Tag Archives: Erdogan

Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

10 May

Istanbul Elections: a Turkish Constitutional Crisis? Davutoglu’s Manifesto

 

[Prefatory Note: There are important recent developments in Turkey. An unprecedented decision by the High Electoral Council(HEC) of Turkey to cancel the outcome of the election of mayor in Istanbul that had been narrowly won by Ekram Imamoglu of the leading opposition party, CHP, or Republican People’s Party. The rerun of the March 31stelection is scheduled for June 23rd. The HEC justified its 7-4 decision by citing ‘electoral irregularities,’ but many in Turkey believe the overturning of the result reflected pressures exerted by the AKP leadership, particularly, its controversial president, Recep Tayip Erdogan and his close circle of advisors, who contend that the earlier election in Istanbul was ‘unlawful.’ An interesting further development is the withdrawal from the rerun of three small minority parties that together gained 2.6% of the vote, which overshadows the .02% margin of victory by Imamoglu on March 31st. It is assumed that this withdrawal from the second election will help Imamoglu win a second time, presuming a fair election.  

One notable consequence of this development have been the public assertions of Ahmet Davutoglu, former head of the governing party, AKP or Justice and Development Party, as well as former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister in the Erdogan-led government that has been running the country since 2002. Davutoglu’s Manifesto, really a statement of critique and a visionary reaffirmation of the original identity of the AKP, was written in response to the election results on March 31st, interpreted as sending a message of disapproval by the voters to the AKP and its leadership. It is significant that Davutoglu voiced his criticisms and hopes as situated within the party, but his Manifesto was released prior to the electoral reversal on May 6th, which underscored the mainline of his criticism that the AKP had lost touch with its own animating values and approach, and was thus losing the confidence of the Turkish citizenry. It should also be observed that there was sharp Kemalist opposition to Erdogan and the AKP ever since the 2002 elections, but what is new is for this criticism to come from a highly respected political figure long associated with the AKP. Whether this prefigures a reformist struggle within the AKP or an entirely new political constellation in Turkey is an unknown at this time, and may be influenced by how the control of Istanbul is finally resolved. In any event, the two statements by Davutoglu are themselves important political texts to be understood both in relation to the June 23rdIstanbul rerun, and in relation to the political future of Turkey during this period of exceptional regional instability and continuing turbulence.

These texts are posted here as suggesting the perspectives of a leading political personality in the Turkish context who is highly respected for his academic achievements as well as his dedication to the ideals of inclusive democracy as the basis of legitimate governance in Turkey. Davutoglu’s book Systemic Earthquake: The Struggle for World Order—Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy will be published in coming months by Cambridge University Press. It surveys the global scene from an ethically principled perspective that is informed by an impressive grasp of the geopolitical, cultural, and historical dimensions of contemporary world order.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Ahmet Davutoglu has been a cherished and admired friend for more than 25 years. I am fully aware that in the present atmosphere any commentary on Turkish political developments is bound to be controversial, and elicit strong reactions pro and contra.] 

 

 

 

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Statement in Response to Annulling & Redoing the March 31, 2019 election for Mayor of Istanbul

 

Despite all the deficiencies of Turkish political life and democracy, the most important power is the legitimacy of the elections.

The most fundamental value of our political future is the voice of the people, and this will be manifested at the ballot box.

Regardless of the excuse given and whatever the rationale, what happened after the March 31st election and the decision of annulment by the High Electoral Council has inflicted damage on these core values.

Elections that are fair and respected to rules and principles are the reference point for our democracy as well as our consciousness of communal belonging. The decision of the High Electoral Council contradicts universal law and established traditions and damages this consciousness. 

The biggest loss for political movements is not the loss of elections but it is the loss of moral superiority as embodied in the social conscience. Now what we should do: To carry out the election process in accordance with our maturity, and avoid further tension and polarization so as to prevent any further deterioration of our democracy.

 

 

 

 

The following text constitutes Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Manifesto, a document based on his observations and proposals in the context of the political conditions prevailing in the wake of the Turkish local elections of 31stMarch 2019:

“We are living through a historical process in which the most intensive transformations of human history are unfurling, communications and interactions between societies have gained extraordinary pace, and great opportunities as well as risks may come into play to the same degree and at the same time. The huge momentum that the flow of history has picked up informs the spirit of the age.

In the coming period, a fundamental differentiation is set to emerge between those who manage and steer this momentum by seizing this spirit of the age, and those who break away from it, only to be dragged headlong through the rapids of history. While countries that manage to overcome internal tensions to pursue a consistent approach and craft a vision in harmony with the zeitgeistshall master the shape of future decades and even centuries, nations whose energies are consumed on their own sterile internal tensions will turn into passive elements in history. Recent crises at national, regional and international levels are in fact the birth pangs emanating from the womb of history.

At the early years of the 2000s, our country, Turkey, achieved a self confidence-boosting democratization, rising economic development and a worldwide international influence as our Justice and Development (AK) Party swept to power on the wings of a vision that embraced the spirit of the age and the nation’s values; Turkey’s performance seized the momentum of the historical flow. However, internal tensions that began with the Gezi events in 2013, continued with the 17/25 December conspiracies of the same year, then took on a more perilous dimension with the trench warfare instigated by the PKK in 2015-2016 before peaking with the attempted coup d’état of 15thJuly 2016, drove our country from a position of vision and enterprise towards one that was reactionary and defensive.

The fact that our party, which remained the only political actor capable of managing this entire process, began to expend its own energy on the provocations and manipulations of certain power centers that disregarded the national will to play a leading role in these conspiratorial processes, served to shake our internal harmony, as well as restricting our capacity to forge and implement a fresh vision.

Today, we find ourselves at a critical threshold. I have communicated my assessments and concerns about our country and party during the critical processes of the past three years to our President verbally and in writing, but I chose not to share them publicly in order to avoid providing ammunition to various circles to indulge in malicious debate.

For the future of our party and our country, the 31stMarch elections and the social and political picture that has emerged in their wake necessitate an open, transparent and level headed accounting before the court of public opinion. With the responsibility I feel as the second chairman of the AK Party and our country’s last democratically elected Prime Minister, I regard it as my inescapable duty to share my views with the beloved people of Turkey on the eve of the 99thAnniversary of the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly.

The 31stMarch elections have yielded significant results that require our prudent examination; the electorate issued important messages that we need to consider carefully. It is crucial that these messages on the future of our party and country are properly understood and that the necessary steps are taken. If we fail to take on board the essential messages from changes in the people’s preferences and decisively take the necessary measures, a difficult period awaits both us as the AK Party, and our country. In this context, and in the wake of the election results from the Istanbul and Ankara metropolitan municipalities that are such key symbols of our movement’s popularization and march to power and that have been administered by our personnel for a quarter of a century, we have to face the fact that there has been a visible fall in society’s support for our party and appraise this fact coolly.

First and foremost, we need to recall that the AK Party is not a neophyte political entity that emerged by happenstance in a particular political state of affairs. On the contrary, it is the product of having melded the anonymous legacy created by doggedly overcoming difficult conditions through cross-generational elbow grease and mental struggle, with the people, the nation and history. This is why the justification and future of its existence is not and must not be dependent on the fate, preferences or discretion of any transitory person, limited section of society, or economic interest group. This movement, the deep past of which shows how it rose up on the sweat of past generations, its future based on the hopes of the generations to come, must not be sacrificed to cronyism, increasingly swollen egos and fruitless strife.

We all owe a great deal to the past generations who strengthened the foundations on which our party was built, and the anonymous heroic men and women who carry the burdens of today on their shoulders. I had the honor of seeing the depth of this great legacy on the devoted faces of these anonymous heroes and heroines during the two general election campaigns I fought as Party leader on 7thJune and 1stNovember 2015. I still have a vivid picture in my mind’s eye of the women from Bergama in Izmir who so enthusiastically filled the public square for hours under the rain; the valiant people of Diyarbakır who greeted and embraced me in front of the Great Mosque as we carried on the struggle against the trenches dug by the PKK terror organization in Sur, the city’s historic heart; the elderly Istanbul gentlemen raising their hands to the sky in prayer at our rally in Sancaktepe; the garrulous people of Trabzon who brought their Black Sea exuberance into the main square in the middle of the night; the people of Konya who waved me off to Ankara in sadness on 7thJune just as they did in the jubilation of 1stNovember; and the steadfast people of this country who greeted me in all its 81 provinces.

We owe all our achievements, positions and authority to the voluntary sacrifices of past generations who endured all kinds of ordeals in order to clear our path, to heroic unnamed individuals who worked so ardently in every election, and to our party apparatus for organizing them so vigorously. As I pen these lines I bear the heavy burden of responsibility that comes from such a sense of indebtedness. This is the context in which I present my findings about the future of our party and our country to the conscience of our nation.

  • There are five basic elements that make political movements and parties dominant players on the stage of history: (i) an internally coherent set of principles and values; (ii) a discourse and rhetoric consistent with the spirit of these values; (iii) a network of social relationships open to all sections of society; (iv) a robust organizational structure that is able effectively to manage this network and (v) the free thinking and shared wisdom that enables the development of policies, in line with the spirit of the age.
  • The secret that has distinguished our party from others in our political history and that forms the basis for our extended periods in office lies within these fundamental characteristics. However, the events of recent years have shown that when it comes to these essential elements, serious weaknesses have become ever more pervasive. The drift and disorder observed from every perspective during and after the recent local elections reflect these failings.
  • First of all, the deviations in word and deed from the principles and values upon which political ethics are based constitute a barrier preventing engagement with the conscience of society. The break from any sense of humility through an arrogant, self-centered idiom; the competition between even the smallest-scale politicians to have streets, schools and buildings named after them even while they seek to emphasize their virtue; the effort to do anything to be on the agenda based on an impulse to be constantly visible and recognized; the opening of the widest possible gap between the language used and the attitude exhibited; the crude exploitation of our sacred values in the service of political interests; efforts to establish and consolidate the influence of an entire family and circle by forgetting the fact that assumed duties are exclusive to an individual; the proliferation of all kinds of slander including social media operations in order to destroy people seen as political rivals; lending support through silence to accusations designed to ruin the reputations of people who have devoted a lifetime to the common struggle for this cause; and taking a wrecking ball to the sense of loyalty that we used to regard as our most cherished value: all these things demand our candid consideration.
  • The drift at the level of fundamental values and principles has also directly impacted our political discourse and rhetoric. Our party’s people-oriented, human rights-based, freedom-loving, reformist, inclusive political rhetoric, confident in itself and the future, has been replaced in recent years by a discourse based on statist, security-oriented concerns focused on maintaining the status quo and mere survival.
  • The state is the embodiment of the common will of the people who make up the nation, and cannot survive in the absence of this will. The state is a political organism that exists not beyond us, but through the will of the individuals who make up society as a whole; it is an administrative mechanism that can endure as long as it enjoys social legitimacy. Reinterpreting the principles of the great Sufi Sheikh Edebali, we may say that no state that neglects or deprioritizes fundamental human rights can last.
  • There has evidently been a severe contraction in the social inclusivity and network of relations that had previously lifted our party to the top of the polls nationwide. The results of the last election show that even in conjunction with the main Nationalist party as the “People’s Alliance”, we have got detached from the coastal regions and find ourselves squeezed into an area of political activity tapering into Central Anatolia and the Black Sea. And in Central Anatolia, intra-alliance balances disfavor our party. If this narrowing in geographical and social support is not carefully dealt with in word and deed, it will become a political pincer.
  • The chief factor in preventing such social contraction is the presence of an organization melded into the fabric of society and ready to assume a dynamic role in critical processes. Yet the recent exclusion of and insults against our provincial leaders and organizations, who put themselves bodily at the forefront of the national resistance at the time of the 15thJuly coup has opened up a wound deep in the conscience of our organization.
  • Even more dangerous has been the emergence of a power center that sees itself as being above our party’s institutional bodies, which has tried to overrule the party’s elected officials, committees and institutions as a parallel structure attempting to rule over it, crippling the very essence of organizational institutionalization. The lack of enthusiasm observed in our organization during the last two elections is to some extent the product of frustration and disappointment at the disloyalty shown to organization members who have made such sacrifices for the party.
  • In addition, restricting the authority of individuals directly elected by the people at general and local elections, then forcing them to leave office by means of direct or indirect accusations and pressure, has damaged the institutionalization of politics as well as dealing a severe blow to the principle of the supremacy of the national will and our party’s links with the fabric of society.
  • One of the most important founding principles of our party is the quest for a shared wisdom and reasoning. Thanks to its institutional consultative mechanisms and this quest for shared wisdom, our party gained public favor by overcoming a number of severe crises. Unfortunately, however, the AK Party committees and consultative mechanisms that had functionalized shared wisdom have recently either been entirely disabled or lost their operability by becoming the approval authority for a single view. In this context, our party’s institutional structure should be restored to its real function of fostering the political manifestation of ideas and proposals emanating from our grassroots organizations.
  • Our party and our country, founded on the nation’s tears, labor, hearts and minds, cannot be abandoned to the status-seeking concerns of a narrow, self-serving circle that is a slave to its own ambitions. In this framework, our party’s institutional structure should be strengthened, its consultative and shared wisdom mechanisms operated effectively, our grassroots organizations should have their original qualities and function restored, and our bonds to our people should be rebuilt on the basis of humility without delay.
  • The review to be conducted in the wake of our party’s election results should also cover alliance politics. The development of dialogue, constructive cooperation and mutual understanding between different political parties is of critical importance with respect to our democracy and national unity. In this sense, the close dialogue and cooperative atmosphere embodied by the “Spirit of Yenikapı” (named after the Istanbul square that saw the largest gathering of people in the history of the Republic after the 15thJuly 2016 coup attempt), was correct. However, the election results showed that alliance politics harmed our party in terms of both votes and party identity. Our party failed to reach its objectives in the race within and between alliances and lost control of numerous municipalities.
  • In addition, alliance politics has damaged our distinctively inclusive stance towards all parts of the country and every section of society by confining our party to a narrow political discourse and identity. Our party should therefore analyze the election results and review alliance politics. Its unique political identity and philosophy should be preserved while developing close cooperation with different political parties on a shared agenda for our country.
  • In a nutshell, our party is now in need of a comprehensive renewal. The next four-year period, expected to be election-free, should provide sufficient time for this. If the AK Party undergoes a fundamental process of renewal, it could regain the discourse and the political dynamism that it has lost. Most crucially, it could take back the moral superiority that it is rapidly shedding. This great historical legacy and heritage, independent of transient personalities, cannot be expected to be left unclaimed.

