Geopolitical Implications Of Coup Attempt Near And Far
Turkey’s attention diverted from regional to domestic following failed overthrow
It was Secretary of State John Kerry who was the first U.S. official to comment on the failed takeover late into the night of July 15. He said he hoped for “peace, stability and continuity” in Turkey, nearly two hours after developments unfolded.
Kerry’s comments came after a planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow where the pair of top diplomats had been trying to tie a crucial deal on Syria. In Kerry’s remarks there was no mention of support to the democratically elected government and no condemnation of the bloody coup attempt, which led to the deaths of 246 people and wounded more than 2,000 others.
As the government in Ankara gained the upper hand hours later — with coup plotters were arrested one by one, and civilians poured into the streets as they heeded a call issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who spoke to a private television channel via the popular iPhone video call application, FaceTime — President Barack Obama issued a statement denouncing the coup attempt and expressed support for the Turkish government. Kerry followed with a statement condemning the attempt.
A couple of questions that have yet to be answered are why did Obama take so long to denounce an attempted overthrow of an important NATO ally, and why there was a difference between Kerry’s two statements.
Examining developments on July 15 might shed light on a few implications for the coup.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the coup was plotted and executed by a small faction within the Turkish Armed Forces. It was believed, and later declared, that officers linked to the U.S.-based preacher Fetullah Gulen led the coup.
The Gulenist network is accused of serious crimes including corruption on national placement exams, spying on the president and other state officials as well as forming a quasi-state within Turkey dubbed a “parallel state”.
Turkey’s National Security Council last year designated the group a terrorist organization and ridding the country of Gulenists was actually underway. That may have been a catalyst that triggered the coup attempt.
It should be noted that the Gulenist-led attempt came on the same day the U.S. and Russia announced a tentative deal to coordinate airstrikes against Daesh and the Nusra Front, an al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
Ankara was already at odds with Washington’s policy in Syria, not the least of which is U.S. cooperation with the terrorist PKK’s affiliate PYD/YPG in the northeast and its impotency against Bashar al-Assad’s regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of victims.
Turkey has continuously expressed its concerns about the U.S. arming the YPG and has placed a lot of pressure on Washington to stop, causing relations to be strained between the two NATO allies regarding the issue.
Pressure from Erdogan on the Obama administration to force Assad to step down is another issue that has driven a wedge between Ankara and Washington.
The Turkish government believes that short of removing Assad and establishing a democratic, united Syria, it would be impossible to uproot Daesh.
The U.S. administration acknowledges Assad is the source of problems in Syria but Obama has been reluctant to see Assad removed, cognizant of the condition in Iraq post Saddam Hussein and more recently the state of Libya following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Obama administration was unwilling to take viable action against Daesh in Syria until Russia took the initiative with airstrikes in late September last year.
In the ensuing months, Syria was tacitly divided between the U.S. and Russia proxies and Daesh forces.
Russia has tried to help the regime expand its territory at the expense of moderate opposition groups backed by Turkey.
The U.S., on the other hand, has supported the PYD/YPG to expand against Daesh.
The problem of course was that with so many competing aircraft above Syria, the chance for a catastrophic miscalculation dramatically increased. So, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed late last year for the safe separation of aircraft.
Also as a move against Russia’s using ground troops in Syria the U.S. deployed a group of Special Forces to Northern Syria to help PYD/YPG earlier this year.
According to military experts, without defining air zones it was nearly impossible to ensure a complete safe separation and protect forces on the ground against airstrikes.
The Pentagon disclosed in May a deal with Russia that stipulated Moscow would not fly above certain areas in Syria. A Pentagon spokesman declined, however, to say that in accordance with this deal the U.S. agreed to reciprocate and would not fly over some other areas in the country.
In essence, a new Sykes-Picot agreement has taken effect in the heart of Syria forming a de facto division. A more formal delineation is still needed.
Kerry has been spending months in Europe trying to craft a cease-fire deal to consolidate U.S. interests and influence in Syria versus those of Russia.
In terms of priorities, Russia wants Assad to remain in power and his opposition wiped out. The U.S. wants Daesh degraded and defeated. When it comes to Turkey, Ankara wants Assad to be removed from power, a new united Syria formed and Daesh defeated.
When the priorities of these three powers are put together, the equations look like this: If Russia and the U.S. ink a deal by making concessions to each other — that seems to be the case — Turkey could walk away empty-handed with Assad remaining in power and the PYD gaining autonomy in northern Syria.
On the other hand, without Turkey’s support, the U.S. has no chance against Daesh in Syria because Turkey controls a long border and has contributed greatly to the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition. It has also opened its Incirlik Air Base in the south to coalition aircraft.
Washington has to either convince Ankara about its strategy or, the U.S. needs to distract Turkey from the region to move forward, otherwise Turkey would not allow any deal that does not address its concerns.
That brings us back to overthrow attempt. Only a catastrophe the magnitude of a putsch could divert Turkey’s focus from Syria. And it seems to have succeeded.
The events of July 15 were a win-win game for Gulenist network and the U.S. But it was a zero-sum game in a Turkey-Gulenist combination because in either case Turkey’s attention would be distracted from the region, which is beneficial to the U.S.
If the coup had succeeded the government in Ankara would have been wiped out and Gulenists would be in control of Turkey.
The government in Ankara is now trying to clean the state of individuals linked to Gulen.
Since July 15, there has been hardly any mention about the Syrian war and no discussion of any developments there by Turkish officials.
As it stands, the attention is now on Erdogan and his efforts to purge the state of Gulenist supporters. Syria has been seemingly placed on the back burner.
Fundamental questions to ask after an overthrow are: who is the perpetrator? And who benefits?
Responses to these questions will shed light of other issues regarding the events leading up to and on July 15, including whether foreign interference played a role in the attempted overthrow of the democratically elected government in Ankara.