The breaking news was breaking Donald Trump. All eyes were supposed to be on him Thursday evening. Who would he choose as his running mate – the somewhat spherical New Jersey bully, Chris Christie, or the eccentric former House speaker with a checkered past, New Gingrich, or the hard-right but essentially boring Mike Pence, with his years in congressional leadership and his lackluster years as Indiana’s governor? It was the ultimate episode of Celebrity Apprentice – but that show was preempted by the third major terror attack in France in eighteen months – the guy with the big truck in Nice, on Bastille Day. He killed eight-four people and left over two-hundred near death in hospitals from Nice to Arles. Trump cancelled his announcement, out of respect, he said, but no one was buying that. He had been upstaged by an ISIS terrorist – or by an unhinged murderous psychotic who was using ISIS as an excuse. It didn’t matter. Talk shifted to what we are going to do about terrorists. No one has a clue – although Newt Gingrich said “We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.”
That wasn’t well received. Some of those are American citizens. There’s no way to send them back to where they came from, which might be Altoona, and interviews about specific religious beliefs won’t solve much – and it also might help if Newt understood Sharia better, or at all – but such talk was in the air. Newt also wants to make it a felony for anyone to visit certain websites, which might make it hard for our counterterrorism folks to keep up with just who is planning just what. Maybe he’ll exempt those folks.
Who knows? There was a lot of talk in the air, and it wasn’t about Donald Trump. At midnight, Trump called all his advisers and asked if he really had to go with Mike Pence – he seemed to have sensed that choosing the boring guy made him look like a coward – but they told him it was too late for that. In the morning, presumably out of respect for the French dead, he sent out a simple tweet – Mike Pence was the guy.
That was it. There was no big event with the two of them on stage, hands clasped in the air as people cheered. There were no speeches about sticking it to Hillary and making America great again. Trump said that would happen on Saturday morning. The whole nation would watch. They’d be in awe, they always are, and what the hell else would they watch on Saturday morning? Nothing happens on Saturday morning. The coast would be clear. The Mediterranean coast would be clear.
Then the breaking news broke Donald Trump again. Late Friday, Turkey fell apart. A key ally in all we do in the Middle East, a full member of NATO and the only Muslim nation in NATO, had a military coup on its hands, one that seems to be extending into Trump’s Saturday:
Turkey’s government said it was restoring order Saturday after renegade army soldiers staged an attempted coup, wreaking havoc in several Turkish cities and plunging the already troubled country into a new era of uncertainty.
Addressing a big crowd of supporters gathered in Istanbul shortly after dawn, President Recep Tayyep Erdogan said his government was now fully in control following a night of bloodshed that saw Turkey, a major NATO member and key U.S. ally, spin briefly out of control.
“This government, brought to power by the people, is in charge,” he said, as the crowd roared: “Turkey is proud of you.”
“I am here, I am with you and I want you to know this,” Erdogan said.
Hours earlier, branches of the police and army had fought pitched battles for control of major government buildings in the capital, Ankara, as protesters swarmed onto the streets to confront the tanks rumbling into their cities. Helicopters flown by coup supporters fired on government buildings and into the crowds gathering to challenge the attempt to overthrow Turkey’s government, in the most significant challenge to the country’s stability in decades.
This is not supposed to happen in NATO nations:
At least 42 people were killed in the violence in Ankara, including a lawmaker who died when the parliament was bombed by a helicopter, Turkish officials said.
Gruesome video footage posted on social media showed tanks crushing protesters who tried to block their path, bloodied bodies strewn on the streets of Ankara and helicopters firing into civilian crowds, raising fears that the toll could be higher.
By the early hours of Saturday morning, Turkish officials said the government had managed to claw back control from the coup plotters, whose identity and profile remained unclear. A Turkish warplane shot down a helicopter carrying some of the coup leaders, the officials said, and the state broadcaster, which had been silent for several hours after it was overrun by soldiers, was back on the air.
But it did happen:
“A minority group within the armed forces targeted the integrity of our country,” Erdogan told reporters at a news conference broadcast live on state television. “This latest action is an action of treason, and they will have to pay heavily for that. This is a government that has been elected by the people.”
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued orders early Saturday to the military aircraft pilots still loyal to the government to take to the skies to shoot down any remaining planes flying on behalf of the coup plotters, who appeared to include a sizable proportion of the air force.
“The situation is largely in control,” Yildirim told Turkey’s NTV television channel. “All commanders are in charge. The people have taken steps to address this threat.”
Control is a relative term here:
With the main opposition parties making statements condemning the coup attempt, and most of the important branches of the military and security services rallying to the government’s side, it did not appear that the renegades had widespread support.
The upheaval began Friday evening when tanks and other armored vehicles appeared on bridges across the Bosporus in Istanbul and F-16s began streaking through the skies.
