Monday, 18 July 2016

Cockup or conspiracy, and Turkey in trouble

Given the choice of explaining events in terms of conspiracy or cock-up, I’m always far more inclined to go for the latter.

This is because, while I’d never underestimate the sheer devious malice of many powerful people, I’m not as impressed as they are by their intellectual capacity. Nor do I have confidence in the ability of people to keep their mouths shut for long enough to pull off a really comprehensive conspiracy, especially if there are a great many of them involved or it lasts long enough to give them multiple opportunities to boast about it to their twelve best friends.

So I’m prepared to believe that 9/11 happened as a result of a conspiracy between a relatively small number of people headed by Osama Bin Laden, though even then I’m astonished that they were able to be quite so ruthlessly effective in their planning and secrecy. I’m utterly unable to believe that it was all a conspiracy stage-managed by the Pentagon, since that would have required 10,000 people to work in coordination, with not a single one of them spilling the beans since.

Why am I talking about all this now?

Because last Friday a coup was attempted in Turkey, a nation that was already well on the way to autocracy under the leadership of its remarkable and charismatic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In passing, let me saw it’s men like him that make charisma deeply suspect to me. 

He’s quick to defend democracy when it comes to defending his grip on power, which he indeed established by election. He’s much less so when it comes to protecting those other, less convenient if not downright irritating democratic values, such as the right to freedom of speech, to oppose to government or, even, to expose corruption.

Erdogan: smart operator who's been dealt a winning hand
But as briiliant as he believes? A champion plotter? I think not
Indeed, the Turkish experience is an excellent illustration of how holding elections, though a necessary condition for democracy, is far from a sufficient one.

The coup, as we all now know, fizzled out when the majority of the army failed to rally to it and Erdogan was able to call out large numbers of civilians to resist it. Now he’s in the wonderful position, for a man of his authoritarian inclination, to round up all his opponents – and he has some convenient little lists ready, of people who really wouldn’t be missed, at least by him or his followers. And he’s in the glorious position of being able to do it all in the name of democracy. To protect freedom from military intervention. To defend the core rights of the people to choose their government freely. Or at least, all those people, and it may be a majority, who vote for him.

Among the opponents he deals with over the next few weeks, you can be sure there will be quite a few who took no part in the putsch and were as opposed to it as he was. But they were opposed to him too and, sadly, by an unfortunate administrative error, they will be caught up in the post-coup oppression too.

Since only he seems to have benefited from the coup attempt, and it’s given him just the opportunity to move against the opponents he was targeting anyway, it is indeed easy to imagine that he was behind it in the first place. Who does it benefit, we ask? Him, obviously, so isn’t it possible that he or his agents ensured the attempt was made and crushed, to strengthen the strong man? 

It’s a tempting hypothesis. But not to my taste. I just can’t believe that Erdogan is quite that intelligent. He’s a highly effective bully, and perfectly smart enough to pull a faction together and use it to crush his adversaries. However, smart enough to get people who hate him to act in precisely the way he wants them? To go out on a limb and, as it now appears, put their lives on the line by doing something so completely half-baked, all because they’d fallen for Erdogan’s snake oil selling skills?

I don’t see it. On the other hand, my faith is deep and unshakeable in the capacity we all share to delude ourselves. It strikes me as far more likely that the men who led the putsch thought they’d get away with it. Just like the men in the dying days of the Soviet Union who thought they’d overthrow Gorbachev, and only got Yeltsin instead – with Putin not far behind.

In both cases, rebels got their tanks out without being sure of the backing they needed. They went into battle against men whose skill exceeded theirs only far enough to ensure they had more support than their opponents. These were not brilliant poker players turning the cards they were dealt into winning hands; these were one set of cheats outsmarted by the other.

In both cases, the ultimate victim was any hope of democratic development. Back then, the final price was paid by the Russian people, as now it will be by the Turkish. But it was down to cockup by putschists, not conspiracy by their opponents. Opponents and beneficiaries.

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