The Corner

Is the Turkish Military a Bulwark against Islamism?

The AKP government is bad, but our diplomats have long turned a blind eye toward its virulent ideology and the destruction of Turkey’s secularism. In 2005, then U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried described the AKP as ”a kind of Muslim version of a Christian Democratic Party.” This, of course, was nonsense on a factual level, but political correctness is the opiate of the diplomat.

Still, what about the Turkish military? Just as many Turkey-watchers and diplomats remained in denial or turned a blind eye toward the change in Turkish society, so too do they have a quaint and outdated notion of the ideology of the Turkish military. Once Turkey’s military was a bastion of secularism. (For that matter, once Pakistan’s military was likewise.) But a decade of indecisive commanders of the Turkish General Staff has changed the situation. Always afraid to fulfill their duty to protect the constitution for fear of what Western diplomats might say — and no, this doesn’t mean a coup — they now realize that they simply don’t have the power to pressure the government. 

The lower ranks of the Turkish military share the same virulent hostility toward the United States and the conspiratorial anti-Semitism of men like President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan. I sat through the Turkish General Staff’s (TGS) academic conference a couple years ago and heard lecturer after lecturer — each chosen by the TGS’s think tank — accusing the United States and Israel of the most base conspiracies. While traditional to fly the flag of every country whose diplomats were attending the conference, the TGS decided that Israel’s flag alone would not be flown.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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