Shortly afterward, an anchor with the state television broadcaster read a statement purportedly from the Turkish military saying it had taken control of the country, citing concerns about the increasingly autocratic behavior of Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party.
“The Turkish Armed Forces, in accordance with the constitution, have seized management of the country to reinstate democracy, human rights, and freedom, and to ensure public order, which has deteriorated,” the statement said.
In accordance with the constitution, the military can seize management of the country? What? That’s one hell of system of government, but that’s Kemalism:
Kemalism, also known as Atatürkism, or the Six Arrows, is the founding ideology of the Republic of Turkey. Kemalism, as it was implemented by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was defined by sweeping political, social, cultural and religious reforms designed to separate the new Turkish state from its Ottoman predecessor and embrace a Westernized way of living, including the establishment of democracy, civil and political equality for women, secularism, state support of the sciences and free education, many of which were first introduced to Turkey during Atatürk’s presidency in his reforms.
If the leader is moving the nation back to its old Ottoman ways, well, someone’s got to do something. Josh Marshal notes that this has been the military’s job:
There have been a series of military coups in Turkey since the post-World War II transition to multi-party democracy. Indeed, the Turkish military was deemed for decades to have a special role in the state as the protector and guarantor of the state ideology of Kemalism. Those coups could be bloody – once resulting in the hanging of a Prime Minister or ‘soft’ as in the most recent one in 1997 which ousted Erdogan’s mentor without any actual force being applied. But that history of military intervention comes before the rule of now-President Erdogan.
But somehow he couldn’t escape this one:
It has been widely understood – a general consensus among Turkey-watchers – that around half way through his current tenure in power – Erdogan effectively broke the political power of the military. He did this in a series of ways, but most notably through a series of high profile trials of top military brass over attempted coup plots that may have been real or trumped up for political purposes.
The key point is it was widely assumed that the days of military coups in Turkey were over, certainly the old version, which was often coups against government’s operating outside the bright lines of the military’s interpretation of Kemalism or simply unable to maintain civil order. So despite Turkey’s history of coups, this is neither expected nor normal. Obviously any state can have a military insurrection or coup. But most thought the old de facto system in Turkey was through. Adding to the mystery is that immediately clear what the aims of this coup would be or what the precipitating event would be. Turkey has been wracking by a series of horrific terrorist attacks. It has mass disorder on its southeastern flank in Syria and the whole cauldron of the Arab Middle East. And Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style of government has raised the temperature within Turkish society considerably. But it’s not immediately clear which of those factors would have inspired a coup, whether it is all of them or none of them.
It is important to note that Erdogan, who came to power pledging to fully democratize Turkey and in his early years took real and concrete steps in that direction has been increasingly autocratic in his rule. In some key respects the recent years of his rule have validated the predictions of those who warned against letting an Islamist party run the state. The military in its statement has said it has taken control to preserve democracy and human rights. They both definitely need protecting under Erdogan. But coup plotters almost always say some version of that.
Jenny White, a professor at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, suggests it’s not quite that simple:
The generals are Kemalists. They are not secularists. Neither side is secularist. Secularism means that there is a differentiation between church and state. In Turkey it is laicist but gets translated as secularist, which muddies the issue. Kemalists controlled religion in society and preferred Sunnis. I hate using secular because it makes it sounds like they are the good guys and everyone else is bad.
The first real election was in 1950, and the moment that happened all the parties, including [first Turkish President Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk’s, had to start pandering to religion to get people to vote for them. They started opening preacher-training schools. They did those sorts of things because otherwise no one would vote for you other than the elites in the cities. The population is primarily conservative. The army, because of this, has always been its own world. It has its own living quarters and schools. It is a universe devoted to Kemalism, and the army doesn’t like governments doing anything with religion that isn’t under Kemalist control. As soon as they saw too much pandering, they stepped in. The first party that came into power in 1950, the Democrat Party, was not a religious party. It was only vaguely conservative, but there was a coup because the army thought the party had become too autocratic. It was very similar to now. They hanged the prime minister.
They think of it as recalibrating democracy, but they can’t get rid of pandering to religion because people are conservative. And Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) managed to pull that off to such an extent that they now have half the population, in part because that part of the population has been constantly pushed back and disrespected.
That does muddy the waters, as does this:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the most significant ruler in the republic’s history since its founder Mustapha Kemal Ataturk – is obsessed with Egypt. Three years ago, a military coup there ousted the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, arrested him and his allies, ruthlessly cracked down on his Muslim Brotherhood, and installed a regime that remains in place to this day.
Morsi, an Islamist, seemed something of a kindred spirit to Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a center-right party built on an ideology of Sunni Muslim religious nationalism. Erdogan fumed at Morsi’s removal and the brutal quashing of a government that, while unpopular, had won an electoral mandate. Many Egyptian Islamists who weren’t rounded up by the state fled to Istanbul to take sanctuary.
