The recent abortive military coup in Turkey has led not to a restoration of democracy and the rule of law in that country, but to an acceleration of already worrisome trends toward a dictatorship with Islamist overtones. When the would-be junta made its play for power, the Obama administration quickly expressed support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s beleaguered government, as did most of Turkey’s NATO partners. When the coup attempt collapsed, leaders of those governments breathed a sigh of relief that the Alliance did not have to confront the embarrassment (or worse) of a member state governed by a military dictatorship.
That sense of relief was short lived. In a matter of days, Erdogan purged not only hundreds of high-ranking military officers, (a step for which there was at least reasonable justification), he went after other institutions that had long impeded his attempts at increasingly autocratic rule. Nearly 3,000 judges were removed and arrested. He even fired 21,000 teachers from the country’s school system. The extent and speed of the systematic purge confirms that Erdogan simply used the attempted coup as a pretext for a plan long in place. The United States now confronts the problem of a NATO ally that is a dictatorship in all but name.
The frustrations with Turkey should have been building for years, if not decades. After all, U.S. officials were under pressure to look the other way as Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and continued to illegally occupy the northern portion of that country ever since. Washington offered no more than feeble protests when Ankara established the puppet Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the occupied territories and moved in tens of thousands of settlers from the Turkish mainland. Such indifference makes U.S. expressions of outrage over Russia’s annexation of Crimea seem more than a little hypocritical.