 

  • For the future of our country, I consider it necessary to share my convictions on these matters.
  • Contrary to expectations, the alliance structures accompanying the introduction of the presidential system failed to declutter the political spectrum and have led to the formation of political poles and the destruction of the common values that hold society together. The harsh rhetoric stemming from the confrontational character of the alliance structures has damaged our social peace and shared sense of belonging by elevating political polarization to dangerous levels.
  • Election competitors are not enemies, they are political rivals. And whoever emerges from the ballot, the winner is our nation and democracy.Respecting the result is the duty of politicians before anyone else. Concerns over survival cannot justify a readiness to suspend democracy. On the contrary, the basis of the survival of our state is democratic legitimacy.
  • Unfortunately, we have recently experienced what can happen when rival parties turn into enemies through the rhetoric of survival and polarization and overstep the bounds of political rivalry at an ugly attack that took place at the funeral of a fallen soldier in Ankara, an occasion that should have brought us all together. I repeat my condemnation of this attack on the leader of the opposition and call on everyone to act within the constraints of the democratic order and avoid polarizing political rhetoric.
  • The principal element in nations’ internal peace, the survival of states and the order of societies is a shared sense of belonging. The most fundamental fact that we need to bear in mind is that the Republic of Turkey is the product of a common will and the sense of ownership of its 82 million citizens. Therefore, no one identified as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey, a status crowned with human dignity, should be insulted or defamed by any authority or power, discriminated against on grounds of faith, gender, disability, language, race, political belief, philosophical concepts or lifestyle, or exposed to any kind of hate speech whatsoever.
  • The primary virtue and merit of social order based on such a shared sense of belonging is justice. Social and political orders whose legal structures are not based on a sound philosophy of justice and fail to guarantee people’s lives, minds, beliefs, lineage and property are open to all kinds of internal and external intervention, attack and chaos. The law is not a field of power accumulation but one of power control and moral lines. Attempts to take control of the judiciary should be seen as the greatest crime, whoever does it and under whatever justification.
  • In our recent history, we saw how the power that stopped the coup attempt that threatened our country and its people on the night of 15thJuly 2016 was honorable mass resistance; what carries this resistance to ultimate victory is the proper operation of the scales of justice in the judicial process. No judge or prosecutor should be subject to any kind of interference or criticism when making their judgment or preparing an indictment, beyond the nature of the case and the ultimate measure of justice.
  • The implementation of various criteria by various people in the struggle against the FETO organization, which needs to be uncompromising, only damages that struggle. On this matter, the ‘individual criminal responsibility’ principle that constitutes the most fundamental principle of law needs to be painstakingly safeguarded. The fact that in certain cases there has been no objection to the appointment of alumni of the organization’s schools whose siblings or relatives played an important role in the organization and the coup attempt to the state offices at the highest level while the relative of a low-level clerk is dismissed for some low-level relationship casts a question mark over the struggle against FETO.
  • Turkey’s need for a civilian, democratic and inclusive constitution is greater than ever. Immediately after the presentation of the last constitutional amendment package to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, I expressed my concerns and proposals to the President verbally and in writing. Unfortunately, what has transpired in the meantime has only served to justify my concerns. I regret to say that the new system fails to meet the expectations of the nation in terms either of its structuring or its implementation. In this context, we need to carry out a serious and frank review concerning changes to the system.
  • The starting point for such a review should be the existence and protection of the principle of the rule of law. The capacity to protect the rule of law depends on the rebuilding of the principle of the separation of powers. The duality caused by Turkey being governed by the “12thSeptember Constitution” drawn up following the 1980 military coup led to administrative crises. Although the new system resolves this problem, it undermines the separation of powers principle by giving the executive dominance over the legislature and the judiciary, disabling balance and control mechanisms.
  • In order to guarantee the separation of powers, the legislature must have a balancing autonomy vis-à-vis the executive and judiciary. In this context, the representative power of individual Members of Parliament and their effectiveness in the legislative process should be strengthened by revising the electoral system and the law on political parties.
  • Another issue we need to address in the context of this review is that of the reorganization of the state architecture. The state manifests itself on the stage of history through the conventions and institutions it perpetuates. The natural flow of history obliges us to reorganize these conventions and institutions in line with changing conditions. The balance between continuity and change needs to be meticulously protected in such a reorganization process. Delaying the required change by distorting the balance in favor of continuity leads to stasis and opacity, while tipping it too far in the direction of change leads the state structure to be constantly sent back to the drawing board, weakening the perpetuation of the state.
  • During the process of reorganizing the state, status quo-based institutionalism should be abandoned, institutional culture and memory preserved. This reorganization should be carried out not by means of conjectural, arbitrary and abrupt decisions, but exercising a degree of prudence that takes into account accumulated experience and the requirements of time, as well as mobilizing the sense of shared wisdom.
  • One of the key continuity features of the state architecture in this context is the Presidency’s functioning as representative of the whole of society, embracing all its sections. One of the most sensitive issues we need to bear in mind when transitioning from the parliamentary system that ran contrary to the nature of the 12thSeptember Constitution to a presidential system is the prevention of conflict between the inclusive presidency of our state tradition and a presidential system based on party identity.
  • Although, as we observe in democratic presidential systems, the fact that the President is also the member of a political party is not of itself a problem, the exercise of the role of party leader by the same person gives rise to problems with respect to the functioning of the state as well as party institutionalization. The fact that the President, as a first-degree party in elections, has to get involved in intense and often harsh political polemics as a requirement of the electoral environment causes the Presidency to suffer a psychological rupture with at least half of society, whereas in our state tradition the President should be equidistant from all sections of society.
  • In this framework, the party-affiliated presidency regarded as one of the essential elements of the new system should be re-evaluated independently from the person of the current President, and the predicaments caused by the concurrent operation of the presidential and party leader functions should be removed.
  • Matters such as the redefinition of horizontal institutional communications and vertical hierarchical relationships in the state architecture, elucidation of the role of ministries that appear to be stuck between political/technocratic identities and functions, and determining the status of newly established policy boards in the state architecture, should be clarified. No state architecture that lacks a holistic, inclusive vision and an esthetic functioning mechanism can last.
  • It is clear that due to its geography Turkey faces security tests that cannot be compared to those of any other country. The fact that our army, the most powerful resistance element in these tests, has regained its internal order after overcoming the most profound trauma any army could possibly face on 15thJuly 2016, is beyond appreciation. The most essential transformation now required in order to avoid our country and its people having to face further coup attempts is the democratization of military-political relations to ensure that civilian political will is the ultimate influence and determinant of all bureaucratic mechanisms. In terms of the security risks we face, the justified struggle that we began on 23rdJuly 2015 against the PKK, DAESH and DHKP-C, on 17th-25thDecember 2013 against conspiratorial actions, and on 15thJuly 2016 against FETO in the wake of the attempted coup d’état, must be relentlessly maintained.
  • That said, during the course of this struggle, taking care over the sensitive calibration of the freedom-security balance is of great importance in terms of the adoption of the struggle being undertaken by the general public. Identifying the declaration of differing views with terrorism and equating political differences with treason serves only to damage our national unity as well as dealing a severe blow to democracy, political and economic life by perpetuating the perception of crisis.
  • It is unacceptable that security concerns have evolved to such an extent that after the recent local elections the constitutional right of those who had been dismissed from public office under state of emergency conditions without any court decision having been issued are deprived of their constitutional right to vote and to stand for election. I do not even want to think about what misapplications of executive decisions could result from such arbitrariness in the long term. The Constitution is everyone’s fundamental text, it cannot be interpreted arbitrarily.
  • The reestablishment of our proudly coveted self-confidence and, most importantly, our trust and confidence in one another, is conditional on the earliest possible expansion of the area of freedom. Journalists, academicians, opinion leaders, politicians or anyone who expresses their ideas should never have to face dismissal, stigma, social media lynching or abusive threats. The freedom to criticize and to express ones ideas must be protected to the end.
  • The press, the fundamental element of free thinking and criticism known as the Fourth Estate in developed democracies, has become a propaganda tool under the direction of a single hand. Real freedom of the press is our democracy’s immune system. Destroying it and steering us to media monopolization by means of irregular and repressive methods only serves to narrow Turkey’s intellectual capacity.
  • In this context, a new freedom-security balance should be established in which the areas of freedom are expanded without forfeiting what we have gained in security matters.
  • The strength of civil society manifests itself not in high rise buildings but deep in our conscience. Participatory democracy flourishes in an environment in which civil society influences political institutions legitimately and transparently and supervises public administration. The efforts of secret structures such as FETO to place politics under its tutelage by taking over the power of the state through illegitimate means, and the instrumentalization of the state by taking civil society under its control, damages democracy. The annexation of civil society by the state and the use of various concerns to make it impossible for people to express their views is destroying the spirit and conscience of civil society.
  • The main factor in politics regaining its prestige in the eyes of society in the past was our party’s emphasis on the fight against prohibitions, corruption and poverty. Today, it looks like it will be extremely hard for politics to regain its reputation and its capacity to breathe fresh trust and confidence into society without a frank review on the question of where we currently stand on the matter of these three objectives.
  • The sine qua nonfor the effective governance of a state is that its politics and public administration are based on competence and merit. On the other hand, the spread of cronyism and nepotism in public administration constitutes both the leading cause, and the most striking indication, of all kinds of corruption as well as the arrogance and hubris of power. The proliferation of this corruption makes it impossible for rational control mechanisms to function. For the rational functioning of political institutions and the bureaucracy, close relatives should have no place in the subordinate-superior hierarchy in the state administration, there should be no focus on a person’s origins, region or hometown in personnel recruitment, and exceptional appointments should be clearly and transparently defined.
  • Contrariwise, the reflection of family relationships that should remain in the private sphere in the public and official realm harms family life as well as leading to the emergence of relationships that go beyond the field of legal responsibility. When it comes to benefiting from the possibilities afforded by the state, family members of politicians and public officials should neither be granted any special privileges nor be subject to unwarranted criticism.
  • The most effective solution to all these issues of political ethics is the predominance of the principle of transparency in every area of the life of society. As well as being a moral principle, transparency is also the most fundamental means of preventing any kind of tutelage initiative such as that attempted by FETO. The key factor in preventing all kinds of coup attempt, whatever their objective, is for transparency to predominate in every area of life, from civil society to state institutions, corporate structures to charitable organizations, and traditional local papers to social media.
  • In the reverse case, cases that give the impression of corruption such as the completion of public tenders without society’s knowledge, the effective disablement of the law on tenders and procurement through the use of exceptions and loopholes in the law, and the granting of publically financed public opinion contracts continuously to the same companies needs to be confronted and dealt with as a matter of urgency.
  • Laws on political ethics, transparency, political financing and unearned rental income that include fundamental principles such as the auditable use of public resources, a ban on the use of public resources for personal gain and fame, and the avoidance of any conflicts of interest between public officials’ private economic activities and their public duties, need to be enacted urgently. In this way, the rules of political ethics should be defined in such a way that they will not be left to personal interpretation or any individual’s personal understanding of ethics, and strengthened with robust practices and rules.
  • One of the principal areas of achievement underlying public approval of the AK Party was its economic policy. When the AK Party came to power in 2002, successive economic crises had thrown the country into despair, per capita income had fallen back to the levels of a decade before, and Turkey’s room for maneuver was restricted in many fields, from foreign policy to security.
  • At the root of the dazzling successes recorded in the economy was the restoring of a sense of trust. Today, unfortunately, we see that we are way beneath the level we had attained in the past in this area. The most striking example of this is the fact that in US dollar terms, per capita income in 2018 fell back below its 2007 level. Denying this reality while every section of society is personally experiencing an atmosphere of crisis in the economy serves no purpose other than to shake trust in the government. We cannot manage the economic crisis by denying its existence.
  • A crisis of governance underlies the current economic crisis. Confidence and trust in the government is lost if the view spreads that decisions on economic policy are disconnected from reality, made in defiance of market practices and the laws of economics, and implemented arbitrarily and prejudicially. The economy cannot be brought back to its feet without reestablishing trust and confidence. And self-confidence in economic governance is required before confidence and trust can be restored to society. However, self-confidence must be justified by knowledge and experience; doing what is necessary is essential. Self-confidence that is not backed up by knowledge and experience and propped up by personal close relations only gives the impression of an exaggerated show that appears to lack seriousness.
  • Trying to deal with the situation by addressing sections of society who are anyhow in difficulty in an accusatory and patronizing manner, attempting to create the necessary balances that need to be formed within the rules of the market by applying pressure in spite of the market, and scaring off the global investors from whom we need to benefit for Turkey’s development, are dead ends that need to be avoided at all costs. What our citizens expect from the state in running the economy is not belligerence and turmoil but the protection of their work and business, the food on their table and their wellbeing.
  • The precondition for economic success is the provision of the rule of law in such a manner that puts it beyond dispute. A competitive economy and an entrepreneur-friendly investment environment can only be established when predictability is ensured, rules are applied equally to everyone, and property rights are guaranteed. In turn, this is only possible in a state of law in which the judiciary is impartial, independent, efficient, effective, and above all operates in accordance with universal law.
  • Our party has had a free market economic philosophy ever since the day it was founded. A free market economy is a structure in which the state does not intervene directly and arbitrarily in the economy, and prices are determined by supply and demand. Recent decisions on the running of the economy are moving us away from free market principles. In a market economy the state only guides the economy by setting objective general rules and controlling compliance with these rules. Control and supervision must be independent, impartial and objective and never used as a means of pressure or threat. In this context, problems cannot be resolved through direct intervention in banks’ deposit and lending policies.
  • Bearing in mind that the economy exists not in a vacuum but in an international environment, the urgent realization of the EU visa exemption, which reached its final stage in 2016, and revisions to the Customs Union, will add momentum to the economy.
  • A key component in the AK Party’s economic success story was the process of institutionalization that it implemented in the economy. The recent preference for criteria other than qualifications and merit in appointments to state bodies and an arbitrariness that has made it impossible to preserve institutional memory and culture has seriously harmed this institutionalization.
  • The public finances are entrusted to those who govern the state. I have observed with great sadness that recent practices have given the impression that public administrators are profligate and excessively ostentatious. The growth in non-interest public expenditure and the attempt to conceal the resulting budget deficit with one-off revenues also serves to undermine confidence. Transparency and accountability in public spending must be robustly implemented.
  • Confidence in the data released in decisions related to the economy is an absolute must. Unfortunately, certain recent practices have shaken that confidence. Moreover, when confidence that the economic data completely, accurately and without exception reflects the actual situation is shaken, news and speculation about the resort to non-transparent “back door operation” methods in the market spreads. This leads to excessive fluctuations in exchange and interest rates and the sudden loss of our manufacturers’ hard-earned gains and the income that our workers have made through the sweat of their brow. There can be no greater capital in economic governance than integrity, no greater credit than reputation. The operation of economic governance must be restructured in line with this principle.
  • The solution is to reduce inflation permanently, increase predictability and reduce risks in the economy, and develop an investment environment in which global capital will come safely to Turkey to invest while domestic capital in Turkey will not be forced to seek ways to exit. In such an environment interest rates will fall permanently and the Turkish Lira will gain in strength and standing.
  • Finally, I would like to emphasize that what we now need to do in the face of the significant challenges of recent years is to liberate our minds, renew our psychologies, strengthen our social ties and take the necessary steps for our common future. I call on our party leaders and concerned bodies sensibly and level headedly to assess all these matters and our future vision, to prepare for the future with steadfastness and perseverance without causing our party’s loyal and self-sacrificing base to lose hope, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with our opinion leaders, intellectuals and citizens of every political persuasion in order to determine our common future based on our common conscience, common mind and common will. Today is the day to bring together the mind of the state, the dignity of the people, and the conscience of the nation.”

