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Proletarian issue 73 (August 2016)
Turkish coup: more fallout from the war in Syria
Whoever turns out to have been behind the recent coup attempt in Turkey, it would seem that US imperialist hegemony over the middle east has suffered another serious blow.
The increasingly likely ignominious collapse of imperialism’s five-year proxy war against the nation of Syria continues to send shockwaves through the middle east and beyond. The latest proof of Mao’s dictum that imperialism lifts up a rock only to drop it on its own feet is furnished by the recent abortive coup in Turkey, a direct result of those shockwaves.

Attempted coup

For about twelve hours, from the night of Friday 15 July to the morning of Saturday 16 July, the fate of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership hung in the balance. Military rebels closed both bridges over the Bosphorus Strait, using helicopter gunships and F16 jets to attack targets in the economic and political centres of the country, Istanbul and Ankara, and tanks to attack the parliament building in the capital.

Forty-seven police officers were killed as jets attacked their headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara. Also attacked were the HQ of the national satellite station and the national intelligence building. Incirlik airbase itself, crucial launch pad for Turkish strikes on Syrian and Iraqi soil and home to an estimated 50 tactical nuclear weapons belonging to the USA, fell briefly under rebel control. The rebels seized the state television studio in Ankara and forced staff to broadcast a statement. Erdogan himself is said to have been the target of a failed assassination bid in the seaside resort of Marmaris. In the space of a few hours, the attempted coup claimed the lives of about 300 people.

The government responded swiftly. Arrests began as early as 2.00am on Saturday. The television stations were secured by the government and the rebel commander at Incirlik was detained. A little after 3.00am, Erdogan flew back in to Istanbul airport, and it rapidly became clear that the coup had failed. Many arrests and sackings ensued.

Western response to the coup

The attitude of western media and government spokesmen during and after the coup developed in a curious way. The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) drew attention to “the stance of the US and other Nato forces, which at the beginning of the coup attempt talked about the ‘need for a continuation in the state’ and then later, when the balance of forces had tilted in favour of Erdogan’s forces, supported the ‘democratically elected government of Turkey’.” (Statement of the press office of the CC of the KKE on the developments in Turkey and the attempted military coup, 19 July 2016)

Another commentator noted that whilst “all the western media was indicating that the coup had succeeded ... the Iranians and Russians reported that the coup had failed”. (Failed coup in Turkey – a few initial thoughts, The Saker, 18 July 2016)

In fact, BBC Arabic, Sky News Arabic and the US networks all jumped the gun, claiming Erdogan was overthrown or had fled to Germany.

In short, it seems that the surprise for the west was less that the coup happened in the first place than that it was so decisively suppressed. Sooner than congratulate the head of state for the rapid suppression of a bloody coup and restoration of order (as did Vladimir Putin) the west responded with ill-disguised dismay. When the coup failed and the crackdown ensued, the sanctimonious fury over breaches in the rule of law knew no bounds.

Endless shock and horror were expressed in the west concerning the political crackdown following the failed coup. Though the number of arrests and sackings in the military, judiciary and education system post-coup has indeed been staggering, it’s tame stuff compared to, for example, the bloody aftermath of the US-backed military takeover in Indonesia (where the CIA and the US embassy supplied to Suharto’s murder gangs lists of communists, trade unionists and progressives to be slaughtered, and in which a million Indonesians lost their lives. Not to mention the US-organised coups in Chile and Argentina.

Doubtless the net has been cast wide, and may well include progressive enemies of Erdogan as well as coup sympathisers. But we can be sure that, had the coup prospered and thrown up some replacement stooge to keep Turkey firmly shackled to Nato, a discreet curtain would have been drawn over the coup’s “unfortunate excesses” (already 300 fatalities in the 12 hours it lasted).

The past record of successful army coups in Turkey every ten years or so at first blush seems to justify the west’s seeming confidence that this one would “go the right way”. That the negative outcome this time round has bucked the trend perhaps is an indication of just how radical a geopolitical rethink is being forced upon Turkey by the crisis in the middle east, upsetting old certainties and turning yesterday’s allies (or imperial overlords) into tomorrow’s enemies ...

Erdogan blames the US

... Or even today’s enemies, judging by the rapidity with which Ankara pointed the finger of blame at Washington. The labour minister plainly stated that “America is behind the coup”, and Erdogan blamed Obama for resisting demands for the extradition of his one-time ally and now public enemy number one, the US-based islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, now painted as the chief instigator of the coup. In a scarcely veiled attack on the US, Erdogan declared that any country that supports Gulen is an “open enemy of Turkey”. (Ibid)

For so many years, Erdogan prostituted Turkey to the United States, undermining the country’s secular traditions, purging the army of elements hostile to desecularisation and turning the country into a breeding ground and transit camp for wave after wave of foreign jihadis to unleash upon its Syrian neighbour on behalf of imperialism. And now that the US proxy war against Syria has so spectacularly backfired, Turkey is reaping the whirlwind.

