The abortive military coup that aimed to overthrow Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is particularly mystifying. Erdogan accuses Fethullah Gulen — an Islamist much like himself, and at least his equal in the competition to have absolute power — of staging the revolt. Currently in exile in Pennsylvania, Gulen denies all knowledge of it, but Erdogan is bellowing at the top of his lungs for President Obama to extradite him.
The army has mounted several coups in the past in order to safeguard the secular state put in place between the world wars by Kemal Ataturk. The secular establishment constituted an ideological opposition to Erdogan’s Islamism; as prime minister, Erdogan set about destroying it. In 2011, he claimed to have uncovered Ergenoken, as it was called, a deep-laid conspiracy to take over the country. There was no such thing. On completely trumped-up charges, he set in motion a massive purge. The chief of staff, generals, admirals, and numerous journalists were imprisoned. Ominously, hundreds of judges and policemen were fired. Erdogan acquired the sobriquet of “The Caliph.”
Worse was to come. The constitutional role of prime minister did not satisfy Erdogan’s urge for absolute power. Under his increasingly authoritarian bidding, the Turks have been manipulated into scrapping parliamentary democracy in favor of presidential democracy. When the voters in a general election rejected this transformation of Erdogan into, effectively, President for Life, they were obliged to hold a second general election to give Erdogan’s desired answer.
An army commander and two generals are now under arrest; charged with treason, they are facing the death sentence. An army major is the senior officer of the eight who fled by helicopter to Greece — all minor figures who had not laid sufficient groundwork for the coup they were attempting. Erdogan has seized the moment to make an example by arresting a few thousand soldiers who had no very clear idea what they were doing. He also plans to sack another few thousand judges — though how they come into the issue is inexplicable.
This episode ends in the farcical congratulations Western politicians are offering to Erdogan for the restoration of democracy in Turkey. The U.S. should be doing the exact opposite, and it should also staunchly refuse demands for Gulen’s extradition. This haphazard military coup has had the effect of blackening secularism and consolidating absolute power and Islamism. Highly convenient for The Caliph.