Monday, July 18, 2016

Ataturk's Last Stand (Today's Reading Assignment)

If you read just two articles this week, may we suggest this opinion piece from Fox News strategic analyst Ralph Peters, and the latest column from former NSA senior spook John Schindler?  Both offer important insight into the failed "coup" in Turkey, and what it means for Ankara and the West.

While we've had minor differences with Lt Col Peters in the past, his analysis of the abortive military revolt in Turkey is spot-on.  When the coup fizzled on the streets of Istanbul and other major Turkish cities, so did Ataturk's lasting vision of a modern, secular state firmly oriented towards Europe and western values.  As Peters writes: 

Friday night’s failed coup was Turkey’s last hope to stop the Islamization of its government and the degradation of its society.  Reflexively, Western leaders rushed to condemn a coup attempt they refused to understand. Their reward will be a toxic Islamist regime at the gates of Europe.
Our leaders no longer do their basic homework.The media relies on experts-by-Wikipedia. Except for PC platitudes, our schools ignore the world beyond our shores. Deluged with unreliable information, citizens succumb to the new superstitions of the digital age.

So a great country is destroyed by Islamist hardliners before our eyes—and our president praises its “democracy.”

That tragically failed coup was a forlorn hope, not an attempt to take over a country. Turkey is not a banana republic in which the military grasps the reins for its own profit.  For almost a century, the Turkish armed forces have been the guardians of the country’s secular constitution. Most recently, coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980 (with “non-coup” pressure in 1997) saw the military intervene to prevent the country’s collapse.


So who is the man our own president rushed to support because he was “democratically elected?” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is openly Islamist and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which President Obama appears to believe represents the best hope for the Middle East. But the difference between ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of purpose, but merely of manners:  Muslim Brothers wash the blood off their hands before they sit down to dinner with their dupes.

With barely a murmured “Tut-tut!” from Western leaders, Erdogan has dismantled Turkey’s secular constitution (which the military is duty-bound to protect).  His “democracy” resembles Putin’s, not ours.  Key opposition figures have been driven into exile or banned.  Opposition parties have been suppressed.  Recent elections have not been held so much as staged.  And Erdogan has torn the fresh scab from the Kurdish wound, fostering civil war in Turkey’s southeast for his own political advantage.

Erdogan has packed Turkey’s courts with Islamists.  He appointed pliant, pro-Islamist generals and admirals, while staging show trials of those of whom he wished to rid the country.  He has de facto, if not yet de jure, curtailed women’s freedoms.  He dissolved the wall between mosque and state (Friday night, he used mosques’ loudspeakers to call his supporters into the streets).  Not least, he had long allowed foreign fighters to transit Turkey to join ISIS and has aggressively backed other extremists whom he believed he could manage.

And if that weren't enough, there is ample evidence that Erdogan has allowed the purchase of ISIS oil by various Turkish middlemen, helping the terrorist army fund its operations.  At the same time, Turkey's leader tries to maintain his image as a loyal NATO ally, allowing U.S. aircraft to stage missions against ISIS targets from Incirlik Airbase.  It's a strategy roughly akin to that of Pakistan, which has played all sides of the war in Afghanistan, trying to advance its own agenda.  But Erdogan has played a much more active role than his counterparts in Islamabad, allowing foreign fighters, weapons and oil to flow across the border, clamping down only when it suits his interests, typically before a NATO summit, or when the Obama Administration offers a rare bit of criticism.  

Making matters worse, Erdogan has tacitly aided ISIS on the battlefield.  While Turkey is ostensibly committed to attacking the terrorists, much of Turkey's military activity in Syria has focused on targeted Kurdish militias who have been the most effective forces battling ISIS and the Assad regime.  But Erdogan fears a free Kurdish enclave in Syria more than the terrorists, so ISIS has received little attention from Turkish military forces. 

Which brings us back to Friday's "coup" and accelerated cleansing of Turkey's officer corps under Erdogan.  Since assuming power more than a decade ago, Mr. Erdogan has worked systematically to reduce the power of the Turkish General Staff, guarantors of a secular state for nearly a century.  The TGS leads the second-largest military in Europe, a force that has been extensively modernized over the last 25 years.  And, leaders of the armed have never been hesitant about seizing power to save Turkey from extremist elements; there have been three coups since 1970 and the military pressured the government into major changes in 1997.  As various analysts have noted, military coups have generally been a stabilizing influence for Turkey and that was the apparent motivation behind last week's revolt; the generals, admirals and lower-ranking officers who led the rebellion hoped to wrest control of the country from Erdogan and his Islamist factions.  

But it wasn't much of a coup.  As Dr. Schindler notes in the New York Observer, the plotters could only muster about a battalion worth of troops--not enough to take over a mid-sized village, let alone an entire country.  And the narrative grows even stranger as more details emerge; as Erdogan flew back to Ankara from vacation, F-16 pilots supporting the coup locked onto the Turkish president's jet multiple times, yet no one gave the order to open fire, reinforcing Rule #1 of a military takeover: you'd better be prepared to kill the king (or president) if you want to succeed.  Instead, Erdogan landed, and began suppressing the coup in earnest.  The last of the ringleaders wasn't arrested until Monday afternoon, but for all practical purposes, the revolt ended almost as soon as it began.  

The coup's stunning failure has prompted speculation that perhaps it was a false flag operation, staged by Erdogan and his supporters.  While there's no definitive proof to support that charge, it is very clear the Turkish president will make the most of this opportunity.  As of this writing, more than 25% of the nation's flag officers have been detained, along with more than 2,000 judges.  Even in a nation with a liberal view of interrogation techniques, you can't elicit that many confessions in less than 72 hours.  After the coup failed, Erdogan simply dusted off his enemies list and sent loyalist security forces to round them up.  Mr. Erdogan has already suggested that Turkey may restore the death penalty, so it's likely that many of the coup leaders will pay for their actions with their lives.   

Throughout the crisis, the Obama Administration has stood behind the Turkish president and his Islamist government.  To be fair, it is a difficult situation, with Ankara being a key NATO ally, sitting astride some of the world's most important real estate, and home to Incirlik Airbase, where USAF F-16s and A-10s fly daily missions against ISIS.  And did we mention that Incirlik is also home to an unspecified number of tactical nuclear weapons?  While some sources maintain the nukes were withdrawn years ago, the U.S. has spent millions to upgrade nuclear storage facilities at Incirlik in recent years, suggesting the weapons are still there, or may return in the near future.  A few hours after the coup, Erdogan ordered the cut-off of water and power to the base, to underscore his displeasure with Washington.  

Why is he mad at us?  A moderate imam named Fethullah G├╝len (who was once an Erdogan ally) fled the country during a previous purge and now lives in Pennsylvania.  Mr. Erdogan describes him as the "spiritual leader" of the rebellion and is demanding his extradition.  Not surprisingly, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. government is willing to listen to Ankara's demands.

What comes next?  Erdogan has promised a "thorough cleansing" of the "virus" infecting his country, meaning that the military, judiciary and other bastions of opposition will be completely purged.  The Turkish military will lose thousands of competent officers to prison, execution or exile, further weakening the one institution that kept Turkey stable and oriented to the west.  Their departure, along with other Kemalists will leave the "sick man of Europe" that much weaker and push it further into the Islamist orbit.  Dark days lie ahead for Turkey, but our leaders are too busy cheering on Erdogan to notice.  And we will pay for that folly.                     



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