 

Ahmet Davutoğlu

 

 

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A Reflection on the June 24th Turkish Elections (modified and corrected)

18 Jul

[Prefatory Note: This is slightly modified text of an earlier post that seeks to takeaccount of responses from friends, and gave me the opportunity to express these somewhat contrarian views in a clearer way, as well as correct some mistakes. This version will also be published by Sharq Forum in Turkey.]

 

A Reflection on the June 24th Turkish Elections

 

In the days before the Turkish elections there were evident clashing fears and hopes mixed with predictions that mirrored these passions, and anticipated some kind of upset of the Erdoğan game plan for the future of the country. The long simmering intense hostility to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seemed to have finally found its political voice in the person of a former high school physics teacher, Muharram Ince, the CHP candidate with his own gift of inspirational political oratory that created a feverish enthusiasm at his pre-election rallies, and there were reasons to believe and hope that Turskish citizenry was ready for a change after 16 years of AKP governance.

 

The Turkish economy was believed to be in terrible shape as signaled by the international fall of the lira, the pre-election spike in the cost of staple foods, high unemployment, and a dangerous shortfall in foreign capital needed to neutralize the effects of balance of payments deficits on high interest rates that make borrowing money very expensive. Beyond this there seemed to be present a prevalent a kind of political fatigue, a feeling even among former supporters that this controversial leader had held the reins of power far too long for the good of the country, that he badly damaged the international reputations of Turkey by over-reacting to the failed coup of 2016, that he was weakening the secular ethos of the Ataturk legacy while shifting power, influence, and wealth to emergent business elites spread around Anatolia and among the friends of the AKP, that he was inflicting an expensive gigantism on the country in the form of a presidential palace, world’s largest airport, proposed Istanbul Canal, giant mosques, a third bridge over the Bosporus, a generalized urban blight. Additionally, Turkey’s military campaigns in Syria and Iraq were responsible for a dangerous nationalist fervor as well as exhibiting hostility to legitimate Kurdish grievances and aspirations, as well as being a major cause of the massive refugee influx of recent years.

 

To evaluate this intensely negative portrayal of Turkey as it has played out in Europe and North America it is essential to take account of the concerted and powerful anti-Turkish international campaign that depicts Turkey as in the grip of evil political forces that made it the most illiberal of democracies led by a brutal and unscrupulous autocrat, making it a totally unsuitable and unreliable NATO ally that even dares to flaunt U.S. alliance leadership. This campaign, not ever acknowledged as such, brought together the Fetullah Gũlen network, anti-AKP think tank Kemalists spread around the West, secular leftists united with militant Kurdish activism, an Armenian movement seeking validation from the present Turkish government for its genocidal victimization of over a century ago, and influential Zionist elements disseminating to its influential supporters a steady stream of anti-Turkish propaganda as evident in the material on the websites of such well-funded U.S. NGOs as the Middle East Forum and Gatestone Institute, featuring such notorious personalities as Daniel Pipes and Alan Dershowitz.

 

This anti-Turkish campaign has been effective in (mis)shaping the outlook of international public opinion and of the liberal governments of the West.  It expressed itself most dramatically, and for Turks unmistakenably, when adopting a wait and see approach to the failed coup in 2016, disclosing a thinly disguised wish in the West for regime change in Ankara that disturbed many knowledgeable people in Turkey, including many in the political opposition.  It also continues to give the most negative interpretation to the Turkish response to this violent challenge, even ignoring the evidence by discounting the attribution of responsibility to the Fetullah Gũlen movement, by referring to its role as perpetrator only as ‘alleged.’ More seriously, while unreservedly condemning the post-coup roundup of Turks, including many journalists and academics, it never mentions the degree to which the Fetuallah Gũlen movement operates by stealth, and had for years deeply penetrated all public institutions of Turkish society with its devoted cultic followers, including the military, security, and intelligence sectors. These realities in Turkey are usually conceded by even the most ardent of Erdoğan’s domestic adversaries, but are never mentioned in the international discourse, even in such venerable organs of opinion in the West as the New York Times, The Economist, and BBC.

 

I share the critical view that the Turkish government used the pretext of security to go after a variety of enemies that had little or nothing to do with the coup attempt, but I also acknowledge that almost any government would respond strongly, and from its standpoint, rationally, if faced with a penetrating adversary that operates secretly and showed a willingness to stage a bloody coup to gain its ends of seizing power and taking over the Turkish state. I am old enough to remember the Cold War atmosphere in 1950s United States that obsessed about the alleged Communist tendency ‘to bore from within,’ leading to McCarthyism, a farreaching witch hunt that discredited and severely harmed many innocent and decent persons, weakening the morale and security of the country. I can only imagine the excessive kind of protective measures that the U.S. Government would have taken in that period if the Communist movement had actually tried to take over state power by recourse to a violent coup scenario, especially if perceived as working in tandem with the Soviet government. This refusal of international observers to contextualize the security challenges facing post-coup Turkey is an unmistakable display of an intense anti-Erdoğan bias that distorts perceptions and exaggerates criticisms.

 

It is in this highly charged atmosphere that the people I know best in Turkey by and large approached the recent elections. There was a mood among many secular opponents of Erdoğan that his game was about to come to a welcomed end, and this view included some highly regarded early high profile advisors and officials who had earlier worked on behalf of the AKP, and its charismatic leader. This mood translated into a consensus prediction that the alliance of parties would get enough votes to prevent Erdoğan from receiving the 50%+ votes he needed on June 24thto receive the mandate in the first round of voting to become the president charged with managing the constitutional shift from a parliamentary system to what Erdoğan himself was calling ‘an executive presidency.’ This rejection by more than half of Turkish voters would have meant a second round of voting between Erdoğan and whoever came in second, presumably Ince, to determine who would be the next president of Turkey. The expectation was that if Erdoğan didn’t win a majority in the first round, then he provided a fairly easy target in the runoff election as the opposition parties had agreed in advance to unite if such an eventuality came to pass. If this had happened, the parliamentary system would likely have been restored and retained, and the executive presidency would never become a reality.

 

The second fervent hope of the opposition was that the AKP would go down with their master, undoubtedly winning more seats than any other party, but still falling short of what would be needed to exercise majority control in the Turkish Parliament. It was anticipated that this outcome would be desirable even if Erdoğan were to be elected president as it would greatly diminish his ability to dictate legislative outcomes to Parliament. The more respected public opinion polls also gave credence to these expectations, although there was disagreement about whether Erdoğan might squeak by in the presidential vote either immediately or in the second round of voting, there was a fairly high level of agreement that the AKP, despite its alliance with the far-right MHP, would still not have a governing majority, and hence would be unable to get its way on key issues, including the constitutional revision.