From being a prime tool for the destabilisation of Syria, Turkey has itself become destabilised. Thousands of Syrian refugees, uprooted from their homes by the war, and uncertain in allegiance, now fester in Turkish camps. Islamic State has begun to bite the hand that feeds it, bombing the airport in Istanbul.

Worse still, having failed in his own annexationist dreams of carving out Turkish enclaves on Syrian soil, Erdogan must now sit and watch whilst Washington pursues its presently preferred balkanising agenda, playing on Kurdish aspirations for autonomy in the hope of thereby weakening Syrian unity. Small wonder, then, that Erdogan should start to reconsider who today is friend and who is foe, moving to “normalise” relations with Syria and Russia and denounce US meddling.

In view of the deterioration of relations between the AKP government and US imperialism, Erdogan is increasingly seen as an embarrassment who has outlived his usefulness. Worse, he is seen as a dangerously volatile and unpredictable leader at the helm of a Nato member state that is custodian of a massive nuclear arsenal and has a crucial strategic role to maintain in acting as a buffer against Russia. Whether or not Washington directly engineered the coup, the fact remains that replacing Erdogan with a more reliable flunkey, one readier to tuck in behind US plans for the region, is a pressing requirement of US imperialist interests – and, as we must ever remember, for imperialism, there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests.

And whether or not Erdogan’s own erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen, with whom in earlier times he collaborated in building the governing islamist ‘Freedom and Justice Party’ (AKP) and in hounding secularists out of the military (to be replaced by their own people), really was on board with Obama in actively promoting the coup, or whether this is simply what the discarded and resentful president himself chooses to believe, either way the likely consequences are the same.

The fact that the coup is automatically assumed to have been made in America reflects the depth of seething national resentment over the way Turkey has been used, abused and dropped. And the fact that the coup was so successfully withstood, both militarily and in terms of mass public mobilisation, risks strengthening a more general revolt against Turkey’s vassal status – a revolt from which the president may garner some temporary increase in popularity but which in the long run could start to draw Turkey away from the imperialist camp.

Nor is the notion that the US is resisting Turkish calls for Gulen to be extradited to his home country to face criminal charges because it hopes to use him as lever to influence developments in Turkey so far fetched. Certainly the US at present has no objection to allowing this avowed enemy of Turkey’s president safe harbour in an enormous estate in Pennsylvania, from which he is able to organise a fleet of private schools, publishing ventures and ‘charitable’ projects.

On this question, the presidential exchanges have been at their most raw, with Erdogan declaring acidly: “Dear President Obama, I told you this before, arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey. You didn’t listen. I call you on you again, after the coup attempt – extradite this man from Pennsylvania to Turkey. If we are strategic partners, do what is necessary.” (Ibid)

And if not?

Obama’s pivot to nowhere

It has been claimed that Russian intelligence tipped the Turkish government off about the coup in the first place. It is a recurrent nightmare for imperialism that Turkey should one day slip its moorings in Nato and gravitate eastward, and such nightmares are not without substance.

The Incirlik airbase and nuclear weapon repository in the south of Turkey is vulnerable indeed: it already changed hands twice in the course of a 12-hour coup. Erdogan or a future successor could decide to put Incirlik at the disposal of the Russian airforce, the better to deal with the likes of Islamic State.

Less dramatically, but potentially even more devastating for US hegemony, Turkey could elect to join with the other central Asian states that are establishing a free-trade zone amongst themselves, free from US bullying. See, for example the Financial Times article that recently pointed out: “Relations with western allies have become transactional. [Erdogan] has mused about whether the country would be better served inside other alliances, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, brainchild of the Russian president, or the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, rather than in Nato or an EU that has no real plans to admit Turkey.” (The fate of Turkey lies in Erdogan’s hands by David Gardner, 26 July 2016)

And one particular economic development will be sending shivers up spines in the west: the announcement by Russia’s deputy PM, Arkady Dvorkovich, that Russia’s joint projects with Turkey, not least the TurkStream undersea natural gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey, are “still on the agenda and have a future”. (The coup in Turkey has thrown a wrench in Uncle Sam’s “pivot” plan, Mike Whitney, Counterpunch, 20 July 2016)

There is even a chance of Turkey either leaving or being expelled from Nato, as threatened by John Kerry recently. (See Turkey coup could threaten country's Nato membership, John Kerry suggests, Independent, 18 July 2016)

The failure of the coup against the elected government in Turkey, whilst a temporary feather in the cap of the arch-opportunist Erdogan, who will undoubtedly try to use this opportunity to further crush all progressive as well as reactionary resistance to his despotic rule, may later be seen in retrospect to be a key moment in the unravelling of US hegemony, opening up rich new potential developments for all the countries of the region, and not least for the Turkish masses.
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