In one of my first posts on the coup attempt in Turkey, I mentioned that Daniel Pipes had written a 2015 article asserting that Erdogan’s 2014 electoral victory was bogus. Many people in the west who have championed Erdogan against the coup plotters have cited the fact that Erdogan is the democratically elected leader of the country as the foundation of their defense of him, but even that fact may not be true, according to Pipes.
Now Pipes has written another piece entitled “Why I rooted for the Turkish coup attempt.” Well, I was certainly rooting for it, too (although I saw it as doomed almost from the start). And even though I don’t tweet, I pretty much agree with Pipes in his first paragraphs here:
Every major government condemned the coup attempt in Turkey, as did all four of the parties with representatives in the Turkish parliament. So did even Fethullah Gülen, the religious figure accused of being behind the would-be take over.
All of which leaves me feeling a little lonely, having tweeted out on Friday, just after the revolt began, “#Erdoğan stole the most recent election in #Turkey and rules despotically. He deserves to be ousted by a military coup. I hope it succeeds.”
Pipes goes on to explain further:
Erdoğan stole the election. Erdoğan is an Islamist who initially made his mark, both as mayor of Istanbul and as prime minister of Turkey, by playing within the rules. As time wore on, however, he grew disdainful of those rules, specifically the electoral ones. He monopolized state media, tacitly encouraged physical attacks on opposition-party members, and stole votes…
Erdoğan rules despotically. Erdoğan has taken control of one institution after another, even in the two years since he became president, a constitutionally and historically non-political position. The result? An ever-growing portion of Turks are working directly under his control or that of his minions: the prime minister, the cabinet, the judges, the police, the educators, the bankers, the media owners, and other business leaders. The military leadership has acquiesced to Erdoğan but, as the coup attempt confirmed, the officer corps has remained the one institution still outside his direct control.
Erdoğan uses his despotic powers for malign purposes, waging what amounts to a civil war against the Kurds of southeastern Turkey, helping ISIS, aggressing against neighbors, and promoting Sunni Islamism.
Military intervention has previously worked in Turkey. Turkey is the country where military coups d’état have had the most positive effect. In all four of the modern coups (1960, 1971, 1980, 1997), the general staff has shown a disciplined understanding of its role — to right the ship of state and then get out of its way. Their ruling interludes lasted, respectively, five years, two and a half years, three years, and zero years.
Pipes goes on to say that he thinks Erdogan’s days are numbered, and that his downfall will be to overplay his hand in the international arena. I’m not as expert on this as Pipes is (to say the least), but I think he’s being too optimistic. I think that the moves Erdogan is making to solidify his power will indeed solidify his power, much like what happened after the 1979 revolution in Iran. That regime is still in place, although some of the players are gone.
I think it’s also of note that Pipes has long been lumped with the neoconservatives:
Pipes had previously considered himself to be a Democrat, but after anti-war George McGovern gained the 1972 Democratic nomination for President, he switched to the Republican Party. Pipes used to accept being described as a “neoconservative”, once saying that “others see me that way, and, you know, maybe I am one of them.” However, he explicitly rejected the label in April 2009 due to differences with the neoconservative positions on democracy and Iraq, now considering himself a “plain conservative”.
My change experience was complete by around 2003, and thirteen years isn’t so “neo” anymore (although it’s shorter than the amount of time for Pipes, who left the liberal camp in 1972). I also have thought from the beginning that there’s no magic about “democracy” itself without guarantees of liberty and the rule of a law that protects individual liberty. When a dictatorial tyrant is elected, and that person dismantles the structures that protect people’s rights, to defend that person in the name of “democracy” is an absurdity and an outrage.
Articles by Pipes such as this one from 2012 may explain the sort of thinking that led him to differentiate himself from some neocons. I agree with him on the problem with supporting democracy so matter what it looks like; many of my posts about democracy (see this, for example, as well as this) contain such caveats. For example, the following is from that latter post (written nine years ago):
In the many posts I’ve written attempting to explain the basic neocon attitude towards the spread of democracy-(see this and this) I’ve tried to be careful to use the term “liberal democracy” to describe what is advocated. Why? Because democracy alone is not enough.
Democracy can devolve into tyranny almost as easily as a powerful central government can…
History teaches that the Bill of Rights was adopted with an eye to limiting the power of both the executive and the legislative branches, as well as to make clear that all powers not specifically listed in the Constitution as belonging to the federal government were retained by the states and the people. But what would prevent the people from voting away any of those rights? History also teaches us that crowds are strange and fickle things, subject to persuasive demagoguery as well as coercive threats, and that Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor wasn’t lying when he said that humankind is often willing to lay down the burden of freedom for easy answers and the promise of protection from its responsibilities…
Without these guarantees, democracy can mean “one person, one vote, one time.” The Ayatollah Khomeini was given dictatorial powers in a process that began, after the fall of the Shah and the Ayatollah’s triumphant return, with a nationwide referendum that was passed with an extraordinary 92.8% percent of the vote. This established the theocratic dictatorship that exists to this day, with the constitution of Iran being totally rewritten shortly afterwards.
Hitler came to power without ever winning a majority vote for his party, but the German government had another weakness—under its constitution, it was relatively easy to suspend civil liberties and establish a dictatorship. This did not even require the vote of its people, merely a two-thirds majority of its legislature. Therefore it was done by republican means; the Reichstag obligingly voted to abolish itself, although not without the “persuasion” of Hitler’s storm troopers surrounding the building with cries of ““Full powers—or else! We want the bill—or fire and murder!”
And recent less dramatic, but similar and still worrisome, events by which Venezuelan dictator Chavez has seized power with the full cooperation of the Venezuelan legislature—which, as in Germany of old, can amend the constitution by a mere 2/3 vote—demonstrate once again that there are not only “democratic” ways to seize power, but “republican” ones as well (and please note the small “d” and the small “r”)…
How does this apply to the attempts to spread democracy to a country such as Iraq? It makes it clear that democracy itself is a highly flawed “solution” without the guarantees inherent in a liberal democracy, and that none of it is of much use if the constitution of a country is too easily amended or suspended.
It is unsettling to see how many people—on left, right, and in the middle—do not see the truth of this.