Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Mea Culpa about CFR and Turkey

Earlier today, I asked why the Council on Foreign Relations had been mum on the resignation of Turkey's military leadership at the end of July.  I tweeted the post at CFR and they responded via twitter literally within hours with two links, including this piece by Steven A. Cook that was published on August 3rd at  In the column Mr. Cook breaks down what happened, why it happened, and what it could mean for the future of Turkey.  In short, he wrote the piece I had been looking for.  It's a big internet out there and I just missed it, so clearly now neither CFR, nor I missed something regarding Turkey.

I was always told if you were wrong, you should say so.  I was wrong about CFR missing it.  Even more then that Mr. Cook wrote a great column that builds on my digest version of Turkish history.

Read any newspaper, magazine, or journal article about Turkey over the last few decades, and the odds are that the Turkish military establishment was described as “staunchly secular,” “powerful,” “autonomous,” “dominant,” or all of these things. At times, it seemed that observers were in awe of the Turkish commanders, armed as they seemed to be with an uncompromising ideology and a will to act to ensure the security of Turkey’s republican and, importantly, secular political order...The military’s reputation (some of it deserved, but also clearly exaggerated) is a function of the fact that between 1960 and 1997, the officers got rid of four governments that the general staff did not like. That’s what makes the Friday, July 29, resignation of the military’s most senior officers, including its chief of staff, all the more surprising. In Turkey, it is usually the military that pressures the government and forces the politicians to resign, not the other way around.
Hey, that's basically what I said.  Please continue Mr. Cook.
Erdogan’s demonstration of strength and control only reinforced initial assumptions that the officers’ move reflected the manifest political weakness of the Turkish armed forces and the ascendancy of civilian power. After all, the resignations did not destabilize the country, the financial markets remained steady, and there was no outpouring of public support for [resigning Gen.] Kosaner and his colleagues. Turkey did not miss a beat. The only possible conclusion analysts can draw from this episode: Erdogan has won. The prime minister, buoyed by a recent election that saw his Justice and Development Party (AKP) win an unprecedented 49.95 percent of the vote, has finally mastered civil-military relations, paving the way for a potentially more democratic future.
What I tend to think this means is that the coup that wasn't in the late 2000s was the beginning of the end of the Turkish military's predominance in Turkish politics.  Mr. Cook thinks this is a net positive for Turkey as democratically elected governments should be allowed to govern, regardless if the military are their biggest fans or not.  I would tend to agree and as Mr. Cook says, "The odds are, though, that last week’s resignations were the dying gasp of the Turkish general staff’s autonomy."  Sounds right to me, now if only I'd seen this before I shot off at the keyboard.

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