What the West must see about the failed coup in Turkey

What the West must see about the failed coup in Turkey

One of John le Carre’s best spy novels is “The Tailor of Panama.”

Inspired by an earlier Graham Greene novel, “Our Man in Havana,” the former British intelligence officer le Carre tells us about fake or exaggerated intelligence reports about how a popular revolt against an oppressive ruler would be possible if a Western-backed intervention took place. The “tailor” turns out to be an agent for the people he has been using and the country. People in the country end up rallying around the ruler they have been complaining about, against a putsch motivated from outside the country.

I do not know what the “tailors” of Istanbul or Ankara have been saying about the situation in Turkey before, during and after the failed coup attempt of July 15. But I can guess that they are not telling the truth to their bosses, who should better fire them.

Particularly interesting was a statement by U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper. When asked by the press on July 20 (published on July 21) about the involvement of Fethullah Gülen in the coup attempt, Clapper’s answer was: “We haven’t seen it yet. We certainly haven’t seen it in intel.”

Meanwhile, Graham Fuller, a former CIA executive, wrote a piece on Huffington Post in defense of Gülen, saying he was “one of [the] most encouraging faces of Islam today.” It was Fuller who was among those who helped Gülen get U.S. residency in the mid-1990s. 

It is true that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and President Tayyip Erdoğan let the Gülenists take key public positions in the education sector, the judiciary, the military, and the media between 2002 and 2012. But the protective stance from many in the U.S. intelligence community now is more than interesting.

A colleague sent to Turkey a few days ago to cover the failed coup asked one of his Turkish colleagues if he could help him find any crowds supporting the coup to overthrow Erdoğan. Obviously, the foreign news crew couldn’t find any. The Turkish colleague told them that first of all there were no such crowds, secondly they get be in real trouble if they asked people on the streets whether they supported the coup, and thirdly it is illegal to support a coup according to the law in Turkey, which has suffered three military coups before.

Another colleague asked me: “Wouldn’t it be better if the coup had succeeded in getting rid of Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule?” The question had obviously been sent to him by his headquarters. 

“I am not happy with the quality of democracy in Turkey and I criticize it in my columns,” I said. “But a military coup is not the way to make it better. You cannot destroy democracy to make it work better. You cannot make anything better by imposing something much worse.”

As a journalist who started in the profession under military rule, a year after the 1980 coup, I must say that I am disappointed with the stance of the governments and the media of the U.S. and the European Union. It is as if the advanced democracies of the West are unhappy that the military coup attempt in Turkey was foiled by the joint stance of the political parties in parliament, by the overwhelming majority of the people, and by the military and the police forces that were not under the manipulation of the junta.

I completely understand why Erdoğan’s remarks about bringing back the death penalty drew a negative reaction from EU governments. Similarly, those photos of coup suspect officers severely beaten do not help the situation.

But when questions on the detention warrants issued against 42 journalists and writers yesterday start with an emphasis on the sufferings of the pro-Gülen media, rather than the overall situation of freedom of the press and expression in Turkey, you start to think twice about the situation.

The West must see that the failed coup has no public support. The overwhelming majority of people, including sworn opponents of Erdoğan, do not see a military coup as a path to reach a better democracy. That was demonstrated by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) rally against the coup attempt in Istanbul on July 24. 

Yes, Erdoğan’s popularity has risen - including among those opposing him - as a leader saved from an imminent toppling and probable death. No, Gülen is not seen as a peace-loving saint by the great majority of the Turkish people. But pushing away Turkey in the current circumstances will not make things better for the Turkish people, or for Western interests in Turkey. In fact it would only have the opposite effect.