 

The first question the morning after is what went wrong with these expectations. My initial attempt at an answer harkens back to my presence in Cairo shortly after the fall of Mubarak in early 2011. For various reasons I had wide contact with a range of influential persons in Cairo almost all of whom were affiliated with the secularized upper middle class. These folks, while offering a variety of analyses of the Egyptian political scene, shared a hope that in the post-Mubarak circumstance an inclusive democracy would become possible and desirable, and this was mainly understood to mean at the time a willingness to encourage the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood as a minority presence in the Egyptian Parliament. It was also coupled with the expectation of electing one of their own, Amr Moussa, former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the Arab League, as the next president when elections were scheduled to occur in 2012. Egypt had a runoff arrangement similar to the one in Turkey, but Moussa never made it to the second round, having won only 12% of the vote, and the Muslim Brotherhood shocked the secular elites by achieving a political majority, initiating a sequence of events that pushed the country back to renewed secular authoritarianism in a harsher form than what was experienced for 30 years under Mubarak.

 

This underestimation of the grassroots strength of the MB illustrated for me the political myopia that often misleads modernized elites living in a dominant city in their country to believe that the future will unfold as they and their friends hope. I have dubbed this tendency ‘the Cairo Syndrome,’ and although less pronounced in these 2018 Turkish elections than it had been in Egypt, it certainly played its part in aligning advance expectations with wishes. In case my assessment is read as exhibiting Orientalist sympathies I can report the same phenomenon was operative in the U.S, just prior to the 2016 presidential elections when Trump’s victory shocked and brought intense grief to almost all the people in my social circle, as well as shame to the most sophisticated national pundits who earn their living by predicting political outcomes, often relying on abstruse algorithms to wow the public, and then shamelessly, without admitting their mistaken assessment, pronouncing after the fact why what happened was bound to happen.

 

The more illuminating concern is why with all that seemed to work against Erdoğan, he not only won but ran more than 12 percentage points ahead of the AKP, suggesting the persistence of his personal popularity as compared with the weakening of support for his political party. In fact, Erdoğan did not lose any individual support if this election is compared to the prior 12 elections where he had also always prevailed to varying degrees. Part of the explanation is the depth and passion of his base among the poor and pious, and those resident in the non-Kurdish parts of Eastern Turkey or in the interior of the country. The only places where Erdoğan and the AKP finished a distant second was along the Western coastal fringe of the country, including the lead city of Izmir. Despite the inspirational nationalism and modernizing agenda of Ataturk, and his still robust legacy (his picture is still by far the most imposing and common presence in offices, public buildings, and middle class homes), Turkey was and remains culturally very rooted in Islamic cultural and religious traditions in ways that give Erdoğan an authentic aura as the supreme representative of Turkishness that transcends the whys and wherefores of political debate.

 

And then there is the phenomenon of national pride, just as Erdoğan stood up so triumphantly against those who staged the coup, he has stood tall against the world, including the United States and Europe. He has brought much progress in the social and economic spheres to the poor and materially disadvantaged, and helped give Turkey a strong regional and global role that it had never achieved previously in the republican era when its leaders seemed content with their role as a passive junior partner of the West, and in recent decades of the NATO configuration. In a turbulent region and world, Turkey has made some substantial contributions to global public goods that are rarely mentioned: the civilianization of governance overcoming a deeply embedded military tutelage emanating from the Ataturk approach; an extraordinary refugee policy that has settled 4 million Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their countries (far more than all of Europe combined, which has regressively responded to its much smaller numbers by giving rise to a resurgence of the pre-fascist extreme right); humanitarian missions to Somalia, Rohingya, and elsewhere that have brought needed world attention to distressed and victimized people otherwise neglected; a high ranking among countries with respect to per capita expenditures for humanitarian assistance; a serious challenge to the geopolitical manipulation of the UN at the Security Council under the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ frequently repeated by Erdoğan

 

On balance are the election results good for Turkey? It is not an easy question to answer, and a meaningful appraisal must await indications of how the newly constituted presidential system operates and whether the economic challenges can be effectively addressed. It is not encouraging that governing and legislating seem dependent on agreement with the MHP, an ultra-nationalist political formation, hostile to Kurdish aspirations, and militaristic. Also, Turkey faces an array of difficult internal and international problems, especially serious inflation and a weakened international currency, as well as a disturbing dependency on agricultural imports. These problems seem to have no short-term fix, and would likely magnify societal tensions if an IMF or EU type of austerity regime were to be instituted, or if ignored by a head-in-the-sand posture. Alternative electoral outcomes would also not have generated quick solutions, except that the well funded anti-Turkish international campaign might have celebrated and solidified results more to its liking  by pouring capital into the country to meet the deficit, to build confidence in a new compliant political order, and to fight inflation and capital flight, and such steps would probably have quickly produced a stronger lira, at least temporarily.

 

What Turkey does have now, which it has failed to do during the prior AKP years is to develop a responsible opposition that puts forth alternative policy proposals. Muharram Ince, the forceful presidential candidate of the CHP opposition who by his showing in the election, running seven points ahead of his party, seems to have the leadership capacity and approach needed to create an atmosphere in Tuirkey that is more conducive to the sort of political debate and policy friction that makes constitutional democracy perform at its best. Ince, like Erdoğan, relies on populist and colorful rhetorical language that matches Erdoğan’s own crowd mobilizing style that may have the effect of creating more democratically oriented negotiations and collaborative solutions within government, especially with respect to the altered parliamentary role, in response to national policy challenges.

 

In this world of ‘elected dictators’ let us not demean the impressive democratic achievement of these Turkish elections that belie the irresponsible mutterings of those most disappointed who irresponsibly contend that the outcome was rigged. Surely, a political personality as accomplished as Erdoğan, if exercising the sort of dictatorial powers that his detractors claim, could have done a better job if these accusations were grounded in fact—rigged elections can be usually identified by huge margins of victory, by excluding unwanted parties from qualifying for participation, and by giving the anointed leader the kind of control in the legislative branch that would smooth the work of rulership. The Turkish elections delivered none of these results that are associated with dictatorial rule, voting proceeded without violence, and the polling places were internationally observed and without any notable irregularities reported—the margin of Erdoğan‘s victory was less than 3%, the Kurdish HDP received 11% of the vote allowing it to cross the 10% threshold that not only meant parliamentary participation but denied the AKP its much desired majority, and the AKP ran significantly behind Erdoğan suggesting a pattern of split voting and a lack of the sort of party discipline that is an unmistakable feature of a true autocracy. Closely contested elections of this sort only occur in societies where proceduraldemocracy associated with the primacy of elections is allowed to function even if flawed in various ways , often giving wealthy donors disproportionate and anti-democratic influence. Of course, Erdoğan had the benefits of long-term incumbency, as well as the fruits of his strenuous efforts to tame hostile media, and this unquestionably tilts the process to an uncertain degree, but is a general feature of party-driven politics in the contemporary world and is rarely allowed on its own to cast doubt on the legitimacy of electoral results.

 

Even if these flaws are corrected, or at least mitigated, procedural democracy is not enough, and one hopes that Erdoğan will use his newly acquired powers over judicial and other governmental appointments wisely. More deeply, we can hope that Erdoğan has learned from the Gezi Park experience of 2013 that a majoritarianapproach to governance breeds intense internal conflict and embittered forms of polarization that interfere with the pursuit of his signature goals of economic growth, enhanced regional and international stature, and the growing cultural appreciation of Muslim values and traditions.

 

At this moment, in the immediate afterglow of electoral victory, Erdoğan does seem to be adopting a more inclusive language, speaking of his commitment to the unity of the nation, a theme echoed in the gracious concession comments of Ince who unconditionally accepted the validity of the electoral results putting an end to anti- Erdoğan extremists irresponsibly ready to challenge the results, and pleaded only that the elected leadership now take account of the whole Turkish population of 80 million in the conduct of governance, and not only of those supporting the Erdoğan approach.  If Erdoğan wants to start this new phase of Turkish constitutionalism on a positive note he could not do better than extending an olive branch to imprisoned academics, journalists, and human rights activists through the exercise of his power to pardon, especially as a welcome complement to the declaration that the state of emergency will not be further renewed, an encouraging move, especially as reported opposed by AKP’s alliance partner, the MHP. If the new system moves quickly and effectively to restore international and national confidence in the Turkish economy, prospects are good for political stability and a more robust democratic atmosphere in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections on the June 24th Turkish Elections

27 Jun

Reflections on the June 24th Turkish Elections

 

[Prefatory Note: The following comments on the Turkish election results are written in response to requests from friends and media sources. I am sensitive to the inappropriate hubrisof Americans traveling the world to impart their views on how other societies should be managed and governed. Such postures of criticism and praise is particularly suspect in this time of Trump where a pre-fascist leadership in the United States pursues policies at home and abroad destructive of elemental rights of its citizens and residents as well adopts as an entirely reckless policy agenda that imperils the ethical, ecological, and economic future of not only the country but the world. It is arguable that we Americans should stay at home and devote our energies to fighting on national territory for a better tomorrow. I offer these comments as someone who has come to regard Turkey as a second home, not quite with an expatriate gaze, but as an engaged partial annual resident over a period of almost 25 years dedicated to a benevolent future for Turkey and its most hospitable and lovable people, of course, with the exception of Turks maneuvering their vehicle in traffic!!]

 

In the days before the Turkish elections there were evident clashing fears and hopes mixed with predictions that mirrored these passions, and anticipated some kind of upset of the Erdoğan game plan for the future of the country. The long simmering intense hostility to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seemed to have finally found its political voice in the person of a former high school physics teacher, Muharram Ince, the CHP candidate with his own gift of inspirational political oratory that created a feverish enthusiasm at his pre-election rallies, and there were reasons to believe and hope that Turskish citizenry was ready for a change after 16 years of AKP governance.

 

The Turkish economy was believed to be in terrible shape as signaled by the international fall of the lira, the pre-election spike in the cost of staple foods, high unemployment, and a dangerous shortfall in foreign capital needed to neutralize the effects of balance of payments deficits. Beyond this there seemed to be present prevalent a kind of political fatigue, a feeling even among former supporters that this controversial leader had held the reins of power far too long for the good of the country, that he badly damaged the international reputations of Turkey by over-reacting to the failed coup of 2016, that he was weakening the secular ethos of the Ataturk legacy while shifting power, influence, and wealth to emergent business elites spread around Anatolia, that he was inflicting an expensive gigantism on the country in the form of a presidential palace, world’s largest airport, proposed Istanbul Canal, giant mosques, a third bridge over the Bosphorus, a generalized urban blight, and that his military campaigns in Syria and Iraq were responsible for a dangerous nationalist fervor as well as rejecting legitimate Kurdish grievances and aspirations, as well as helping to explain the massive refugee infliux of recent years.

 

To evaluate this intensely negative portrayal of Turkey as it has played out in Europe and North America it is essential to take account of the concerted and powerful anti-Turkish international campaign that depicts Turkey as in the grip of evil political forces that made it the most illiberal of democracies led by a brutal and unscrupulous autocrat, making it a totally unsuitable and unreliable NATO ally that even dares to flaunt U.S. alliance leadership. This campaign, not ever acknowledged as such, brought together the Fetullah Gũlen network, anti-AKP think tank Kemalists spread around the West, secular leftists united with militant Kurdish activism, an Armenian movement seeking validation from the present Turkish government for its genocidal victimization of over a century ago, and influential Zionist elements disseminating to its influential supporters a steady stream of anti-Turkish propaganda as evident in the material on the websites of such well-funded U.S. NGOs as the Middle East Forum and Gatestone Institute.

