Erdogan or Tanks? The West’s Dilemma

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Balkans & East Med, EU & NATO, International Developments, Middle East, Strategy & Defence

By Dr. Spyros Plakoudas, Analyst KEDISA

Much ink has been spilled over the last few days about the failed coup d’état in Turkey as experts and so-called experts talk about the grave mistakes of the plotters within the military or the witch hunt by the obsessive and vindictive Erdogan. But for a few exceptions, no one talks about the elephant in the room: what the victory of Erdogan means for the relations between Turkey, a long-standing member of NATO, and the West.

What If?

Would a successful coup d’état have benefited or harmed the West? Although no one can predict with 100% accuracy what would have occurred in a case of a coup victory, an analysis of the profiles of the coup plotters offers an indication of their political orientation. Among those detained (exceeding 8,000 servicemen and 9,000 policemen thus far) can be identified:

• 2 out of 4 army corps commanders
• 20 out of 39 brigadiers (infantry, artillery, armor)
• 9 out of 10 brigadiers (commando)
• 7 out of 12 commanders of the main airforce bases
• the commander of the marines
• the commander of the coastguard
• the commanders of the naval bases of the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean
• the commander of the navy’s airforce
• the commander of the gendarmerie

In total, 2,000 officers of all ranks have been arrested or discharged of their duties (15% with the rank of major or above). Indicatively, 118 out of the 358 generals have been arrested (thus far) and many more may soon be arrested on the charge of collusion with the coup plotters.
The in-depth analysis of the profile of the above officers reveals that the vast majority of them had served (often with distinction) in staff and operational posts inside and outside Turkey. For example, the commander of the 2nd Army Corps (whose zone of operational responsibility stretches throughout south-east Turkey), the commander of the gendarmerie, the commanders of the commando brigades and several others had successfully oversaw counter-insurgency operations against the separatist Kurdish insurgents since July 2015. In addition, several of the above officers had served in crucial staff posts in NATO and had, therefore, developed intimate relations with their colleagues from the USA and Israel.
If the coup plotters succeeded, they would have by all probability pursued a far more “traditional” foreign policy: one centered on NATO and the special relationship with Israel. In addition, they would quash any internal opposition by the AKP’s supports with an iron fist and justify their oppressive policy in the name of the war against the twin threats of terrorism (the jihadists of the ISIS and the communists of the PKK) and sectarianism (the neo-Ottoman and pro-Sunni policy of Erdogan). In other words, the “Egypt Scenario” would probably repeat itself. In 2013 field marshal Sisi overthrew the democratically-elected President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and quelled violently any internal opposition by the native Islamists with the blessings of the West and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. However, tolerance for a coup d’état does not necessarily mean support. The West would have probably recognized the result of a victorious coup d’état but did not support it in any way.

Now What?

The failure of the coup resulted in a counter-coup. Erdogan unleashed a ruthless persecution of his internal opponents and, therefore, has already purged 60,000 public employees and military personnel. Without doubt, this “witch-hunt” will only damage Turkey’s stability and cohesion. The demand for the extradition of his former mentor and ally, imam Fettulah Gulen, and the insinuations about the restoration of the death penalty have provoked outrage in the capitals of the West. Erdogan’s anti-coup has already caused a serious economic shock to Turkey (free fall of the lira and stock market, devaluation by S&P as well as mass flight of tourists and investors).
In summary, Erdogan has purged or incarcerated until the 19th of July almost 50,000 employees of the public sector and servicemen with alleged connections to the Hizmet Movement of the imam Fetullah Gulen or the Kemalist old guard:

• 1,577 deans
• 8,000 policemen
• 9,000 servicemen
• 3,000 judges
• 30 governors
• 15,200 employees of the ministry of education
• 492 employees of the religious directorate
• 100 members of the secret services
• 1,500 employees of the ministry of economics

Erdogan currently implements an openly Islamist agenda with the pretext of the purges against the enemies of democracy. On the night of July 15, the imams in the nearly 85,000 mosques all over Turkey called on the “faithful” to protect “the leader of the faith”, Erdogan. On 21 July, Erdogan himself called on the “faithful” to prayer from the mosque within the presidential palace in Ankara. In short, Erdogan presents his post-coup purges to the country’s public opinion in strictly Manichean terms as the “struggle against evil”.
According to several polemics inside and outside Turkey, Erdogan tries to transform the country upon his image in the pattern of the leader of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Ayattalolah Khomeini. No one can predict with certainty how Erdogan, an unpredictable personality par excellence, will proceed in the near future with regards to his traumatized relations with the USA and Israel. At present, Erdogan has adopted a confrontational stance towards the USA in an effort to attract much further popularity and cement his (now tight) rule over the state and security organs. However, this confrontational stance may jeopardize Turkey’s role and position within NATO since already the USA and Turkey diverge on several issues – from the fate of the Syrian Kurds to the relations with Israel. If Erdogan, nonetheless, pursues consistently such a confrontational policy vis-à-vis the USA and, later on, the EU, the West will undoubtedly try to contain the omnipotent president by throwing its full weight behind other peripheral actors (most notably, Greece and Cyprus). And in the worst case scenario Erdogan tries to “blackmail” the USA by flirting with Russia, the rift between Washington and Ankara will only grow far worse – to the detriment, most likely, of Turkey.
For the time being, the West watches uneasily as an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan tightens his grip over the state and society in Turkey. By pursuing such a policy, Erdogan unwittingly raises the value of the “stocks” of the PYD in Syrian Kurdistan in the “stock market” of the Middle East. Therefore, the co-operation between the West and the PYD in Syria will only increase in the near future and the PKK (designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU and USA) may profit as well.