Wednesday, July 20, 2016
A Big Bad Turkey, and It’s Not Even Thanksgiving
The military coup failed. Turkey is clamping down, assessing blame, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration is issuing tons of arrest warrants and making internal executive orders and external demands. Notwithstanding the U.S. Incirlik Air Base in Turkey (pictured above), the FAA has suspended U.S. civilian flights to this nominal NATO ally, which in turn casting an evil eye at the United States for “harboring” Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s one-time ally and current archenemy. Gulen is today purportedly a quiet and very legal resident of Monroe County Pennsylvania who has denied any culpability in the failed military insurrection. Erdoğan is seething over Gulen, and in Turkey, chaos reigns supreme.
“About 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or are under investigation since Friday's military coup attempt. The failed putsch and the purge that followed it have both unsettled the country of 80 million, which borders Syria's chaos and is a Western ally against Islamic State.
“The [Turkish] lira fell to a record low after ratings agency Standard & Poor's cut Turkey's foreign currency credit rating, citing the fragmentation of the political landscape and saying it expected a period of heightened unpredictability…
“Academics were banned from traveling abroad on [July 20th] in what a Turkish official said was a temporary measure to prevent the risk of alleged coup plotters in universities from fleeing. State TRT television said 95 academics had been removed from their posts at Istanbul University alone…. ‘Universities have always been crucial for military juntas in Turkey and certain individuals are believed to be in contact with cells within the military,’ the official said.
“President Tayyip Erdogan blames the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for Friday [July 15th] night's attempted coup, in which more than 230 people were killed as soldiers commandeered fighter jets, military helicopters and tanks to try to overthrow the government.” Reuters, July 20th.
“Turkey has formally charged 99 generals and admirals in connection with the weekend's thwarted coup attempt - a significant chunk of the country's military top brass… President Erdogan is meeting with loyal commanders and his cabinet in Ankara… and [so] far about 1,577 university deans (faculty heads) have been asked to resign in addition to 21,000 teachers and 15,000 education ministry officials.” BBC.com, July 20th. 500 schools were closed as well.
Throughout this maelstrom, there is growing tension between Erdoğan and his top administrative officials, on the one hand, and the United States, on the other. It is widely believed among Erdoğan diehards that Fethullah Gulen was the prime mover, the directing force at the top, of that coup attempt. All the while, they claim, Gulen was calmly directing coup efforts from his safe enclave, during his self-imposed exile, from within the United States. Erdoğan has long since been pressing the United States to extradite Gulen to Turkey to face charges of treason, now exacerbated with new accusations of plotting insurrection.
These are not polite requests from Turkey to the United States. While the U.S. government has responded that it will in fact entertain such extradition if Turkey can make its case with sufficient supporting evidence to justify the transfer, Turkey has simply upped its demands with some pretty senior Turkish officials going way beyond the extradition demand. Some foreign diplomats anonymously suggest that it is not the rule of law behind these extradition requests but Erdoğan’s own imperious and arrogant personality, which many fear will result in a new dictatorship in this tumultuous democracy.
“‘Erdogan is behaving like a vengeful sultan by demanding Gulen be sent to him in chains with no regard to international law on extraditions.’ [according to a Western diplomat in Ankara, who requested anonymity]…
“Addressing supporters in Istanbul July 16, Erdogan railed, ‘I call on the United States and President Barack Obama: Dear Mr. President, I told you this before, either arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey. You didn't listen.’ He continued, ‘Now after this coup attempt I call on you again. Hand over the person in Pennsylvania to Turkey.’
“Arguing that Turkey had extradited every terrorist suspect Washington requested, Erdogan said the United States should behave similarly if it considered Turkey a strategic ally. [Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali] Yildirim was more direct in a July 18 statement, asserting the Gulen issue would be the test of Washington’s friendship. ‘Any country that stands behind Fethullah Gulen is not our friend,’ Yildirim said.
“Labor and Social Security Minister Suleyman Soylu went even further, claiming on television, ‘The United States of America is behind this coup … The psychopath named Fethullah Gulen is being supported by America.’ The pro-Erdogan media did its share and floated inflammatory allegations aimed at fanning anti-American sentiment among conservative Turks. Ibrahim Karagul, the editor in chief of the Islamist daily Yeni Safak, claimed that the United States had tried to kill Erdogan in the coup.” Al-monitor.com, July 2016. Many in Turkey are now calling the United States itself a “terrorist state” as a result.
