07 August 2016

Turkey: What is Next?

If you read my previous post, you know that the botched coup was extraordinarily beneficial to Turkey's bombastic President Tayyip Erdogan.

You also know that, when it happened, he was already changing his strategy and he was about to introduce a radically different new approach.

Given his lightning speed in drawing up lists of people to eject and issuing countless edicts to re-structure the state apparatus, people assume that he must have been behind the coup. I have no idea who knew what beforehand but I think he was able to move this quickly because he was already preparing these sweeping changes.

The coup helped enormously by increasing his popularity and nullifying any attempt to question his measures. In the post coup hysteria, if you simply wonder how a coup that supposedly included nearly half of the generals and admirals of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) failed so spectacularly, you are immediately branded a traitor and a Gulenist.

And you end up losing your job or liberty or both.

If my hypothesis is correct and these changes were being planned in the months preceding the coup, the same changes should permit us to see what is next.

Pater Familias

In the short run, that is, in the next couple of months, Erdogan will take the necessary measures to solidify his hold on power. In fact, he may no longer need an executive presidency as he is already in that position. With a supremely malleable Prime Minister in place, why bother with a public debate on a constitutional amendment?

Mind you, he would handily win any referendum or get a two thirds majority in Parliament should he decide to pursue that option.

But is much more effective to say, look at me, the terrible Islamists that we all hate (now) wanted to kill me and my family just two weeks ago.

Moreover, as he no longer needs his polarizing rhetoric and aggressive posture, he can now re-brand himself as a benevolent "father of the nation" type of President.

To be sure, while the purge continues, he will likely keep his distance from HDP and its charismatic leader Demirtas. He may even try to get rid of him. It depends on how the whole process unfolds.

But once his power is consolidated and his pater familias image firmly in place, he will extend an olive branch to Turkey's Kurds and will start a new peace process.

And he will offer them goodies, like rebuilding their destroyed cities (by Gulenists, as we now conveniently learned) in an effort to convince them to support him instead of HDP.

Incidentally, this is not just part of the new benevolent Sultan discourse but also a strategic necessity. Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) lost a little over 45 percent of its senior officers (149 out of 325 generals and admirals) in the last two weeks. It is completely demoralized and humiliated after pictures of its soldiers beaten up by bearded Islamists. Its esprit de corps, something every army needs to function properly, is gone.

The coup attempt eroded the fundamental trust that should exist between those who give orders and those who execute them. Not to take sides, but a battle hardened guerrilla force like the PKK would run circles around such a demoralized and weakened military force.
For a country fighting militant Kurds affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in earnest, and at least pretending to fight the Islamic State, those are devastating losses.
These expulsions will also determine the future character of TSK.

A Turkish military analyst predicts a more Eurasian and less Atlanticist army in the future:
It is almost assured that the institutional identity of the TSK will be less Atlanticist but more of a Eurasian character. But the real tension will be the sustained and hard ideological debates between strong secularists who want TSK's return to its factory settings and those who advocate more Islamization.
This might have important repercussions for Turkey's membership in NATO, especially if the government is planning to form alliances with other Eurasian powers.

A New Axis of Evil?

Where is David Frum when you need him?

I think the moves before and after the coup indicate that Erdogan will align himself with Putin.

Before the jet downing incident, they were great buddies and rumored to have been business partners through third parties.

They are both viewed with suspicion and hostility by the US and EU.

Putin annexed Crimea and is threatening to grab a sizable chunk of Ukraine. He singlehandedly changed the course of the Syrian civil war and left the US and the region's Sunni powers to play defense. He proved that he can strike rapidly and create military buildups in no time, seriously worrying NATO commanders.  His foreign policy is confrontational and he plays hardball on all issues.

For his part, Erdogan blackmailed the Europeans by pushing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to their gates. As Turkey's prospects of EU adhesion are practically nil the EU has no leverage. He enraged Obama with his support to ISIS and his veiled threats to close off Incirlik airbase. Recently, there have been many, many, many calls to expel Turkey from NATO. Or at least remove the nuclear bombs from the base.

While such an expulsion is rather unlikely, the reaction shows that, from the Western perspective, Putin and Erdogan are two peas in a pod.

Secondly, a confluence of events has just made their alliance mutually desirable.

As I explained previously, Erdogan realized that he was outmaneuvered by Putin in Syria and had no choice but to dump the Sunni alliance and its massive ISIS-led Pipelineistan project. And he knew that he needed an alternative, like Russia's Turkish Stream.

Coincidentally, Putin's Baltic Stream 2 project that would link Gazprom's natural gas to Germany is running into difficulties with the EU. Poland has just announced that it is seriously examining whether the proposed pipeline is against EU competition rules as it is likely to reinforce Moscow'a total domination of EU's energy market.
A decade ago, Russia enlisted former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to help it build a pipe across the Baltic from Russia to Germany, sidestepping Ukraine: Nord Stream. Then Russia tried to build another pipeline, “South Stream,” across the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria, also bypassing Ukraine, but that was quashed by the European Union in 2014. Then, Moscow invented the idea of a “Turkish Stream,” another proposed Black Sea pipe, one landing in Turkey, outside of Brussels’s reach. 
This project was shelved last year but now it is back on the front burner and it will give Putin another method of delivery should Baltic Stream 2 gets entangled in Brussels politics.

The Putin - Erdogan rapprochement and their shared Eurasia perspective will likely involve greater cooperation with Iran.

One of the signs that Erdogan's new playbook was in the offing was the recent change in Iran Turkey relations.

In March 2016 the then Prime Minister Davutoglu went to Tehran with five ministers and dozens of businesspeople. And he was greeted with fanfare.

