…Is Happening Right Now & It Is This Coup
This military coup is the defining moment for post-Cold War Turkey. Whatever happens here, the trajectory of Turkey for decades to come will be set: an emerging dictatorship under the increasingly autocratic Putin-wannabe Erdoğan or a chance at a democratic reset at the cost of both democratic procedure and a military takeover.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse July 15-16, 2016
AMMAN — There are a few things to consider as we watch the astounding scenes unfolding in Turkey—including fighting on the streets of a major European city: Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities—of that country’s first military coup since 1980. I did note at the beginning of this year that Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s destabilizing policies were one of the great political risks for 2016, but I certainly did not anticipate a coup when I wrote those words.
The first thing to understand is that this is the seminal movement of Turkish history of the post-Cold War era. Turkey will be defined for decades (perhaps many decades) by what happens there in the next few hours, days, and weeks.
It is a battle between Erdoğan and his opponents, between the religious and the secular, between conflict and peace, between authoritarianism and democracy, between oppression and freedom, between moving backwards and moving forwards.
Right now, we are looking at a pretty binary set of outcomes: either this coup will fail, or it will succeed.
If the coup fails, Erdoğan will use this coup as an excuse to do everything he can to increase his own power, dismantle Turkey’s democratic civil liberties protections, crack down on all his opposition (political or journalistic), continue to flirt with the Islamicization of Turkey, and, in short, set the stage for a Turkish dictatorship. If you doubt this, just remember that Erdoğan blamed terrorist attacks in Turkey that were very likely carried out by ISIS on Kurds so that, after suffering a major political setback in which Erdoğan’s party lost its majority in the Turkish parliament, he was able to exploit those attacks to generate conflict with the Kurds, weaken his political oppositionand Turkey’s main Kurdish party, and mount a political comeback victory for his party just months after its major defeat.
This is a man who allows his government to prosecute and convict a man for comparing Erdoğan to The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum.
And tonight? Erdoğan pretty much said tonight that he is going to begin a massive crackdown in response to this coup, and is repeating this live to a crowd of thousands of supporters as I write.
A broader philosophical question will also be asked: at what point are undemocratic means justified to save democracy from itself? The suicidal tendencies in democracy are as old as democracy itself, stretching back into the ancient world and of primary concern to America’s Founding Fathers. If an abusive and autocratic leader uses democratic means to come to power, then uses that power and fear to destroy democratic values over time, can a coup be justified? What is worse? Allowing a would-be tyrant and the poor choices of the people to give their own democracy an assisted suicide, or allowing a military coup to depose a legally elected government to hypocritically save a democracy from these very things? There are hardly simple questions, but what is clear is that too much democracy—a simply brute-force rule of a “tyranny of the majority” with little respect for minority rights, due process, or the rule of law—creates fertile ground for tyranny, a point recognized over time by Plato and Cicero, American Founding Fathers and early Presidents John Adams and James Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville and, most recently, Andrew Sullivan just about a month ago.
At this point, there is still a lot of confusion over what is happening, especially in Ankara, the political seat of power in Turkey, but the best Turkey can hope for is a reset with the ouster of Erdoğan, whom coup plotters are correct to identify as the main threat to Turkish democracy, but with a minimal amount of bloodshed. Any kind of prolonged conflict or unrest would be a disaster for Turkey, already enmeshed with conflict with its and the region’s Kurds, with ISIS, with the Assad regime in Syria, reeling from a dramatic spike in terrorism, and dealing with a major influx of millions of refugees. But perhaps an even worse disaster would be Mr. Erdoğan retaining power; with a new mandate after surviving a coup, he would be empowered to shape Turkish politics and its military to make it all but impossible to stop him or reverse the undemocratic trajectory on which he has set his nation.
Erdoğan has already done much to weaken Turkey’s democracy. If he stays in power, he will be stronger than ever and will certainly move forcefully in the same directions he’s been moving in for years.
Any chance of Turkey becoming part of the EU is dead for now with this coup, period, and possibly for some time if Erdoğan stays in power.
If the coup somehow prevails, Turkish democracy and stability will also be weakened, but will have stopped Erdoğan from becoming a firm Turkish Putin while giving democracy a chance with a reset.
I’d take a chance with a reset on democracy with the hope it can improve rather than continue but in an accelerated way the slow death march of Turkish democracy under Erdoğan.
Whatever becomes of this coup, there are no easy answers, not after this night; the young people in Turkey today will have to tell their children that this coup was the moment when the main battle for the soul of Turkey was fought and won (or lost). Who will be the victor of that battle, and how that will shape Turkey, its society, and its democracy, remains to be seen.
Ismail Coskun – AP
Read follow up article: Erdogan Leads Turkey’s Democracy on a Populist Death March After Failed Coup
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