News that the top echelon of Turkey’s military offered their joint resignations is not much of a surprise, given ongoing politicized trials against particular officers, and the general acceptance that a secular military is at odds with an increasingly Islamicized government. But there will be lots of long-term ramifications. Turkey, as an historical window on the West, has been praised as about the only Middle East Islamic nation that accepted democracy without foreign imposition, and is often referenced as proof that there is nothing antithetical between constitutional government and a resurgent Islamism.
But with such departures of secular officers, the message grows more complicated and may be that if a high-ranking military official is Islamist, the way to advancement is assured; while the old secular path leads nowhere. Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah seem to be more the eventual models, in which the military becomes a protector of Islam and ensures that the armed forces serve rather than prevent the insidious religious take-over of social institutions. Elections without strong independent judiciaries, constitutional protections of human rights, and freedom of unfettered expression and dissent mean little. In Turkey’s case, Erdogan brilliantly has curbed civil liberties and attacked the military under the guise of ensuring that a traditionally interventionist and secular defense establishment respects the verdict of elections, and he acts with the confidence that results from a rather strong economy under his leadership.
At some point, an ambitious Turkey, its military and government now in sync as in past Ottoman fashion, will reassert its prior influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean without too much worry over what a NATO rendered impotent in Libya, an imploding European Union, or a nearly insolvent U.S. might say. Greece — without money or many friends these days — should be worried, both over the unresolved tensions in Cyprus and over disputed areas in the Aegean. If Turkey pressed a bit, what would it have to worry about? A Germany angry over treatment shown its friend Greece? An ascendant and powerful NATO as evidenced through its brilliant air campaign against Qaddafi? A strong and assertive U.S. as shown by reset diplomacy over the last three years, and the financial health of America?
Israel too should be concerned. Turkey increasingly lends financial and spiritual support to the anti-Israeli coalition, and sees such frontline activism in line with a long tradition of uniting the Arab world behind one-world Islamism, directed from Istanbul. I think we are beginning to see the outlines of reset U.S. retrenchment as regional powers reassert influence in their respective spheres of influence. In short, I don’t think Turkey in the future is going to pay much attention to what the EU, NATO, or the U.S. has to say about its particular relationships with an Iran, Israel, Iraq, or Syria.