 

This anti-Turkish campaign has been effective in (mis)shaping the outlook of international public opinion and of the liberal governments of the West.  It expressed itself most dramatically when adopting a wait and see approach to the failed coup in 2016, exhibiting a thinly disguised wish in the West for regime change in Ankara that disturbed many knowledgeable people in Turkey, including those in the political opposition.  It also continues to give the most negative interpretation to the Turkish response this violent challenge, even ignoring the evidence by discounting the attribution of responsibility to the Fetullah Gũlen movement, by referring to its as only ‘alleged.’ More seriously, while unreservedly condemning the post-coup roundup of Turks, including many journalists and academics, it never mentions the degree to which the Fetuallah Gũlen movement operates by stealth, and had for years deeply penetrated all public institutions of Turkish society with its devoted cultic followers, including the military, security, and intelligence sectors. These realities in Turkey are usually conceded by even the most ardent of Erdoğan’s domestic adversaries, but are never mentioned in the international discourse, even in such venerable organs of opinion in the West as the New York Times, The Economist, and BBC.

 

I share the critical view that the Turkish government used the pretext of security to go after a variety of enemies that had little or nothing to do with the coup attempt, but I also recognize that almost any government would respond strongly, and even rationally, if faced with a penetrating adversary that operates secretly and showed its willingness to stage a bloody coup to seize power. I am old enough to remember the Cold War atmosphere in 1950s United States that obsessed about the alleged Communist tendency ‘to bore from within,’ leading to McCarthyism, a far reaching witch hunt that discredited and severely harmed many innocent and decent persons. I can only imagine the kind of protective measures that the U.S. Government would have taken in that period if the Communist movement had indeed tried to take over state power by recourse to a violent coup scenario, especially if perceived as working in tandem with the Soviet government. This refusal of international observers to contextualize the security challenges facing post-coup Turkey is an unmistakable display of an intense anti-Erdoğan bias that distorts perceptions and exaggerates criticisms.

 

It is in this highly charged atmosphere that the people I know best in Turkey by and large approached yesterday’s elections. There was a mood among the opponents of Erdoğan that his game was about to come to a welcomed end, and this had come to include some highly regarded early high profile advisors and officials who had earlier worked on behalf of the AKP, and its charismatic leader. This mood translated into a consensus prediction that the alliance of parties would get enough votes to prevent Erdoğan from receiving the 50%+ votes he needed on June 24thto receive the mandate to become the president charged with managing the constitutional shift from a parliamentary system to what Erdoğan himself was calling ‘an executive presidency.’ This rejection by more than half of Turkish voters would have meant a second round of voting between Erdoğan and whoever came in second, presumably Ince, to determine who would be the next president of Turkey. The expectation was that if Erdoğan didn’t win a majority in the first round, then he provided a fairly easy target in the runoff election as the opposition parties had agreed in advance to unite if such an eventuality came to pass. =If this had happened, the parliamentary system would have been retained, and the executive presidency never come into being.

 

The second fervent hope of the opposition was that the AKP would go down with their master, undoubtedly winning more seats than any other party, but still falling short of what would be needed to exercise majority control in the Turkish Parliament. It was anticipated that this outcome would be desirable even if Erdoğan was elected as president as it would greatly diminish his capacity to dictate legislative outcomes to Parliament. The more respected public opinion polls also gave credence to these expectations, although there was disagreement about whether Erdoğan might squeak by in the presidential vote, there was a fairly high level of agreement that the AKP, despite its alliance with the far-right MHP, would still not have a governing majority, and hence would be unable to get its way on key issues, including the constitutional revision.

 

The first question the morning after is what went wrong with these expectations. My first attempt at an answer harkens back to my presence in Cairo shortly after the fall of Mubarak in early 2011. For various reasons I had wide contact with a range of influential persons in Cairo almost all of whom were affiliated with the secularized upper middle class. These folks, while offering a variety of analyses of the Egyptian political scene, shared a hope that in the post-Mubarak circumstance an inclusive democracy would be possible and desirable, and this was mainly understood to mean at the time the willing inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood as a minority presence in the Egyptian Parliament. It was also coupled with the expectation of electing one of their own, Amr Moussa, former Foreign Minister and Secretary General of the Arab League, as the next president when elections were scheduled to occur in 2012. Egypt had a runoff arrangement similar to the one in Turkey, but Moussa never made it to the second round, having won only 12% of the vote, and the Muslim Brotherhood shocked the secular elites by achieving a political majority, initiating a sequence of events that pushed the country back to authoritarianism in a harsher form than what was experienced for 30 years under Mubarak. It confirmed for me the political myopia that often misleads modernized elites living in a dominant city in their country to believe that the future will unfold as they and their friends hope. I have dubbed this tendency ‘the Cairo Syndrome,’ and although less pronounced in these 2018 Turkish elections than it had been in Egypt, it certainly played its part in aligning advance expectations with wishes. In case my assessment is read as exhibiting Orientalist sympathies I can report the same phenomenon as operative in the U.S, just prior to the 2016 presidential elections when Trump’s victory surprised and brought intense grief to almost all the people in my social circle, as well as shame to the national pundits who earn their living by predicting political outcomes often relying on abstruse algorithms to wow the public, and then shamelessly, without admitting their mistaken assessment, pronouncing after the fact why what happened was bound to happen.

 

The more illuminating concern is why with all that seemed to work against Erdoğan he not only won but ran more than 12 percentage points ahead of the AKP, suggesting the persistence of his personal popularity as compared with the weakening of support for his political party. In fact, Erdoğan did not lose any individual support if this election is compared to the prior 12 elections where he had also always prevailed to varying degrees. Part of the explanation is the depth and passion of his base among the poor and pious, and those resident in the non-Kurdish parts of Eastern Turkey or in the interior of the country. The only places where Erdoğan   and the AKP finished second was along the Western coastal fringe of the country, with its lead city of Izmir. Despite the inspirational nationalism and modernizing agenda of Ataturk, and his still robust legacy (his picture is still by far the most imposing and common presence in offices, public buildings, and middle class homes), Turkey was and remains culturally very rooted in Islamic cultural and religious traditions in ways that give Erdoğan an authentic aura that transcends the whys and wherefores of political debate.

 

And then there is the phenomenon of national pride, just as Erdoğan stood up so triumphantly against those who staged the coup, he has stood tall against the world, including the United States and Europe. He has brought much progress in the social and economic spheres to the poor and materially disadvantaged, and helped give Turkey a strong regional and global role that it had never achieved previously in the republican era when its leaders seemed content with their role as a passive junior partner of the West, and in recent decades of the NATO configuration. In a turbulent region and world, Turkey has made some substantial contributions that are rarely mentioned: the civilianization of governance overcoming a deeply embedded military tutelage emanating from the Ataturk approach; an extraordinary refugee policy that has settled 4 million Syrians and Iraqis fleeing their countries (far more than all of Europe combined, which has regressively responded to its much smaller numbers); humanitarian missions to Somalia, Rohingya, and elsewhere that have brought needed world attention to distressed and victimized people otherwise neglected; a high ranking among countries with respect to per capita expenditures for humanitarian assistance; a serious challenge to the geopolitical manipulation of the UN under the slogan ‘the world is greater than five.’

 

On balance are the election results good for Turkey? It is not an easy question to answer, and a meaningful appraisal must await indications of how the newly constituted presidential system operates and whether the economic challenges can be effectively addressed. It is not encouraging that governing and legislating seem dependent on agreement with the MHP, an ultra-nationalist political formation, hostile to Kurdish aspirations, and militaristic. Also, Turkey faces an array of difficult internal and international problems, especially serious inflation and a weakened international currency, dependency on agricultural imports. These promblems seem to have no short-term fix, and would likely magnify societal tensions if an IMF or EU type of austerity regime were to be instituted. Alternative electoral outcomes would not have generated quick solutions, except the anti-Turkish international campaign might have celebrated and solidified results more to its liking  by pouring capital into the country to meet the deficit, to build confidence in a new compliant political order, and to fight inflation and capital flight, which might have quickly produced a stronger lira.

 

What Turkey does have now, which it has badly needed during the prior AKP years is Muharram Ince, a forceful leader of the CHP opposition who by his showing in the election, running seven points ahead of his party, can create an atmosphere more conducive to the sort of political debate and policy friction that makes constitutional democracy perform at its best. Ince also relies on populist and colorful rhetorical language that matches Erdoğan’s own crowd mobilizing style that may have the effect of creating more democratically oriented negotiations and collaborative solutions within government, especially with respect to the Parliamentary role, in response to national policy challenges.

 

In this world of ‘elected dictators’ let us not demean the impressive democratic achievement of these Turkish elections that belie the irresponsible mutterings of those most disappointed who irresponsibly contend that the outcome was rigged. Surely, a political personality as accomplished as Erdoğan, if exercising the sort of dictatorial powers that his detractors claim, could have done a better job if these accusations were grounded in fact—rigged elections can be usually identified by huge margins of victory, by excluding unwanted parties from qualifying for participation, and by giving the leader the kind of control in the legislative branch that would smooth the work of rulership. The Turkish elections delivered none of the results that are associated with dictatorial rule and the pollinng places were internationally observed—the margin of Erdoğan‘s victory was less than 3%, the Kurdish HDP received 11% of the vote allowing it to cross the 10% threshold that not only meant parliamentary participation but denied the AKP its much desired majority, and the AKP ran significantly behind Erdoğan suggesting a pattern of split voting and a lack of the sort of party discipline that is an unmistakable feature of a true autocracy. Closely contested elections of this sort only occur in societies where proceduraldemocracy associated with the primacy of elections is allowed to function even if flawed in various ways , often giving wealthy donors disproportionate and anti-democratic influence. Of course, Erdoğan had the benefits of long-term incumbency, as well as the fruits of his strenuous efforts to tame hostile media, and this unquestionably tilts the process to an uncertain degree, but is a general feature of party-driven politics and is rarely allowed on its own to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral results.

 

Even if these flaws are corrected, or at least mitigated, procedural democracy is not enough, and one hopes that Erdoğan will use his newly acquired powers over judicial and other governmental appointments wisely. More deeply, we can hope that Erdoğan has learned from the Gezi Park experience that a majoritarianapproach to governance breeds intense internal conflict and embittered forms of polarization that interfere with the pursuit of his signature goals such as economic growth, enhanced regional and international stature, and a cultural appreciation of Muslim values and traditions.

 

At this moment, in the immediate afterglow of electoral victory, Erdoğan does seem to be adopting a more inclusive language, speaking of his commitment to the unity of the nation, a theme echoed in the gracious comments of Ince who unconditionally accepted the validity of the electoral results putting an end to mutterings challenging the results, and pleaded only that the elected leadership now take account of the whole Turkish population of 80 million in the conduct of governance, and not only of those supporting the Erdoğan approach.  If Erdoğan wants to start this new phase of Turkish constitutionalism on a positive note he could not do better than extending an olive branch to imprisoned academics, journalists, and human rights activists through the exercise of his power to pardon, especially if coupled a declaration that the state of emergency will not be further renewed, a move already intimated as a post-election initiative although resisted by AKP alliance partner, the MHP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

Turkish Realignment: Prospects amid Uncertainty

3 Dec

In recent months the Turkish President, Recep Teyipp Erdoğan, and his principal advisors have not made it a secret that they are reconsidering Turkey’s relations with neighbors, with the countries of the region, and with leading geopolitical actors.

 

The Early Agenda of AKP

 When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 it set about almost immediately to fashion a post-Cold War foreign policy based on the idea that it was time to supersede the Cold War posture of almost total Turkish deference to the United States, especially within NATO and bipolar contexts, and depict a conception of Turkish interests developed in Ankara rather than adhere to Washington’s blueprint. In its early period of national leadership, the AKP seemed to pursue four interrelated international goals:

            –resolve the Cyprus conflict;

            –give priority to seeking full membership in the European Union (EU);

            –improve diplomatic and political relations with Arab World;

            –seek continuity in U.S./NATO/EU relations, but with overall independence.

 

During the Foreign Ministry of Abdullah Gul, reflecting and incorporating some of Ahmet Davutoğlu ideas and his ambitious conception of the proper Turkish international role, this new assertiveness of Turkish foreign policy achieved with impressive results. Turkey’s signature approach of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ (ZPN) was initially seen as the adoption of a regional conflict-resolving perspective, and given early credibility by transforming relations with Syria from hostility to harmony. Syria became the poster child of ZPN, and the new approach was reinforced by a rapid expansion of economic and cultural relations with countries throughout the Arab World. Beyond this, Turkey extended its foreign policy with substantial economic and diplomatic success to the non-Arab parts of the Islamic World, as well as to sub-Saharan Africa. Istanbul, rather than Paris or London, quickly became the preferred hub for a wide variety of international political gatherings of interest to the Global South.