These tensions are getting particularly dicey, just at a time when ISIS is fomenting or directly mounting sporadic attacks within the United States and its Western allies. There are now even ISIS threats against the Rio-based Olympics. The United States is still has its airbase in Turkey to launch airstrikes (temporarily suspended) against neighboring ISIS targets. But there is major skepticism among current and former U.S. government officials as to the source of the coup and the need to extradite Gulen:
“John Bass, the US ambassador to Turkey, issued a statement reiterating Washington’s willingness to assist Turkish authorities in any investigation regarding the attempted coup. ‘If Turkey decides to submit an extradition request for anyone legally resident in the United States, it will be considered under the terms of the US-Turkey extradition agreement,’ Bass said. ‘I underscore that our extradition treaty and US laws have specific requirements that must be met before a suspect individual can be transferred to another nation’s jurisdiction.’
“[Obviously, not] everyone in Washington is convinced that Gulen is behind the coup attempt. W. Robert Pearson, a former US ambassador to Ankara (2000-2003), is among the skeptical… ‘It sounds convenient for the government to charge Fethullah Gulen with an armed coup attempt when there are so many other reasons why unrest might have erupted within a military charged by Ataturk with preserving democracy and the secular nature of the Republic,’ Pearson wrote in Politico Magazine.
“Ankara is currently trying to meet the requirements to have Gulen extradited. Any delay in the extradition process due to legal complications will add grist to the mill of those who claim the United States is supporting Gulen. In addition, if Ankara’s application is rejected on legal grounds, it is not hard to predict that ties will suffer a serious blow because of the anger stoked in Turkey by Erdogan and other government officials.
“This is a highly messy situation for Washington, given Turkey’s crucial role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Tellingly, Incirlik Air Base, which the US-led anti-IS coalition uses, was temporarily closed during the coup attempt, forcing the Pentagon to possibly consider other bases in the region to continue operations against IS before Ankara reopened the facility.” Al-monitor.com. “One of the ruling AK Party's most senior figures, Mustafa Sentop, a close ally of President Tayyip Erdogan, said the constitution allowed for a state of emergency to be declared, though he said he did not know if such a step would be taken.
“Speaking live on broadcaster NTV, he said any state of emergency would last up to six months and would not affect citizens' lives. He also called for the restoration of the death penalty for crimes aimed at changing the constitutional order.” Reuters, July 20th. Erdoğan instantly declared a 90 day state of emergency.
In short, this coup (and its aftermath) is a horrible situation for American policy-makers, no matter how you look at it. We need Turkey in our fight against Middle Eastern-based terrorism. It is a critical bridge between Western Europe and that trouble region. Turkey is a NATO ally. But Erdoğan has been slowly moving his once-secular government towards Sunni religiosity. He has been brutal in his assault against his own Kurdish people (who have had an on-again, off-again struggle for autonomy against Ankara) and younger, educated urban secularists who resent the intrusion of religion into Turkey’s government. Censorship and arrests of dissidents have escalated well before the failed coup. The relationship between Turkey and the United States could go even farther downhill very fast.
Meanwhile, lest you think American policymakers would be remotely swayed by all this anti-American rhetoric, they know exactly how much they need Turkish help against ISIS. So, turning a blind eye to all the nasties, “Mr. Obama called Mr. Erdogan to deliver what a senior administration official described as a ‘shout-out’ for his resilience in the face of a failed coup attempt, and to express relief that the Turkish president and his family were safe…
“Although Mr. Obama has periodically warned Mr. Erdogan to curb his authoritarian tendencies — he called him in June 2013 after the police cracked down brutally on protests in a park near Taksim Square in Istanbul — the president has generally delivered his criticisms in private. He is likely to do the same this time, analysts said, unless Mr. Erdogan begins executing people. It is a further reflection, they said, of the paucity of options open to Mr. Obama.
“‘We don’t really have a Plan B,’ said Steven A. Cook, an expert on Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations. ‘This is what we’ve got, and we’re going to live with it.’” New York Times, July 20th. A little groveling and looking away, well, we call that “diplomacy.”
I’m Peter Dekom, and this ugly situation requires the subtle handling by this nation’s best and most-intelligent foreign policy experts/grovelers.