The attempted coup and its aftermath in Turkey on July 15th have provoked heated debate on its meaning and ramifications. The will of the Turkish people to unflinchingly defend their democratic experiment, regardless of the particular regime or leader in power, has been remarkable. Nevertheless, critics are pointing to the Turkish leader Erdogan’s heavy-handed tactics to consolidate power afterwards, involving mass arrests, detentions, dismissals in all realms of state and society. Both sides seem to have compelling cases as to what ought – and ought not – to be done in such tumultuous circumstances. But it will be a rare soul who will not acknowledge that rolling back the right of the Turkish military to crush democracy in such a way, as it has done multiple times in the past, is a true milestone in the struggle for the sovereignty of the Turkish people of the country’s destiny. They are now the custodians of that future, not the armed forces.
The character of Erdogan though, in Western policy circles, has been subject to an absurd amount of scrutiny. Even before the events of July 15th, there were observers pointing out how Erdogan was undertaking significant shifts in foreign policy. The boiling point for NATO was how the Turkish leader all of a sudden decided to pursue some form of rapprochement with Russia, enemy number one for the Western military alliance, despite the end of the Cold War. Erdogan’s apology to the Russians for shooting down their jet last year sent shockwaves to Washington and Berlin. The coup-makers, whether supported directly or indirectly by these outside forces, at least thought they would have their blessing in getting rid of a ruler increasingly unpredictable and unreliable for the purposes of NATO militarism and expansionism.
Turkey and the Turkish military have been central to NATO’s formation in 1949. Though not deployed in direct aggression, Turkey has been expected to be at the forefront of any confrontation Eastwards. For NATO, it has been the threat of all of the military stockpile housed in Turkish bases, including nuclear weapons, that was supposed to keep the Russians and any powers with any ambition to disturb Western hegemony at bay.
The weakening of the West’s trusted ally, the Turkish military, and its replacement by ‘Islamist’-oriented democrats, has been treated with a great deal of suspicion, if not outright opposition. What slowed down any attempts to flagrantly dislodge Turkish democracy during the recent period (at least until July 15th) was of course the AKP’s more or less cooperation with Western and NATO war aims, especially in the case of Syria.
But this was camouflaging deep-seated tensions. The whole Western repertoire being regurgitated ad nauseum for years, around Erdogan’s ‘creeping authoritarianism, had very little to do with Erdogan himself. The ‘crime’ of Erdogan is not that he is power-hungry or authoritarian. Such a narrative should be laughed at for its hypocrisy when considering the dozens of allies of Washington in the region who don’t even give lip service to a semblance of democracy. Furthermore, the police state practices and concentration of power in the ‘unitary executives’ in the Western democracies/plutocracies during the ‘War on Terror’ regime give such countries no moral authority to pontificate to other countries on these matters.
Indeed, the ‘crime’ of the Turkish leader and the AKP is something else. It has to do with Western anxiety over yet another rising power in the region, and globally. It has to do with the ongoing challenge to, and breakdown of, the global unipolar moment that the US imperium achieved after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Multi-polarity is not simply about the rise of China or the re-emergence of Russia as a ‘great power’ anymore. It is about the rise and assertion of sovereignty of an increasing number of nations, including Turkey.
In fact, the problem for Washington is even deeper than that. Turkey has been central to NATO, but it has been even more pivotal to the US specifically because it has been one of the central satraps of American control of the resource-rich West Asia and North Africa (WANA). After World War II, in order to control what Washington planners described as, “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history,” the US decided to establish an architecture of political tyranny throughout the region to ensure that only Washington called the shots about where the oil went, and where it did not.
Tyrannical regimes in the region that were subservient to the US were central to this objective. Arab nationalism and Nasserism challenged this order of things temporarily, but were defeated in the 1967 war with Israel.
The Zionist state and its services to tyranny and empire in the region have been crucial. What in the past was the unstated unholy alliance, has now become overt and explicit: Arab monarchies and autocrats aligned with Israel, with the backing of their overlord, Washington.
But there were other non-Arab regimes in and around the region that Washington deemed absolutely essential to upholding this unnatural and grotesquely unjust order in the Arab world: Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan.
The US overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, and imposed the brutal Shah who slavishly performed these services for Washington. Until the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, when ‘we lost Iran.’
Iran’s real crime was and is not its human rights abuses and repression, which, as in all states, do exist. Its crime for which it is vilified since the moment of the overthrow of the dictatorial Shah was disobedience to the global mafia don, and its challenge to the US imperium in the region.
Erdogan and Turkey’s crime seems to be pointing in this direction. Perhaps Pakistan as well. These countries are not entirely predictable, act on their own sometimes, and – God forbid – may pursue their own interests that not only may be independent of those of Washington’s, but may in fact be done in cooperation with those that the US and NATO deem as rivals and want to undermine: China, Russia, Iran, and so on.
Does this mean these countries and their rulers are Fidel Castros? No. But for American geopolitics, this is irrelevant. The US only tolerates the completely obedient. The problem is that many politicians and planners in Washington have a difficult time in understanding that the world has changed, and in times of the ‘Empire of Chaos’ (as the astute journalist Pepe Escobar puts it), the American empire can both benefit from and be a victim of the chaos, destruction, and manipulation in which it engages. WANA is a great example of this, and countries like Turkey and Pakistan – pillars in the past of US control over the region – can no longer be controlled in the way they used to be.
All of the talk concerning Erdogan and his desire to revive some Turkish sultanate, Islamism and/or nationalism (take your pick) going wild in Turkey and in Pakistan, is fundamentally about one thing: the geopolitical anxieties of an empire in decline, unable to exert much muscle in bullying as it used to, only able to profit from billions in weaponry being sold to its ‘moderate’ Arab allies like Saudi Arabia. And ultimately, attempts at the reassertion and projections of American power by ‘pivots’ and expanding bases are crude cover-ups for the moral, political, and economic decay of the American imperium.
Junaid S. Ahmad is Secretary-General of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).