 

There was also a large emphasis placed by during the early AKP years on the acceleration of accession diplomacy with the EU, leading to an unexpected civilianizing of the Turkish government in ways that reduced the leverage of the armed forces in domestic politics and definitely moved in the direction of meeting the preconditions of human rights, democratization, and secularity that would seem to qualify Turkey to become an EU member, comparing favorably with the record of several East European countries that gained membership in the EU without confronting strong accession obstacles. The AKP also had domestic reasons to build a firewall against any future coup by the armed forces whose leadership was imbued with Kemalist belief, including a feared encroachment of political Islam on the governing process.

 

While developing a more pro-active and independent foreign policy, the AKP leadership continued to affirm its relationship with the United States, and as a staunch NATO ally. This affirmation was somewhat tested in 2003 when Washington pressed Turkey to allow a portion of the planned attack on Iraq to proceed from Turkish territory. The Turkish Parliament refused to give its consent, and the Erdoğan leadership under pressure from the United States, submitted the American request a second time with an executive recommendation of approval, but Parliament again withheld consent. It remains uncertain as to whether Erdoğan was pretending to seek parliamentary approval or was genuinely willing to allow Turkey to become directly involved in the attack upon neighboring Iraq. When the attack against Iraq proceeded without UN authorization, Turkey adopted a low profile approach that included a readiness to cooperate with the American-led occupation of Iraq, which sought to restore stability to the country. In effect, the new AKP foreign policy wanted to achieve freedom of maneuver for Turkey but without shaking the foundations of the foreign policy that had guided the ardently secular leadership of the country since the origins of the republic.

 

 

Revising AKP Foreign Policy

 Five major changes of circumstances undermined this early AKP approach to foreign policy: First of all, the deterioration of relations with Israel that became dramatically manifest at the 2009 Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum when Erdoğan sharply confronted the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on Israel’s massive attack (Cast Lead) on Gaza, and climaxed in 2010 when Israeli commandos attacked the humanitarian flotilla bringing medical supplies to Gaza, killing 9 Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade. Clearly, Israel was sending a warning message to Turkey that it would push back against any Turkish challenge, including those of civil society, to the Israeli approach to Palestinians living under occupation. This encounter challenged Washington to seek restored normalcy in Israeli-Turkish relations so that it would not have to choose sides or juggle relations with both. Energetic diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama sought to heal this breach between these two principal strategic American allies in the region.

 

The second development involved Turkish reactions to the 2011 uprisings in the Arab World, the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ It should be remembered that Turkey was among the first countries to affirm unconditionally these uprisings against authoritarian rule, treating the political upheavals as welcome expressions of democratizing passions on the part of the citizenry. Turkish prestige in the region reached an all time high, and there was talk throughout the Middle East of the applicability of ‘the Turkish model.’ It was often overlooked that Erdoğan went to Cairo in the Spring of 2011 to encourage Egyptian political forces to follow the Turkish example of political secularism, and not try to embody religion in the governing process. This view not appreciated at the time in Egypt being interpreted as a neo-Ottoman effort to interfere with Egyptian internal rights of self-determination.

 

The third development was the gradual Turkish realization that their prospects for EU membership were declining despite their internal good faith efforts to comply with accession expectations. The main explanation for this decline involved the rise of Islamophobia in several key countries in Western Europe whose political approval by national referendum would be necessary before Turkish membership could be formally approved. With the virtual disappearance of this European option, the pragmatic case for internal political reform in Turkey was weakened while making the benefits of a geopolitically more equi-distant diplomacy more evident, being implemented through Turkish openings to Iran, Russia, India, and China. In other words, facing a demeaning rejection by the EU even if not directly expressed, Turkey partially turned eastward, or at least contemplated such a turn away from Europe and the West, given dramatic emphasis by Erdoğan’s display of embittered anger in reaction to EU criticism. This dynamic was further aggravated by the controversial 2015 agreement with the EU by which Turkey would slow the flow of Syrian refugees across its borders in exchange for a monetary payment and visa-free travel to Europe for Turks. From a human rights perspective, it should be noted, this kind of treatment of refugees, misleadingly called ‘migrants,’ is highly questionable, instrumentalizing their destiny as an inter-governmental bargaining chip rather than respecting their vulnerability by establishing a humane protective regime.

 

The fourth development relates to the various signs that Erdoğan was assuming a more authoritarian role in the Turkish governing process, especially in the aftermath of the AKP electoral victory in 2011. In these years Erdoğan overtly embraced a majoritarian view of democracy weakening the republican character of the Turkish government. This dynamic was accentuated after he became President of Turkey in 2014, and in response to a renewal of hostility with the large Kurdish minority, especially as represented by the Peoples Workers Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s blunt political style, combined with Turkey’s earlier shows of independence and break with Israel, encouraged a much more critical tone in the international media treatment of the AKP leadership in Turkey. This shift amounted to a sea change if compared to the more balanced approach taken between 2002-2011. The anti-Erdoğan hostility peaked in response to the Gezi Park incident in 2013 when Turkish police used excessive force to break up a series of Istanbul demonstrations by opposition forces. It seems notable that the criticisms of Turkish encroachments on human rights were given far greater international attention than the far worse contemporaneous encroachments by the Sisi regime in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy. This difference in international perceptions reflects the overseas influence of anti-AKP activists as well as the divergence of policy as between Ankara and Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv.

 

The fifth development is associated with the failed coup of July 15th.

The Turkish Government and internal Turkish public opinion were strongly convinced that the coup perpetrators were linked to the Fetullah Gülen (or Hizmet) movement, and that the United States Government had some prior knowledge, and if circumstantial evidence is to be trusted, quite possibly signaled a green light to the perpetrators. In the course of the coup, and during its aftermath, neither the US nor Europe expressed their support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, adopting a wait and see attitude that seemed poised to accept, if not welcome, the outcome had the coup been successful. Beyond this the US Government has not been responsive to the Turkish formal extradition request, failing to detain Fetullah Gülen while the legal process proceeded. Again international coverage of post-coup Turkey gives almost all of its attention to the Erdoğan crackdown on those suspected of involvement with the Hizmet movement, which while excessive and troublesome, does not depict the context in which it is reasonable for the AKP leadership to feel threatened from within by the continued Hizmet penetration of the organs of government and as a result of Kurdish militancy and ISIS terrorism. At the same time, it is fully understandable that international forces hostile to the AKP should highlight the massive dismissals from academic institutions and widespread media closures as amounting to a witch hunt.

 

 

A Turkish Foreign Policy Reset?

Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that Turkey should in this period be exploring its foreign policy options. Indeed, the exploration preceded the coup attempt of the past year. The impulse to reset Turkish foreign policy reflected a retreat from the more principled and rigid foreign policy positions associated with Davutoğlu’s influence and the endorsement of a pragmatic attempt to minimize hostile regional and global tensions.

 

Most controversially from an American perspective, the pragmatic turn seemed to regard as its centerpiece improved relations with Russia. The goal was broad based cooperation with Russia in recognition of shared interests, including a possible compromise on how to establish a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. From the perspective of the American national security establishment cooperative Russian/Turkish relations were viewed as an unfavorable development at least until the electoral victory of Donald Trump. When the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the next America president was a near certainty, there existed a general expectation that the West would soon confront Russia in a more determined way than during the Obama presidency. In Turkey this encouraged the belief that the US national security establishment was sufficiently opposed to any closeness between Russia and Turkey as to have explained its possible support for the coup attempt of last July, or at minimum, its ambivalence toward the outcome. This suspicion, although widely shared in Turkey, remains without evidence, and is purely conjectural.

 

With Trump becoming the next American president it seems more likely, but by no means assured, that relations between the West and Russia will again be guided by a realist logic of mutual interests. This prospect is also encouraged by the recent emergence in Europe of several political leaders that favor accommodation with Russia. There may be an initial collision of policies if Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to renounce the nuclear agreement with Iran or significantly increases pressure on its implementation.

 

Tensions with the EU over the migration deal and in reaction to freezing accession talks also inclines Turkey to evaluate various additional forms of realignment, including a reported consideration of joining informal international groupings that are led by China and Russia.

 

In the end, if Trump follows through with a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, and Turkish internal stability is restored, it seems most likely that there will be a weakening of relations with Europe and the United States, but no break, and no move that deserves to be labeled as ‘realignment.’ Turkey will probably place greater emphasis on economic and diplomatic relations with Asia, as well as with a renewal of interactions within the Middle East and North Africa, minimizing ideological differences.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There is more uncertainty with respect to global politics than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This uncertainty reflects the rise of authoritarian leaders in many important countries that enjoy the backing of a mobilized right-wing populism that pushes against economic globalization and gives an impetus to exclusionary forms of nationalism. Turkey is part of this wider international trend, and seems caught between contradictory pressures toward continuity and discontinuity in the conduct of its foreign policy. With Trump’s ascendancy the same can be said of the United States.

 

In general, it seems encouraging that Turkey has again seems to be opting for a foreign policy that is pragmatic rather than programmatic and normative, although it is not at this time exerting the kind of wider influence and leadership in the region and beyond that characterized the Davutoğlu approach. The times are different, calling for less ambition and greater stability.

 

How this pragmatic repositioning of Turkey in relation to East and West, North and South, will finally crystallize remains highly uncertain. Whether it results in major changes in orientation depends largely on whether Turkish ties to the West are maintained, Middle East turmoil is contained, and Turkish internal politics calms down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Warming of US/Turkish Relations?

19 Sep

 

[Prefatory Note: a prior version of this post was published by Al Jazeera Turka; there are continuing concerns in Washington and Ankara about whether and to what degree United States-Turkey relations can be restored; it depends on the behavior of the two governments, and likely will be influenced by the outcome of the American presidential elections.]

 

 

It may seem a bit strange that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Barack Obama had to travel all the way to Hangzhou, China to take a welcome step toward restoring good relations between the two countries. But this is the way with 21st century diplomacy. Leaders meet in groups all over the planet, and were in Hangzhou between September 4 and 6 for the annual G-20 gathering devoted to global economic policy, and some seized the opportunity to conduct bilateral diplomacy. In this vein the most notable achievements of the 2016 G-20 meeting is probably best associated with so-called ‘sideline meetings’ that are not part of the group agenda. What is likely to be longest remembered such occurrence after the political leaders go home is not what was agreed upon about global inequality or stimulating growth but rather the dramatic joint ratification of the Paris Climate Change Agreement by China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses.

 

Another feature of modern diplomacy is the importance of tone, nuance, and atmospherics. What Erdoğan and Obama achieved was mainly in this realm of intangible signs of mutual appreciation and understanding. It was undoubtedly pleasing for Erdoğan to hear the American president refer to the events of July 15th as “terrible coup attempt.” And further, when Obama expressed his admiration for the way the Turkish people took to the streets to defend democracy and support the elected government. Such sentiments convey a spirit of solidarity that was noticeably missing throughout the earlier diplomatic discourse. It contrasts, for instance, with what John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, said on July 15th, the night of the failed coup, which seemed indifferent to the fate of Turkey’s democratic government even when violent challenge by the failed putsch. In his statement Kerry called for “stability and peace and continuity within Turkey,” which was correctly heard by the Turkish people and their leaders as, at best, a statement of neutrality as to which side was favored by Washington, and seemed to express the view that as long as there was stability in Turkey and continuity with respect to the West, the United States ‘had no dog in the fight.’

 

When Obama personalized his message by saying “this is the first opportunity that I have had to meet face to face with President Erdoğan” since July 15, and then added, “We’re glad you’re here, safe, and that we are able to continue to work together” it contributed a tone of personal warmth to the reaffirmation of the critical strategic relationship between the two countries. When it came to the issues that have recently caused tensions between Turkey and the United States nothing very concrete transpired, at least in public. Obama talked about unity in fighting against ISIS, while Erdoğan stressed the importance of opposing all terrorist groups. Underneath these vague assertions was the apparently persisting disagreement about how to deal with Kurdish anti-ISIS and anti-Assad political actors, especially the Syrian militia, YPG (Popular Protection Unit) that the US treats as an ally and Turkey views as a Syrian extension of the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), and as such, regards as a terrorist organization. From what was made public no steps were made by either side to change their approach, but the atmosphere of collaboration at Hangzhou suggests that the two leaders at least listened to each other’s concerns, and were careful to avoid any confrontation.

