Instability in Turkey
Some hours before the Brussels terror attacks, on the other side of the Atlantic, a rather astonishing article was posted on the website of the ultra-hawkish and pro-Israeli American Enterprise Institute. It was written by a known neocon activist with strong ties (at least in the past, but probably also now) with Turkish Kemalists, Michael Rubin. Τhe article was entitled “Could there be a coup in Turkey?” In it, Turkish military are all but strongly advised to overthrow President Erdogan. The author assures them that they have nothing to fear from USA, NATO or Europe if they do it. He is also “describing”, for Erdogan and his closest advisors, a fate not so different than the fate of the overthrown Egyptian President Morsi.
This publication is not an isolated incident. On March 10th, two former US ambassadors in Turkey did not go as far as to suggest a coup against Erdogan, still they called him to “reform or resign”, as goes the title of their article published in the Washington Post. One of the writers, Mr. Edelman, belongs to the core of neoconservatism. He is believed to have contributed greatly, from the sidelines, to the emergence of Erdogan, when influential people in the USA were looking around for a more “accomodating” and “friendly” person to replace as head of the Islamists the ousted by the army PM Erbakan, too “original” and too “authentic”. As for the other co-author of the piece in Washington Post, Mr. Abravomitz, he avoided being identified too much with Neoconservatives, still his soul seems not to be very far from their positions.
The two writers are not limiting themselves to the – quite usual now in the international press - critiques of Erdogan's policy. They also address themselves clearly, if indirectly, to what remains of the kemalist currents inside the army. As they write in their article “the AK Party's heralded attempt to hold the military accountable for its undemocratic behavior was a show trial in which manufactured evidence served to implicate political opponents”.
Both articles are remarkable for their content, for the persons who sign them and for where they were published.
The neoconservative “state within the state”
The AEI was one of the main think tanks in the United States which prepared “ideologically” the invasion to Iraq and the war against the “axis of evil” the Bush government had initiated. To do it, it had taken, at the time, pretext of the terror attacks in New York on September 11th 2001. It used the political atmosphere, prevailing in the USA after the attacks to the Twin Powers, in order to shift radically the whole axis of the US policy in the Middle East. Such a shift could not, of course, but produce more chaos and more terror, as we can all see now on our TV screens.
Terror attacks are extremely helpful for people wishing to change policies, exactly because they provoke terror, disturbing the rational (or usual, better to say) way of thinking (?) of humans.
Mr. Rubin has been a very active neocon activist. Among other activities of his he worked with the notorious Office for Special Plans, created by Secretary Rumsfeld in the Pentagon, to prepare the invasion of Iraq and manage the situation afterwards. This Office is a very interesting example of the (formally legal) methods used by neocons to “hijack” USA and circumvent its normal, usual, institutional intelligence gathering and decision making processes. The same method was used in many other places, like in Paris, after the election of President Sarkozy, leading to the interventions in Libya and Syria. Even under Obama, neocons still handle a lot of influence in Washington and the administration itself.
In fact neocons created an unofficial “state inside the state”. According to an article by Greg Miller, staff reporter in the Los Angeles Times (9.3.2004), the Director of the CIA himself, George Tennet, revealed during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that “a special intelligence unit at the Pentagon provided private prewar briefings to senior White House officials on alleged ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda without the knowlegde of the CIA Director”. Miller writes that this “disclosure suggests that a controversial Pentagon office played a greater role than previously understood in shaping the administration's views on Iraq's alleged ties to the terrorist network behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and that it bypassed usual channels to make a case that conflicted with the conclusions of CIA analysts”. (1)
Turmoil in Turkey
According to well informed diplomats, who have served many years in Washington and in Turkey, Mr. Rubin entertained close friendly relations with Turkish kemalist circles in the past, but those relations were shaken when he accused them of “betraying Israel”. Probably he remains now in contact with some of them.
The publication of the article in the AEI website represents objectively first an open threat to Erdogan, second a direct encouragement to Turkish military who would like to get rid of their President and, also, to revenge him for what he did against Kemalists. It is very important as a signal and we cannot exclude that Rubin and the ambassadors emitted this signal in common with their Turkish friends. But of course there is some distance between sending signals and staging coups. Only time will tell us how long it is.
There are some formidable objects to the realization of such projects. First, the war against the Kurdish PKK has led to a tactical alliance between Kemalists and Erdogan. Second, the Turkish society is no more what it used to be. The reason the President did not get the majority he wanted last year is exactly the success of his own policy! By attacking and weakening seriously the traditional power of the Army in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan helped unleash social forces which turned in some cases against him, but which hardly would support a new military coup, if some in the Army have really the capacity to organize it. Third, nobody can be sure of the repercussions such a coup would really have, both in Turkey and regionally/internationally.
All that withstanding, nobody acquainted with Turkish history should not totally exclude the scenario of a coup. More the Turkish President will use authoritarian methods and more intolerant will show himself, more the range of social forces which want to get rid of him will be enlarged. On the other side, if he proves too soft on Kurds, he will alienate the Army.
Between East and West
Like its bridges in Instanbul, Turkey is a country between Europe and Asia. Its leaders try, everyone in his own way, to balance between those two worlds and the two Turkish identities. Both Islamists and Kemalists are often torn apart because of such contradictions. They dream to be the best friend of the West in the East, but they want also to be the leaders and representatives of the Arabic and Muslim East to the West. It is difficult to achieve, especially in the context of constant wars against the “axis of evil” and of “Clash of Civilisations”.
Recently, Erdogan has seen both his Middle Eastern and his Kurdish policy collapse. If that was not enough, he took the suicidal decision to down the Russian jet, thus nearly destroying his “strategic depth”, to use the term so much likes PM Davutoglu. In the concrete circumstances the real strategic depth of him was the nearly strategic relationship with Russia and his personal ties with Putin.
It remains a big question mark. He acted alone in deciding to down the jet or after having received a “green light”? And if he received such a “green light”, by whom and it what purpose?
More isolated than ever, after the downing of the Russian jet, Erdogan turned to Israel. But a rapprochement with Netanyahu poses also problems for him. One is ideological. The second is that Israelis ask for a price to be paid, in severing ties with Gaza Palestinians. They give him a tactical “gift”, but his concessions may prove of a strategic nature. He made already the same mistake, choosing tactics over strategy and ideology, when he decided to participate in western wars against Kaddafi and Assad and he paid already a heavy price for these choices.
As for neoconservatives in general, one would be foolish to believe that they have left the place because their plan A for Syria (toppling Assad, dismembering the country and destroying Hezbollah) has not succeeded, at least for the time being and after the Russian intervention. They are already looking for other ways to attain their strategic goals and they will go on trying to destabilize the whole region.
Neoconservatives have a huge advantage compared to their rivals. One may not like their goals, but they do have a clear strategy and they persist on that. Behind the Chaos they produce, there is an Iron, if terrible Order, one has to recognize it. Up to now, their opponents had not always a comprehensive vision, they were more objecting and protesting, than pursuing an alternative. And they are not always united.
(1) Some believe the same forces and the same methods were also used to instigate wars in Georgia and Ukraine. For those who like “conspiracy theories”, the method used to provoke and “direct” these crises has an astonishing similarity to the methods international Finance used to orchestrate the “European answer” to the financial crisis of 2008-9 (destroying Greece!) or to the refugee crisis of 2015 (again destroying Greece!).