Editors have been writing and calling me all weekend to ask if I can comment on events in France and Turkey. Of course, this would happen be one of the very few weeks in the past decade that I’ve neither been in France nor Turkey.
But I’ve been following the news closely in both places. I wrote this piece about the attack in Nice for City Journal. It was monstrous and terribly depressing, but not surprising. I’ll be back in France tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll then be able to tell you a bit more then about the investigation and how France is reacting.
As for Turkey, to tell you much beyond what’s in the news, I’d have to be there. It’s a catastrophe, and people there will suffer for a long time because of it.
Many aspects of the story so far make no sense to me — why did the putschists bomb the Turkish Parliament, of all insane things? Why was the coup attempt so incompetently executed? That doesn’t mean there’s no explanation, only that I don’t yet understand it.
Although Vox isn’t where I’d usually go for incisive commentary, they interviewed someone to whom I would turn for that. As Dani Rodrik points out, the whole coup attempt is very puzzling:
For one thing, it seems to have been very poorly planned. For example, most TV channels were left operating and there does not seem to have been an attempt to take Erdogan in. … Second, it is not clear who would benefit from a coup. The military is no longer the secularist stronghold with a strong esprit de corps and sense of mission it once was. (Hence the widespread theory in Turkey that this was a coup staged by Erdogan himself, designed to pave the way for an Erdogan dictatorship. But this doesn’t quite ring true either, in light of Erdogan’s recent attempts to mend fences with Russia and Israel to strengthen the economy. He must know that even a failed coup would wreak havoc with the economy.)
And it’s very unclear how anyone could have imagined that bombing parliament in Ankara and blocking bridges in Istanbul would overthrow Erdoğan, not least because he wasn’t in Istanbul or Ankara. He was in Marmaris.
The theory that Erdoğan staged this himself is insane, even if a number of my friends suspect so. Many real people have died. Were they all actors? How did he persuade so many people to sign up for a suicide mission in service of this theater? What’s pretty clear is that he’ll be the beneficiary, however; and this will give him cover to persecute any opposition remaining and pass a new constitution arrogating all power to himself. That’s an unqualified disaster.
It’s perhaps more plausible that he knew there was a faction planning a coup and chose not to disrupt their plans. But even that seems implausible — it’s a wild risk to take; how could he be so sure it would fail? But the lack of organization and inefficiency might be because they prepared for or at least entertained the idea of a coup, but somehow the preparations were discovered, forcing them to act prematurely. This is just wild speculation on my part, though.
It has already been followed by a massive purge of the judiciary and the army. The numbers change depending who’s reporting it, but they’re in the thousands and obviously go way beyond any evidence that could have been uncovered since Friday. Thousands of judges have been sacked and hundreds more arrested. Not only does this leave me wondering who will be left to judge the alleged coup-plotters, it makes me wonder whether everyday jurisprudence will now be in short supply. Who’s going to be left to adjudicate contract disputes and traffic tickets?
Erdoğan is unsurprisingly placing the blame on Fethullah Gülen; he and many in Turkey believe that we’ve been sheltering Gülen explicitly for such purposes. His demand that we extradite him has the potential to escalate quickly to a crisis. Last night a Turkish minister, Süleyman Soylu, explicitly blamed the US for the coup attempt: “The instigator of this coup is United States,” he said, and “Behind the terror in [Turkey’s] southeast, and troubles in Syria and Iraq, is the USA’s ambitions and plans.”
Last night Erdoğan announced that those who stand by Gülen would be “at war” with Turkey. As of last night, Incirlik was shut down, with much speculation that it would remain that way until Gülen was returned. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it will at least temporarily starve anti-ISIS forces in Syria of air support.
Over the years I lived in Turkey, I wrote a few pieces that might be useful as background to this. Here I ask, who is Fethullah Gülen? I wrote more about the relationship between Erdogan and Gülen in Turkey’s Two Thugs.
Murat Yetkin is probably the best journalist to follow for detailed timelines and accurate English-language reporting from Turkey. See, e.g., Anatomy of a Failed Coup.
I’ll be writing a bit about this over the week and I’ll post the links here.
Of course, I’m worried about my friends in Turkey.