 

Without doubt the complexity of the Syrian conflict is such that none of the participants have pursued a consistent course of action that avoids contradictions, and this is certainly true of the United States and Turkey. I would expect a tacit understanding of the differing priorities of the two governments to emerge, allowing tensions over Syrian policy to diminish, if not disappear. Turkey and the United States agree on ISIS and support for anti-Assad forces, but also on urgently seeking a prolonged ceasefire as a prelude to some kind of political compromise that ends the conflict. It seems likely that the U.S. will quietly defer to Turkey’s insistence on avoiding a Kurdish de facto state bordering Turkey in northern Syria. This will not be the first time that the United States has opportunistically relied on Kurdish armed militias during a conflict only to withdraw their support at a later stage when greater strategic interests, as here, present themselves. In this regard, American relations with the YPG are likely to deteriorate as those with Ankara improve, especially on joint policy in Syria.

 

The same reliance on atmospherics rather than tangible results was evident in dealing with the equally delicate issue of the extradition of Fethullah Gülen. Obama affirmed the importance of bringing the coup perpetrators to justice and offered full cooperation on the mechanics of the extradition process. For his part, Erdoğan spoke of gathering evidence to establish convincingly the link between the allegations and the event. In Turkey there is virtually no dissent from that part of the official version of the coup attempt that charges Fethullah Gülen with being the mastermind, which underlies a strong consensus that he should be extradited to face criminal charges in a Turkish court. In Europe and the United States where Gülenist influence remains surprisingly strong, skepticism remains as to who should be blamed for the coup, and there is a tendency to doubt the Turkish insistence that it was the work of the Gülen movement, and its mysterious leader who claims spiritual power and supposedly runs the organization with an iron hand. The Hangzhou meeting sidestepped this underlying awkwardness probably to avoid spoiling the efforts of both leaders to reaffirm the relationship and even to imply adherence to common goals in Syria.

 

Shortly before the meeting in China, Obama made a constructive statement in a CNN interview: “What we want to do is indicate to them [Turkey] the degree to which we support the Turkish people, but like any good friend we want to give them honest feedback if we think the steps they’re taking were going to be contrary to their long-term interests and our partnership.” What is notable here is Obama’s careful phrasing that avoids condemning the Turkish government for its post-coup attempt efforts to find elements throughout the government and society that were directly or indirectly complicit in the events of July 15. Again this kind of statement contrasts with the many shrill and decontextualized international condemnations of Turkish security measures without any appreciation of the subversive nature of the persisting threat faced by the government. Obama’s statement reaches for higher ground in the ways that Washington conveys concerns about human rights and democracy to Ankara, and although still somewhat patronizing (making it hard to imagine Turkey giving friendly advice to Washinton), it seems fully consistent with the geopolitically conditioned friendship between the two governments. Of course, if Turkey has similarly lectured the United States after the 9/11 attacks about torture or the detention of Muslims it would have been met with anger, but this merely reminds us that international relations is not conducted between equals.

 

In the end, we are left asking whether the spirit of Hangzhou restores the constructive side of the US/Turkish relationship in a lasting manner, seemingly so vital for the future of the region, or whether this is a flash in the pan soon to be forgotten. The fact that Obama’s term is about to end is of concern in this respect, but there is some confidence that Obama’s approach represents a US Government consensus that will endure. What will clarify this prospect, above all, will be the approach taken by the winner of the American presidential elections this November. Also important, the manner that the two governments handle their substantive differences (on Syria, extradition, and likely Russia and Iran), and whether Erdoğan is able to sustain the inclusive approach (unfortunately excluding Kurdish participation) that he has so far mainly taken in Turkish domestic politics after July 15.

 

Undoubtedly, although these issues are all quite explosive, the one that poses the most danger to the future of relations between Turkey and the United States, involves how the extradition request will be handled with respect Fethullah Gülen in the months ahead. A Turkish journalist, Ogüz Kaan Salıcı captured the prevailing mood in Turkey by calling attention to a comment by a member of the Turkish Parliament—“there are only two things 90% of Turks agree upon: That there is a god and that FETO (Fethullah Terrorist Organization) was behind the coup.” If as seems quite likely, the extradition request will be denied in the United States for respectable legal reasons, the Turkish leadership and the public are bound to view the legalistic explanations as political evasions. If this interaction occurs, it will take a diplomatic miracle to avoid a collapse in the long cooperative relationship between the two countries. Their shared interests and long history of close collaboration will be put to one side, at least temporarily. Some wounds are just too deep.

 

The Uses and Abuses of Uncertainty: The Case of Turkey

9 Sep

 

 

Webs of Uncertainty

 

One of the paradoxes of the digital age with its real time awareness is the degree to which information overloads clouds our imagination with cheaply achieved and false clarity, which in political contexts is often the Mad Men work of selective interpretation or deliberate manipulation. There are two types of uncertainty that complicate our perceptions of reality. There is, first of all, the ontological problems associated with a variety of uncertainties embedded in the unresolvable complexities of our experience in such ways that we make important decisions in the face of serious doubts. And secondly, there are often predispositional problems associated with the sources we choose to rely upon, the intrusion of our opinions, and under the influence of the worldview we adopt that biases understanding, sometimes intentionally, but usually, unwittingly.

 

A fundamental aspect of the human condition, philosophized brilliantly by Jacques Derrida, is a pervasive good faith uncertainty and undecidability that confusingly overlaps with the almost continuous need to act in the lifeworld, and then, despite this, assume responsibility for whatever decisions are taken. In effect, this makes the human condition ‘impossible’ because of this rooted unintelligibility of our experience, depriving the most momentous decisions of our daily life of any firm foundation in decidable fact. This realization is so deeply unsettling as to make its denial a sign of normalcy. Most of us arrange our lives so that this liminal uncertainty can be overlooked most of the time.

 

What is equally disturbing is the degree to which the technicians of public order are shaping our collective future from behind such a dark veil. Of course, this has long been true, but in the past the wider social consequences of disastrous choices tended to be relatively local and the leaders depended on special powers. Now leaders are expected to be ‘certain,’ as well as ‘objective,’ which means the job description includes a willingness to wear a mask of certainty that covers a face that is lined with tensions caused by acute doubt. Such expectations produce dishonesty in the political arena, but like our effort to minimize private uncertainty, many politicians are opportunistically able to treat the uncertain as certain, and by so doing, we drift as a species toward the abyss.

 

In modern times, the magnitude of technological capabilities have been continuously generative of unprecedented catastrophic dangers at the unfamiliarly grand scale of the species as well as habitual human threats and pitfalls experienced at various sub-species levels (nation, family, community). The warnings about climate change have raised this issue to a heightened level of global awareness, accompanied by a fatalistic denialism, as well as a set of politicized responses that up to this point fall well below what is required for a reasonable assurance of species sustainability.

 

 

The Turkish Internal Consensus

 

The experience of political rupture is another circumstance that exposes claims of certainty as pompous posturing, but also can bring forth distinctive forms of denialism that pretends that what is rather certain is mired in the swamps of uncertainty, and what is clear beyond a reasonable doubt, is to be treated as uncertain. Behind this manipulation of uncertainty is a political agenda, usually unacknowledged.

 

These reflections have been prompted by the various reactions to the failed July 15th coup attempt in Turkey. Within Turkey there is a strong consensus (estimated at between 80 and 90%) embracing most of the opposition forces in the country, but with exceptions. The consensus includes even many embittered secular opponents of Erdoğan’s leadership, believing that the attempted coup was the work of the Fethullah Gülen movement and that its leader in residence in the United States should be turned over to the Turkish government to face criminal prosecution for involvement in crimes of terror, murder, treason. Above all, the consensus proudly regards the defeat of the coup attempt as a great patriotic moment of mass support for Turkish democracy. The second element in this consensus is that the United States is somehow involved, and hence is almost certain to find an excuse to avoid extradition or deportation, and distract attention by harping on the importance of protecting the human rights of all Turks. The third element is that it is essential that the Turkish government, to restore a sense of security about the future, eliminate from various sectors of society adherents and operatives of the movement led by Fethullah Gülen. The fourth element is that the attempted coup was carried out in a bloody manner, killing and wounding many innocent civilians, and failed only because initiated ahead of schedule and poorly executed: Erdoğan escaped assassination by a mere 15 minutes and was then able to mobilize quickly the citizenry to take over public spaces in a bold, massive, and brave manner unprecedented in the context of coup politics, and indicative of the depth of anti-coup sentiment among the Turkish people and the intense support bestowed on Erdoğan for defeating the attempt with polls showing his post-coup popularity to have surged to 70% or more. I would maintain that this consensus in Turkey should be treated until reliably refuted as a generally authoritative account of the relevant events, while admitting that there are many complications that emerge if we look more deeply into the full implication of each of these four elements.

 

 

 

Erdoğan’s Critics: Governmental and Civil Society

 

 

In opposition to this consensus, the world press and Western governmental reaction basically ignores this consensus, and treats the coup events as if mired in uncertainty, an outlook coupled with antipathy toward Erdoğan and an overall ambivalence toward Turkey as a legitimate member of Western society despite its NATO membership and its support for the struggle against ISIS. I think there are important differences between the reasons underlying these attitudes that motivate overseas secular and Gülen Turks (and their influential friends around the world) and those that explain the somewhat convergent attitudes of Western governments.

 

To consider the prevailing attitudes of overseas Turks, it starts with hostility toward the Erdoğan leadership, contending corruption, authoritarianism, a hidden Islamic agenda, social conservatism, and a murderous war against Kurdish militants associated with the PKK, as well as against the Syrian Kurdish militia (YPG). This is enough to generate antipathy that expresses itself by either ignoring or rejecting the consensus depicted above as dominating public opinion in Turkey. In this sense, the role and effect of the Gülen movement is either downplayed or problematized, and basically treated as either irrelevant or unproven, and criticism is mounted against all efforts of the Turkish government to rid itself and Turkish society of a secretive religious sect that preaches a message of peace and moderation, while acting subversively and violently. As well, the apparent links between Gülen and the CIA are not even considered worthy of mention.

 

When it comes to Western governments the response also revolves around distrust of Erdoğan, claiming that he is a Putinesque autocrat, but seeming to have their deepest concerns because Turkey is an unreliable ally that no longer can be trusted to follow the diktats of Washington. In this regard, Turkey’s recent turn toward Russia and Iran, initiatives that preceded the coup attempt, are viewed by the United States and Europe as geopolitically unwelcome. Already by 2010 Turkey worried Washington by turning strongly against Israel and by trying in collaboration with Brazil to resolve tensions with Iran by working out an agreement to store Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country. Then, of course, there was the tie to Fethullah Gülen and his movement, the dispersion of influential Gülenists around the world that often impacted on public official perceptions, and the mutually reinforcing distinct viewpoints associated with Gülenists and secularists together have created an informal international media counter-consensus to what is believed within Turkey.

 

I became personally suspicious of the ties with the CIA initially in 2010 when Fethullah Gülen personally and organizationally sided with Israel in the dispute with Turkey arising from Israeli commando attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish passenger vessel that was part of ‘a freedom flotilla’ seeking to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver humanitarian assistance to the entrapped Palestinians. It seemed a peculiar stand to be taken by a movement that purported to be devoted to peace and the spread of Islamic values. Then a couple of years later when invited to meet with some Gülen people in Istanbul my suspicions rose to near certainty. We were shown a short documentary in which James Baker, Madeline Albright, and Bill Clinton, that is, the reigning luminaries of both political parties, made separate appearances in the film to heap praise on Fethullah Gülen and his movement. I have been around long enough to know that this kind of promotional documentary was not an innocent and spontaneous display of enthusiasm for a secretive cult movement led by a mysterious Islamic preacher by the most prominent members of the American political establishment. It could not have happened without a strong government push, and one can only wonder why.