Last year, when the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, the main architect of the coup, sentenced Morsi to death, Erdogan raged at both the powers-that-be in Cairo as well as the West, which had looked on at this extinguishing of Arab democracy with seeming indifference, perhaps even tacit relief.
In short, when Sunni Muslim religious nationalism is chosen by the people that should be that:
During two election campaigns last year, Erdogan spoke gloomily of dark forces working against democracy and his government – foreign conspirators, even a “crusader alliance.”
That sounds noble, but for this:
After a decade as prime minister, he won election for the presidency – technically a ceremonial and apolitical role – and set about refashioning the Turkish republic in his image. He sought an executive presidency with expanded powers; in Ankara, he built a vast 10,000-room palace for himself.
As myriad rights groups and opposition parties allege, Erdogan’s authoritarian style grew apace. Major opposition newspapers and TV stations were shuttered or taken over; journalists and dissenters have been arrested on various charges. Even his one-time closest political ally was sidelined.
Meanwhile, the disaster in Syria – and Turkey’s own bungled policies in the region – fueled unrest within the country. The Kurdish insurgency flared up. The Islamic State, which critics say gained ground through Turkish negligence, started attacking targets within Turkey. The assault on Istanbul airport last month, it seemed, marked a new dangerous moment of open conflict between the jihadists and the Turkish state.
That last conflict is between his structured Sunni Muslim religious nationalism and the kill-them-all Sunni jihad of ISIS. Saddam Hussein had the same problem with al-Qaeda. They hated the guy. Some Sunni leaders just aren’t Sunni enough.
This, of course, puts the United States in an awkward position:
President Barack Obama called on all parties to “support the democratically elected government of Turkey” on Friday after an attempted military coup in the country, a strategically located but fickle NATO ally whose cooperation is crucial to defeating the Islamic State terrorist network. …
Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement of his own, said he had spoken to Turkey’s foreign minister “and emphasized the United States’ absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions.” NATO took a similar line, with the alliance’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg calling for “full respect” for Turkey’s democratic institutions.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a carefully calibrated statement that called for “calm and respect for laws, institutions, and basic human rights and freedoms,” while urging “support for the democratically elected civilian government.” Her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, remained silent…
Do we support Sunni Muslim religious nationalism? We do, if we support democracy, but that isn’t easy:
Obama’s swift decision to back Erdogan against the coup plotters comes despite his concern at the Islamist leader’s growing intolerance for dissent. In April, the U.S. president pointedly snubbed Erdogan during his five-day trip to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit, and described his escalating crackdown on the Turkish media as “troubling.”
“He came into office with a promise of democracy and Turkey has historically been a country in which deep Islamic faith has lived side-by-side with modernity and an increasing openness, and that’s the legacy he should pursue,” Obama said at the time, warning his Turkish counterpart against “repression of information and shutting down democratic debate.”
Erdogan fired back in a gaggle with Turkish reporters. “I was saddened to hear that statement made behind my back. During my talk with Obama, those issues did not come up,” he said, referring to a brief meeting the two leaders held on the sidelines of the summit.
“You cannot consider insults and threats press freedom or criticism,” Erdogan said.
Curiously, Donald Trump often says the same thing, but there’s a history here:
In 2013, the Egyptian military threw out the highly unpopular but democratically elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The Obama administration, believing Egypt to be a critical partner in an unstable region, declined to even say whether the events constituted a coup or not. Had it called the takeover a coup, the administration would have had to cut off aid to the country under U.S. law.
Turkey receives little to no direct U.S. military aid, experts noted. However, it is the only Muslim country in NATO and has been a staunch military ally of the United States since it joined the Western alliance in 1952.
A key NATO base is located at Incirlik in southern Turkey, which is now being used to launch attacks against the Islamic State in neighboring Syria. …
There are also more than a dozen installations large and small spread across the country that house U.S. or NATO personnel – from Istanbul in the northwest to Diyarbakir in the southeast. Turkey also has more than 500 soldiers serving as part of the NATO force in Afghanistan.
The country’s strategic importance – position as it is on the fault line between two continents, Europe and Asia – has increased over the years as U.S. involvement in the broader Middle East has deepened, and as new sources of natural gas have emerged in Central Asia.
Turkey also controls access to and from the Black Sea. It also remains one of the largest customers for American weapons, including as a partner in the new F-35 fighter jet.
It seems we’re stuck with this guy’s Sunni Muslim religious nationalism. Geopolitics is funny that way, but anyone can see what’s next. It might be somethings like this. “Barack Obama released a statement in support of the Islamist government instead of the moderate secular opposition attempting the coup!”
Donald Trump hasn’t shouted that yet, but he will. He’ll be shouting that the military should remove the democratically elected government and simply take over, if the issue is Islam – but he’s been silent so far, probably that sounds pretty stupid from someone who says we should elect him to office, as the voters should have the final word. Perhaps he won’t say that, but what else is he going to say? Look! Mike Pence!
That’s sad. The breaking news broke this man.