One of the countries I keep a close eye on internationally is Turkey. It’s not just that there are plenty of predictions that Turkey will rise to global prominence over the course of this century, or that as one of the few NATO members (and possible EU members) that is primarily Muslim its existence is a powerful signal that the West is not engaged in a religious crusade. Or that the political relationship between Turkey and my own nation is a murky, complicated stew of social tensions and affinities. It’s also that Turkey is a crossroads of visions for the future — it straddles the competing impulses of secular liberalism and theocracy, and if it goes down the second of those roads, it will do so by democratic means.
So it’s big news to hear that an alleged coup by the secularist military seems to have been suppressed with the simultaneous arrest of more than fifty top commanders of the Turkish military. Obviously, these generals and admirals haven’t had a chance to give their side of the story yet, and some of the claims are more than a little bit wild, like the one that they were planning to shoot down a Turkish jet and blame it on the Greeks to incite a war and thus seize power. It’s no secret, though, that the military would have preferred a more secularist government to take power; the current Prime Minister of Turkey is from an openly religious political party.
Seems to me that the best way to do that would be to win an election rather than stage a coup. Which may be a factor in the decision to arrest these men — the incumbents may be trying to discredit their opposition rather than out-argue them in the political arena.
There has been some silly talk of military action in the political arena here, but it’s been mostly fringe stuff and the promise of the political pendulum’s incipient swing back to the right in this year’s elections seems to have silenced that stuff. That’s because we are fundamentally committed to democracy in the U.S. and we hope that our allies, like Turkey, are too.
It’s interesting to note, though, that both sides of this dispute in Turkey will claim to have been acting in the interests of a democratic Turkey despite both being basically non-democratic in their thinking. A religious party ultimately winds up advocating the adoption of theocratic rules and principles to underlie its lawmaking and bolster its claim to legitimacy. But like the western Bible, the Koran is a fundamentally non-democratic document. And of course the military is a fundamentally non-democratic institution. “Democracy” may well be a gloss on the more abstract political idea of “legitimacy.”
At the end of the day, though, Turkey must choose for itself a path for its future. While it is not clear that Turkey can be integrated into the EU, the potential for that as a means to solidify Turkey’s commitment to the west and the rule of law and democratic government and ultimately secular government is tremendous. We should wish Turkey well in those efforts. Along the way, Turkey will become enriched and the lives of ordinary Turkish people will improve, but the Turks’ historical rivalry with Greece will need to be reduced to soccer matches and the occasional international lawsuit over control of Aegean islands used mostly for tourism. Down that path is a Fukuyama-ist future of long-term economic prosperity highlighted mainly by rather dull trade disputes and political balancing of environmental protection against the expansion of industrial and service-sector economic growth, a world in which big decisions will be resolved by lawyers and businesspeople and but for language differences, Turkey looks a lot like the United States or France or Germany.
But there is another path, one that looks east of Ankara rather than west of Istanbul. Down this road, Turkey cools and ultimately severs its military relationship with NATO and decides to go its own way economically outside of the EU. Instead, it enters into a de facto but unannounced partnership with Iran and Russia to contain expanding U.S. power in the middle east, centered in a democratic Iraq and a democratizing Jordan, seeking to eclipse Saudi prominence in wealth and religious prestige, while using diplomacy to dance around the military power of Israel. The ultimate goals in this path is to first become the open regional leader and then to lure Iraq out of the geopolitical orbit of the U.S. and create a coalition of nations between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf such that supported by this regional alliance, Turkey becomes not just a regional leader but a global power in its own right. Down that path ultimately lies a significant war once this coalition sufficiently contains its back doors in Arabia, North Africa, and Persia, and looks to southeastern Europe as its final avenue of expansion.