FPI Conference Call Wrap-Up: Instability in Turkey

July 20, 2016

Yesterday, FPI hosted a conference call to discuss the attempted coup in Turkey and the impact it will have on U.S.-Turkish relations, the civil war in Syria, and the erosion of political liberty under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The speakers on the call were Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, Blaise Misztal of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Christopher Kozak of the Institute for the Study of War. FPI believes that the following insights shared by these experts will be especially useful to lawmakers and their staff as well as all those interested in a deeper understanding of Turkish politics and their effect on regional security.

A full recording of the conference call is also available on the FPI website.

The Polarization of Turkish Politics

“Erdogan, the president, now may project an image of strength but he never won more than fifty percent of the vote in any of Turkey’s elections…Turkish society is very polarized at this moment, as polarized as it was in the 1970’s before the 1980 coup.” – Michael Rubin

“We’ve seen attempts to do away through legislation with things like an independent judiciary, a free and critical media, but now we are seeing a much more fundamental transformation of the very bureaucracy and apparatus of the Turkish state.” – Blaise Misztal

 “You’ve had three major terrorist attacks if not more in Turkey over the past year and a half and there’s a sense that perhaps more is to come, that what Turkey is experiencing is blow back from some of its previous support, either passive or active, for groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra.” – Michael Rubin

The Gulenist Movement

“Until 2013 the Gulen movement and [Erdogan’s] AKP movement were working together against the military. After 2013 you had the AKP and the military security services working together against the Gulen movement, and you’ve now seen the Gulen movement and the security forces attempt to work together against Erdogan. So it’s a bit of a do-si-do in terms of trading partners in Turkey.” – Blaise Misztal

“The traditional Gulenist strongholds have been in the police and security forces, not—absolutely not—in the military. The military screened against the Gulenist movements both under the Kemalists before the AKP and then after the AKP.” – Michael Rubin

“Right now the label of Gulenist is being applied to almost every military officer, civil servant, and police officer who has been rounded up by Erdogan in this latest round of purging so it’s very hard to tell where the actual networks start and where they end.” – Christopher Kozak

Aftermath of the Failed Coup

 “The conditions are now set for Erdogan to transition Turkey towards an authoritarian regime, towards a government that has consolidated power under an executive presidency that has limited press freedoms, purged the military, and brought in anti-terrorism laws that are used to crack down not only on Turkish Kurds but also on all opponents of the government.” – Christopher Kozak

“I think we’re entering a very dark period in Turkey, things are going to get much worse before they get better. I think we’re going to enter a period of serious political violence and at the same time this crackdown is one that would make Vladimir Putin blush.” – Michael Rubin

“I think it’s now time to realize that Turkey is no longer going to be a constructive partner for the foreseeable future, both because of the rising anti-Americanism that President Erdogan is using as a rallying flag, the rising Islamism of his administration, as well as the increasing fragility of the Turkish state.” – Blaise Misztal

Turkey, ISIS, and the War in Syria

“By virtue of its strategic location, its geographic position, and its regional ambitions, Turkey was always going to play a large role in what happens to the Syrian civil war.” – Christopher Kozak

“At the very beginning of the conflict, you saw more money being funneled towards the Free Syrian Army and its affiliates in the region. But as the tone of the conflict has shifted, Turkey has continued to provide support to what it has judged to be the most effective actors on the ground, which increasingly it turns [out] to be Islamist-oriented parties or even Salafi-jihadist-oriented parties.” – Christopher Kozak

“Turkey has been willing to turn a blind eye to the activities of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups that are using this territory because they perceive these groups to be an effective pool against the other two threats detailed previously: the [Syrian] regime and the Kurds.” – Christopher Kozak

“Even if Turkey wanted to be a partner with us on ISIS it’s hard to understand how they want to do that when their military is being gutted by purges. It’s also hard to understand how Turkey is going to keep itself safe when it’s gutting its military and police at the same time when it is being infiltrated by ISIS and raging a civil war against the PKK.” – Blaise Misztal

Next Steps for U.S. Foreign Policy

“We need to use our bully pulpit to stop this crackdown.” – Michael Rubin

“It’s time for US policy to stop treating Turkey like a partner and to start treating it like a failed state or a failing partner that needs our help.” – Blaise Misztal

“I think actually one of President Obama’s biggest mistakes was saying that all parties needed to stick with Erdogan. He should have just talked about the rule of law and left it like that because right now we have a situation in which Obama seems to have endorsed in some ways, even though that wasn’t his intention, the crackdown.” – Michael Rubin

“It is also time to have a Magnitsky Act not only for Turkish journalists but also for Turkish university folks in that, basically, if you are a Turkish editor or a Turkish journalist who has taken over on behalf of Erdogan a seized paper, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a visa to the United States.” – Michael Rubin

“The PKK has seen an opportunity to escalate its operations given the weakness of the military and there’s a role in leverage for the US to step in and at least try to ensure a ceasefire to stop future wars from happening.” – Blaise Misztal

Turkey, Europe, and Russia

“At the same time as we are looking at ways to rightfully punish Erdogan for the non-democratic and really authoritarian-looking actions that he is undertaking, I am very alive to a fear, that this is a perfect opportunity for other strategic actors to really exploit this opportunity and I’m primarily thinking of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” – Christopher Kozak

“Russia and Turkey have entered a period of rapprochement over the past month or two, following a long period of tensions, following the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish war planes in November 2015.” – Christopher Kozak

 “I think that the EU tendency to criticize Turkish democracy is going to return, which will spell the end of accession talks. However, just like Erdogan has leverage over the US with our dependence on Incirlik, he has perhaps even greater leverage over the EU with more than 3 million refugees that are currently in Turkey.” – Blaise Misztal

“A Turkey that becomes more distant to Europe, from Putin’s perspective, becomes closer to him.” – Christopher Kozak

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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