Saturday, July 16, 2016

Coup fails in Turkey as military is pushed back by Erdogan's forces.

Turkish police stand on top of a captured tank on the Bosphorus Bridge near Istanbul. Reuters

A coup led by the military has failed to oust Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan from power. Reuters. Government forces are battling to destroy the last pockets of resistance. 160 people were killed in the clashes, including many civilians. The plotters used troops, tanks and aircraft in their attempt to take control of Turkey. Erdogan was on holiday on the western coast of the country when the coup occurred and was able to return to Istanbul. Erdogan claimed that the resort area where he had left from had been bombed by the plotters in an attempt to assassinate him. Erdogan was always unpopular with the military due to his Islamist religious views, but he has wide support from civilians and the government. 

My Comment:
I have been following this story since it broke but I didn't write anything up until now. The situation was very fluid and I didn't want to call this going either way until something happened. But I saw some unbelievable things last night. Jets flying low over Ankara people pulling soldiers out of tanks and beating, protesters getting run down and killed by other tanks, helicopters firing on entire crowds of protesters. It was utter chaos, and it was insane to see live. No matter how the coup turned out I knew I was watching history. 

But it looks like this is going to be a footnote, despite all the people that died. The coup plotters made some critical errors. The most major one is that they didn't have the support of the people or much of the government. The reports I have seen is that some of the judiciary and part of the military was behind this coup. The civilians, the religious leaders, the police and part of the military were opposed to it. Even the opposition to Erdogan was opposed to this coup. Nobody really wanted it except the plotters. Clearly the coup didn't have the support of the people. 

You can still pull off a coup without the support of the people. But you can't do it the way that these plotters did. They needed to take out the leadership of Turkey and they failed miserably. If they wanted to take over the country the first goal should have been killing or capturing Tayyip Erdogan. They didn't even come close to doing so and the first sign that they had failed was when he returned to Istanbul. Even though the plotters still had control of parts of Ankara, the plot was essentially defeated when that happened. Perhaps if they had taken out many of his deputies and associates they could have made a better attempt at it, but they didn't. 

With Erdogan still in power the coup never really stood much of a chance. There is still a possibility that the plotters will try to escape and raise an insurgency, but I don't think that will happen now. Most of the leaders are either captured or dead and Erdogan is purging the elements of the judicial system that backed the plot. Though Turkey doesn't have the death penalty, they are already talking about bringing it back for the people involved in this plot. And even if they don't, they will rot in jail for the foreseeable future.  

The major question I have is why now? Everyone is saying that this has to do with the Islamification of Turkey. The Turkish military has always been a major secular force and has ensured that the country hasn't devolved into the insanity that is radical Islam. Turkey certainly looked like it is heading that way so perhaps the coup plotters felt like they had to act. 

But that still doesn't explain why they had to act right now. They could have worked for months gathering forces and supporters. This attack seem rather rushed and poorly planned and they did not exploit any kind of crisis. Yes there was just a major ISIS bombing in Istanbul, but that was weeks ago, people had moved on. It just seems that if the problem was Turkey's descent into radical Islam, why not wait a bit?

I have a few possible reasons that are pure speculation. I could very well be wrong and the mainstream explanation is right, but there have been a few things that have been happening in Turkey that could have moved up this attack. The most obvious one is the civil war against the Kurds. The plotters could be upset with the course of that war. Either they want it to end or they want it to be waged much more aggressively. Either way they could want a change of course that Erdogan didn't want to take. 

Another major change with Turkey is that they have moved to normalize relations with Russia. Erdogan apologized for shooting down one of their fighter planes near the Syrian border and Russia began to end sanctions and began to send tourists back to Turkey. 

Finally, Turkey has been sending out feelers to the Syrian government to normalize relations with them as well. Though not much came from that it was a huge shift to have the Prime Minster talk about that publicly and a complete 180 from previous policy from Syria.

Both of those policies could potentially anger the military and their NATO backers. Obviously Turkish honor was at stake during the incident with Russia. The military probably thought that their actions were justified in that case, and to apologize for it might feel like a stab in the back, especially since they were ordered to do it. And to normalize relations with Syria might sound like utter insanity for the military commanders who have been covertly supporting the rebellion for the last five years. I won't speculate much about what America or Europe's role in this coup may have been, but if I put on my tinfoil hat I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of connection there... 

Regardless, this is probably the best outcome for this coup. Tayyip Erdogan is a terrible President and all around bad person, but removing him from power would throw Turkey into chaos. Even a successful coup would have given ISIS a major opening to expand into Turkey and perhaps gain back some of the momentum they have lost on the battlefield. As much as I dislike Erdogan having him in power should minimize the risk, which is high enough as it is. 

An even worse outcome would have been a stalemate where neither side won. That would likely lead to a civil war. Since Turkey is already essentially in a civil war with the Kurds, and is under attack from ISIS, this would completely destroy any semblance of order in Turkey. Since Turkey is a NATO country we would probably end up getting involved as well. And the migrant crisis, which is already a massive disaster, would grow worse as hundreds of thousands of Turks would flee to Europe, along with all the Syrians that managed to stay in Turkey as well. Finally, ISIS would obviously take advantage of the situation and may have even tried to take territory in Turkey. 

The news cycle this summer has been exhausting. It seems like every few days there is a huge incident where a bunch of people die. Ever since the Pulse shooting these incidents seem to be occurring every couple of days in places that would otherwise be reasonably safe. Remember, just a few years ago Turkey was a stable, safe country. Now they have spiraled out of control and the government is barely hanging on by a thread. It just goes to show how quickly things can change.

I am hoping that this situation is over with. Unfortunately that means there is going to be a major purge in Turkey of some of their best people. I really do fear now that in the long run that this incident will be the end of a secular Turkey. Erdogan will push it to be even more repressive and Islamist now that many of his enemies are dead or captured. The last check against his power has fallen and there seems to be little that anyone can do to stop him. Though this coup was stupid and ill advised, I do think the plotters were essentially correct about Erdogan. If there was a peaceful way to remove him that wouldn't leave Turkey in chaos I would be all for it. But the plotters tried the violent option and failed, which means it probably can't happen again unless something major happens. We are just going to have to live with Tayyip Erdogan for the time being... 

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