Two weeks later Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif visited Turkey. And two weeks after that, it was Rouhani's turn to visit Erdogan.

In fact, in early July, Zvi Ba'rel writing in Ha'aretz wondered if the burgeoning  Turkey - Russia reconciliation wouldn't leave Turkey stuck between ISIS and Iran.

Well, not if Turkey was planning to dump ISIS and Pipelineistan.

As I noted in my previous post, Zarif and Rouhani were quick to offer their support to Erdogan on the night of the coup, whereas Saudi King waited two days for a phone call (and it took Obama four days). Clearly, everyone knew where Turkey was headed.

The coup was beneficial in that respect as well. Now, everyone is reporting that it was the Gulenists who sabotaged Turkey - Iran bilateral relations. And pious Sunni supporters of AKP who should have been alarmed by this new situation given the traditional hostility between these two sects are fine with it since it was allegedly opposed by Gulen.

So far, I mentioned how the coup was good for Erdogan and how it facilitated his new strategy.

But there are downsides to his new playbook and I believe he will be in trouble much sooner than this rosy picture suggests.

Erdogan has three serious problems.

Everyone is pointing to the massive bureaucratic expulsions with some mixture of awe and fear. What they forget is that purging is easy but finding replacements is much harder.

Finding Replacements

As I noted, the army is no longer the military force of a regional superpower. It "lost 87 of 198 army generals, 30 of 72 air force generals, 32 of 55 navy admirals, seven of 32 in the gendarmerie general command, and the only coast guard admiral."

The question is, how and where do you find officers to take over? What is ironic is that, contrary to government claims, Gulen supporters are mostly in the lower echelons of the army. As a very knowledgeable analyst noted:
At time of the attempted putsch, Gülenists already had an established presence in the military, even if they still accounted for only a minority of the officer corps as a whole. In addition, the Gülenist presence was pyramidical, with a considerably higher concentration in the lower ranks – particularly amongst officers who had been commissioned after the AKP came to power
Which means the government will either inadvertently promote quite a few Gulenists to senior positions or find replacements from outside the military. The only available source is the previously jailed Sledgehammer and Ergenekon officer pool. And they were targeted at the time for being staunchly secular Kemalists.

Heads, you get Gulenists who hate you with a passion, tails, you get Kemalists you persecuted who hate you with a passion.

Great choice.

The  replacement problem is even worse for the civilian bureaucracy, judiciary, police and school teachers. So far, over 60,000 people were expelled from their positions. Replacing them with AKP loyalists from vocational religious schools (known as Imam Hatip schools) is a recipe for disaster but this is what the government will do to ensure their loyalty.  As an observer put it:
Yet more damage is certain as less educated, miseducated, and uneducated AKP militants move into key government positions vacated by the dismissal or arrest of supposed Gulenists.
It's the Economy Stupid

The famed Anatolian Tigers who were behind the AKP's spectacular economic success are largely Gulenist. In the last few years, they were denied credit, subjected to long tax audits and prevented from bidding on state contracts. After the coup, there are reports of arrests and forcible closure of business. And Erdogan has just vowed to choke off Gulen-linked businesses.
Before the failed coup, the Turkish authorities had already seized Islamic lender Bank Asya, taken over or closed several media companies and detained businessmen on allegations of funding the cleric’s movement. (...) 
The chairman and several executives from Boydak Holding, a prominent family-run conglomerate with interests from furniture to energy, have also been detained, as has the chief of Turkey’s biggest petrochemicals firm Petkim.
In this new environment, foreign companies are reviewing their investment plans.
“Investment plans are being put on ice. Given the current emergency legislation new investment is not advisable,” said Anton Boerner, head of Germany’s BGA trade association, adding concern about Turkey’s credit ratings had also made investment more expensive.
Ominously, in recent months, a long list a large companies left the Turkish market. They include, Best Buy, Virgin Megastore, Printemps, River Island, Motivi, Promod, Uterque, Kenneth Cole, Habitat, La Senza, Tesco, C&A, Industrie Denim and most recently the German retailer Douglas.

There is a marked decline in foreign industrial companies operating in Turkey, as their numbers went down from 153 in 2009 to 125 in 2015.

The steady decline of exports since 2012 is continuing with the first quarter of 2016 showing a 8.4 percent decrease compared to the same quarter in 2015.

Erdogan's belligerent posture and accusations towards the US might lead rating agencies to downgrade Turkey's rating to junk status. Moody's refrained from doing so a few days ago but the future in uncertain and markets are already pricing Turkey's debt below its current rating.

ISIS Lurking

Finally, there is the possibility of renewed terror attacks by ISIS.

ISIS is now cornered. They outlived their usefulness and their future is bleak. Between Russian backed Syrian forces and US backed Kurdish militia, they have steadily lost ground in recent months. They lost their supply routes to Turkey and were kicked out of several towns they had occupied early in the hostilities.

If Russia and the US escalate their respective bombing missions in Syria, as the leader of the band of idiots formerly known as Al Nusra Front was afraid and if Erdogan facilitates their efforts, as I suspect, he might face a serious terror campaign by the thousands of ISIS militants currently in Turkey.

As you know, these folks think nothing of blowing themselves up. And from their last attempt at Istanbul airport, we know that they are quite capable of mounting bloody operations.

Besides finishing off the tourism sector for the foreseeable future, such a sustained campaign would destabilize the country and damage the economy.



Erdogan has just announced that he was backing the return of the death penalty. Since Merkel, Juncker and senior EU figures already warned him that this would stop Turkey's adhesion bid in no uncertain terms, this only means that Erdogan has no interest in EU membership.

When you combine this with his post-coup complicity accusations directed at the US, you can see that he is contemplating a Eurasian future for Turkey.

Even NATO membership may now be in play.

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