatists (GC), who are always looking for opportunities to dismember a country by “privatizing” it and carting it off piece by piece, and who have to be kept at bay until their global financial scheme finally blows up. ME+GC is a nasty combination, and this will not be an easy task. I hope that the Turks are up to it.