 

I did not believe, at the time, that these signs of governmental engagement was a prelude to a coup, but rather in the nature of a Plan B option in the event that Erdoğan slipped further from favor, and maybe served other purposes as well. There was also the possibility that the Gülen schools all over the world were being used as an effective means to penetrate some societies, such as those in Central Asia, places where American intelligence was weak. It is reported that Graham Fuller, who effectively backed Fethullah Gülen’s controversial request for a green card over the opposition of the State Department and the FBI, believed that such an educational network could be useful in gaining access to and recruits in otherwise closed foreign societies. Fuller had been CIA station chief in Istanbul before his retirement. Fuller claims a purity of intentions, and I have seen no hard evidence to the contrary, but the strong personal connection with Gülen given other confirming circumstantial evidence makes it reasonable to be suspicious.

As with the Turkish critics, the Western governments ignore the context of the coup attempt, and devote most of their attention to the post-coup crackdown on all suspected of any Gülen affiliation. Also, during the coup, diplomatic support for Ankara was not forthcoming, and a wait and see attitude seemed to carry the day. It may be that the West supposed that the coup attempt was the work of discontented Kemalists in the army and elsewhere, and its success would have been welcomed (as with Egypt in 2013). This distancing angered the Turkish government and people, and confirmed for many Turks suspicions about an American involvement as well as its unwillingness to lend support to a popularly elected government.

 

These suspicions are further confirmed by the evident reluctance of the United States to cooperate fully in seeking to grant extradition, which it must be said, does face legal obstacles in the best of circumstances. At the same time, if the U.S. Government wanted to back Turkey in this post-coup attempt atmosphere it could at least put Fethullah Gülen under temporary arrest or consider deporting him. One can only imagine the American reaction if Turkey was seeming to shield a person who was strongly believed by most Americans to be behind a coup attempt or major terrorist incident in the United States. Legalistic excuses would not begin to satisfy the American people in such a situation, and it will not satisfy, much less convince the Turkish people and their leadership given the near certainty, which has been attached to the allegation that Fethullah Gülen masterminded the events of July 15th. It should be recalled that the Russian grant of sanctuary to Edward Snowden was seen in the United States as an unfriendly act that harmed relations between the countries even though the nature of his alleged crime was distinctly ‘political’ in nature, and hence, non-extradictable.

 

An Uncertain Future

 

Among the uncertainties relevant to assessing the situation in Turkey is how the near future unolds. Will the West live with a Turkey that claims the prerogative of a sovereign state to pursue independently its own interests? Will the anti- Erdoğan campaign carry the day in the struggle for the control of world public opinion and shape Western policy toward Turkey? And, of course, will the Turkish government conform formally and in good faith to due process and the rule of law in the course of identifying those who can be reasonably charged with direct and indirect complicity in the coup attempt? (It worth noting that of the 55,000 or so who were originally subject to suspension or detention more than half have been restored to employment or released, according to the Minister of Interior). It is also most important, if Turkey is to regain respect beyond its borders, that it not mingle its legitimate grievances against the Gülen militants, operatives, and financial backers with separate concerns it might have about the opinions and loyalty of pro-Kurdish activists and ardent Kemalists.

 

This unfolding future should gradually tell us which mix of certainties and uncertainties will govern the Turkish internal and international future, and on that may hinge Turkey’s security and overall regional and global orientation, including the future of its relations with the United States, Europe, Russia, Iran, and its own regional neighborhood. Perhaps, underneath the immediacies of the situation, there are deeper forces at work in Turkey and elsewhere that are seeking to find new alignments that befit the realities of the post-Cold War world order. If this possibility were at the core of what is taking place, then it would not be startling to witness Turkey pulling slowly away from NATO, and finding its own path between East and West. At present, this seems unlikely as there remains in Ankara a strong bonding with the West despite these recent strains, but surely international relations have witnessed far stranger realignments over the course of the past century.

The Sky Above Turkey

23 Aug

 

[Prefatory Note: An earlier version was published by Middle East Eye on August 10, 2016. It seems so important at this time for the sake of the future of Turkey that the West look at the country and its political circumstances in a far more balanced way than how the situation has been portrayed since the coup. How to explain this imbalance is another matterthat should be explored at some point, but for now is largely put aside.]

 

 

 

 

Much uncertainty remains in Turkey, but there is enough evidence of positive tendencies to raise a tentative banner of hope. Being a witness to the political atmosphere in Turkey that has emerged after the failed coup of July 15th puts me at odds with the secular consensus in the West, which looks up at the sky and sees only dark, ominous clouds of human rights abuse and autocratic leadership. What I have experienced and observed so far is quite different, a sky with much blue in it.

 

There are two opposed, although overlapping, tendencies present that seemed to be responsive to the political priorities that top the post-coup government agenda: sustaining the anti-coup unity by shifting political gears within the AKP leadership circles in the direction of “inclusive democracy” and pragmatism, and with it, a retreat from the polarizing claims of “majoritarian democracy” that greatly intensified after the 2011 national elections and were particularly evident in the clumsy, unacceptable way the Turkish government handled the Gezi Park demonstrations two years later.

The most important concrete embodiment of this post-15 July move toward inclusiveness has been a series of initatives intended to create a common front between the three leading political parties in the country, including the CHP (secular mainstream) and MHP (nationalist rightest) opposition parties. This has been reinforced by several other developments, including a pragmatic approach to foreign policy and a decision by Recip Tayyip Erdoğan to drop the many law suits under a Turkish law that makes it a civil wrong to insult the president.

 

The Ataturk effect

 There is also a reinforcement of these developments with clear evidence of an AKP appreciation of Kemal Ataturk as heroic founder of the country and defender of its political independence and unity, which had been notably absent from the AKP political profile ever since it initially took power in 2002.

 

It was notable that Erdoğan at his dramatic press conference at the Istanbul Airport on the night of the attempted coup spoke below a giant portrait of Ataturk. This gesture was reinforced by the dominance of huge poster pictures of Erdoğan and Ataturk, and no one else, behind the speaker stage at the immense  August 7th Democracy Watch rally, and even more so by a long Ataturk quotation in the course of Erdoğan’s speech, the highlight of the event. This emphasis on Ataturk’s guidance has also been notable in the CHP effort to interpret the defeat of the coup as a great victory of Turkish democracy, as well as a historic moment of national unity and patriotic fervor. It needs to be understood that invoking the image and thought of Ataturk are ways of expressing two realities: most significantly, a reaffirmation of the secularist orientation of the Turkish state accompanied by recognition that Turkey was experiencing a supreme “patriotic moment” that took precedence over all the pre-coup political divisions that had created such toxic polarization prior to July 15th.

 

Learning from mistakes

 Also notable, and a return to an earlier style, has been the generally calm tone and restrained substance of Erdogan’s leadership. In the domestic pro-AKP media, there have been references back to Erdoğan’s then controversial advice to the Egyptian people to insist on a secular foundation for the governing process following the Tahrir uprising that overthrew Mubarak, a position at the time deeply resented by the Muslim Brotherhood as an intrusion on Egyptian internal politics and distrusted or ignored by the secular opposition to Erdoğan in Turkey and abroad.

 

Looking back, Egypt would almost certainly have benefitted greatly if it had followed Erdoğan’s advice, with the ĸimplication that Turkey’s present crisis was brought about by allowing the religiously oriented movement of Fetullah Gülen to penetrate so deeply into the sinews of government.

 

Of course, anti-AKP voices insist, with reason, that Erdoğan failed to adhere to his own guidelines, both by insinuating political Islam into the appointment and policy process of the Turkish state in recent years and also by striking an opportunistic bargain with Gülen forces that years earlier paved the way for this exercise of pernicious religious influence within the Turkish state. Perhaps it is possible to learn from this past while admitting past mistakes (as Erdoğan has done by his extraordinary apology to the nation for past collaboration with and trust in the Gülen movement).

 

‘As many friends as possible’

 Another facet of the present understanding of July 15th is the widespread agreement across the Turkish political spectrum that the US was involved to some degree in relation to the coup. To what degree is a matter of wildly divergent beliefs ranging from active complicity to passive and indirect support. There is even the opinion present in Turkey that the timing of the coup reflected US government nervousness about Ankara’s seeming turn toward Mosow, and at minimum, if the coup had succeeded, Washington it seems would have shed few tears (just as it did after the democratically elected government was overthrown by a coup in 2013).

 

What lends some credibility to such suspicions is that a major foreign policy reset was underway and in motion prior to the coup attempt. It was centered upon diplomatic initiatives seeking to restore positive diplomatic and economic relations with Russia and Israel, and possibly even with Syria, Iran, and Egypt. Prospects for normalisation with Egypt took a turn for the worse as a result of Cairo’s seeming sympathy with the coup attempt, including possible receptivity to an asylum request from Fettulah Gülen.

 

Yet what seems in many respects to be a second coming of Turkey’s pre-Arab Spring approach of “zero problems with neighbours” has been reformulated by the current prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, in a similar formula: “as many friends as possible, and as few enemies.”

This apparent move away from the sort of ideological foreign policy that Turkey has pursued since 2011 may not be pleasing to hardliners in the US and Europe, but it certainly makes sense from the perspective of Turkish national interests, given current national and regional realities.

 

Atmosphere of fear

 Having pointed to some positive responses by the Turkish government to the crisis following the coup attempt, let me mention a few disturbing negative features of the present atmosphere. Erdoğan mobilized mass street support on the night of the failed coup, an initiative that even most of his critics here in Turkey treat as a stroke of political genius that probably turned the tide of battle on the fateful evening of July 15th. Yet some fear that the nightly continuation of populist demonstration that continued for three weeks were leading the country back in the direction of majoritarian democracy and reawakened polarization, and something even worse, if the temporary consensus with the opposition starts to fray.

 

Also extremely worrisome are mass detentions, arrests, dismissals, and suspensions involving many thousands of people, many of whom are viewed as innocent of any incriminating involvement. There are also reliable reports of torture and abuse involving some of those being held, creating a widespread atmosphere of fear and intimidation, making some people even scared to voice their views.

 

Given the fresh memories of the coup attempt, its brutal violence, and the realistic worry that pro-coup elements remain strategically situated in the governing structures of society, great pressure to strengthen internal security exists and should be interpreted with a measure of sympathy, or at least understanding. There is some reason to be guardedly hopeful as many individuals have been cleared and released, and the leadership has repeatedly promised to proceed in accord with the rule of law, including making diligent efforts not to confuse Gülen conspirators with anti-AKP critics. 

 

Populist pressure

 

There is also reason to be concerned about Erdogan’s demagogic appeals that seem designed to mobilize populist pressures on Parliament to restore capital punishment for the intended purpose of prosecuting and punishing Fetullah Gülen. It should be better appreciated in Turkey that any attempted application of capital punishment to Gulen would be unacceptably retroactive, and a violation of the rule of law as universally understood.

 

Among other effects, such a prospect would give the United States a credible legal pretext to deny the pending extradition request, which in turn would create a storm of anti-American resentment in Turkey. It is helpful to do a thought experiment that captures the Turkish political mood. The overwhelming majority of Turks feel what Americans would have felt if after the 9/11 attacks a supposedly friendly government had given safe haven to Osama Bin Laden.

 

The most shortsighted aspect of the current approach is the evident decision by Erdoğan to stop short of including the pro-Kurdish political party, HDP or People’s Democratic Party, in the national unity approach, and the absence of any show of a willingness to renew a peace process with the Kurdish national movement, including representatives of the PKK. The government contends that this is not possible to do so long as the PKK engages in armed struggle, which proceeds on a daily basis.

 

Given ongoing concerns with the Islamic State (IS) group and spillovers from the Syrian war, the future of Turkey will seem far brighter if the Kurdish dimension can be constructively addressed.

 

 

Concluding Observation

 What remains after this look at present pros and cons is a core reality of uncertainty, yet I believe there is presently enough evidence of positive tendencies, to raise a tentative banner of hope about the Turkish future. Such a banner is also justified as a counter to the banner of despair and rage being waved so vigorously by anti- Erdoğan zealots around the world with much support given by mainstream media and not a few governments in the West who withheld support of the Turkish government in its hour of need and have been reluctant to accept the allegations that the coup was the work of the movement headed by Fetullah Gülen from his informal headquarters in Pennsylvania. It is hardly surprising that Ankara should be looking elsewhere for friends, and even contemplating turning its back on Europe, and conceivably even NATO. It could be that a major geopolitical realignment is underway, or maybe not. If it occurs it will be the most significant change in the geopolitical landscape since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of

the Cold War.

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