Andrew Korybko has grasped the single most important point about the effect of the attempted Turkish coup on international relations. This is that for the time being at least Turkey is in no position to pursue an ambitious foreign policy.
There continues to be a debate underway about whether the coup was a genuine coup attempt or was a false flag operation organised by Erdogan himself in order to consolidate his control of Turkey.
The correct and obvious answer is that it was most definitely not a false flag operation but was very much a genuine coup. All the information pouring out of Turkey both during and after the coup confirms that. This was a fully genuine coup against Erdogan’s democratically elected government carried out by Turkey’s “Deep State” and involving all parts of it, and one which moreover came within a whisker of success. It only failed because news of the coup leaked out just in time, enabling the government and the Muslim clergy to mobilise popular resistance to it.
This explains the purge currently underway. This is being misinterpreted as a sinister power-bid by Erdogan to tighten his grip on Turkey. Frankly it doesn’t look like that to me at all. On the contrary it looks to me to bear all the hallmarks of something else: blind panic.
Let us first look at the facts of the coup. It is simply not true – as many still say – that only a small number of junior officers were involved. On the contrary senior generals were involved both in Istanbul and Ankara, with the senior commanders of the troops located near both cities ordering their troops onto their streets.
Let me repeat here another point which I have made before: apart from one report of an F16 fighter shooting down a rebel helicopter, there is no evidence that any part of the Turkish military rallied to the government’s support or that a single military unit came to the government’s defence during the coup. The coup was not actively opposed or suppressed by the military. All the military units caught on film during the coup – including the tanks in the streets, the air forces jets flying over Istanbul and Ankara, the troops blocking the Bosphorus bridges and occupying Takshim Square, and the helicopter gunships which attacked the parliament building – supported the coup. The coup failed because confronted by angry crowds of civilians, the troops in many of the units involved in the coup eventually refused to obey the orders of the coup plotters and abandoned the coup.
Since the collapse of the coup it has become clear that sections of the navy also supported the coup, with possibly reliable reports of risings on some naval ships. Indeed it seems that some military units and bases in remote parts of the country continued to resist the government for several days after the collapse of the coup, a fact which shows how widely and deeply supported the coup in fact was.
It is clear moreover that a serious attempt was made during the coup to arrest the senior members of the government – including of course Erdogan himself – and that the coup plotters were willing to use extreme force to achieve their goals. Film has now surfaced of troops firing at civilians in Istanbul. In addition government buildings in Ankara – including the Presidential palace and the parliament building – were bombed from the air and fired on by tanks, and there are even scattered reports of some loyalist officials being murdered. There are also credible reports that the hotel where Erdogan was staying was bombed, and that rebel F16 jets searched for – but apparently failed to find – the private jet in which he fled.
Last but not least – and just to confirm how wide support for the coup within Turkey’s establishment was – there are credible reports that some senior officials within the Turkish judiciary sent out instructions whilst the coup was underway ordering the courts to treat orders from the institutions being created by the coup plotters as legally binding.
In light of all this the suggestion Erdogan stage-managed the coup himself is a fantastic one. On the contrary all the facts show that he and the other members of his government were utterly shocked by it, and were seriously frightened for their lives during it.
That explains the massive purge now underway. Erdogan and his supporters are acting in the classic manner of frightened people: lashing out in all directions as they see – and not without cause – enemies everywhere. In this sort of atmosphere anyone who comes under the slightest suspicion risks being arrested or sacked, with the latest reports suggesting that the total number of people so far caught up in the purge already runs to 60,000. Calls for the restoration of the death penalty are no more than what one would expect in this kind of atmosphere.
Much of the speculation of Erdogan being behind the coup turns on the misconception that the coup was too amateur to be genuine. On the contrary all the known facts point to the coup being very carefully planned and professional. One should not be misled by the fact the coup failed. Most coups fail if they encounter resistance from the legitimate authorities and the civilian population in their first hours. In Moscow in August 1991 an attempted coup collapsed almost immediately when it ran into civilian opposition despite the coup plotters having arrested the country’s President and despite the coup having been ordered by the ministers of the interior, state security and defence.
Far too much is also being made of the fact that the coup plotters carried out the coup on the basis of a pre-existing plan for a military exercise, and that many soldiers gave up during the coup as soon as they were confronted by angry civilians. Neither fact is at all surprising. It is usual for coups to follow the outlines of already pre-prepared exercises, which makes preparing the coup simpler and easier to conceal. As for the fact that many soldiers quickly gave up when confronted by civilians, it is notoriously difficult to get young soldiers – of whom many in the Turkish army are conscripts – to shoot at civilians who are their own people, just as it is notoriously difficult to get junior officers to order their soldiers to do so, especially when they doubt that the orders to shoot are coming from the country’s legitimate authorities. In the circumstances it is completely unsurprising that as the coup unravelled many soldiers – unsure what to do and uncertain about the legality of the orders they were being given – in end put up no resistance and simply gave themselves up.
One should not expect the soldiers of today’s Turkish army to behave with the discipline and ruthlessness of the Janissaries of Selim the Grim. What is most remarkable about the Turkish coup is not that many soldiers quickly gave themselves up, but that some military units persisted with the coup – and were prepared to go on shooting at their own people – for hours and in some cases even days after the coup had visibly begun to fail.
The central fact about the Turkish coup is that Erdogan and his supporters can no longer trust any part of Turkey’s Deep State. On the contrary they must now feel themselves locked in a life or death struggle with it. Their fear and panic – which is driving the purge – in the circumstances is completely unsurprising. It is not paranoia. That would suggest their fears are unfounded. On the contrary the facts show they are only too well founded.
The result is exactly what Andrew Korybko says: with the Turkish government and much of Turkey’s civil society now locked in conflict with the key institutions of the Turkish state – of which the Turkish military has traditionally been the most important – there is simply no scope for Turkey to conduct an aggressive foreign policy whether in Syria or anywhere else. Turkey’s priority for the moment is its own massive internal crisis. There is no time or will for anything else.