Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 7:12 AM

Hail, Erdogan – Latter-Day Sultan of Turkey

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

If you harbored any doubts about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s dictatorial predilection, the referendum he orchestrated on Sunday should disabuse you of them.

A defiant Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the West’s ‘crusader mentality’ on Monday after European monitors criticized a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers, won with a narrow victory laying bare the nation’s divisions. …

The president survived a coup attempt last year and responded with a crackdown, jailing 47,000 people and sacking or suspending more than 120,000 from government jobs such as schoolteachers, soldiers, police, judges or other professionals.

The changes could keep him in power until 2029 or beyond, making him easily the most important figure in Turkish history since state founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk built a modern nation from the ashes of the Ottoman empire after World War One.

(Reuters, April 17, 2017)

If you harbored any doubts about US President Donald Trump’s dictator envy, the public show he made of congratulating Erdogan should disabuse you of them.

President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions. …

The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency.

(New York Times, April 17, 2017)

Trump’s congratulation is especially damning when juxtaposed with the fact that other Western leaders were so troubled by the conduct and outcome of this referendum, they offered more admonition than congratulation.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Turkey’s leaders to address concerns about their country’s referendum on a new constitution and open talks with opponents, most of whom have disputed the vote’s legitimacy.

Ms Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel, her foreign minister, said in a joint statement on Monday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s narrow victory in Sunday’s vote revealed the depth of divisions within Turkey. Her statement came as election observers said the referendum did not meet Council of Europe’s standards, and was carried out unfairly.

(Financial Times, April 17, 2017)

Hell, even the godfather of “democratic dictatorships,” Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sensible enough to congratulate Erdogan only on the down low.

To be fair, it appears Trump failed to read the script his foreign-policy team wrote for his call with Erdogan. Mind you, this blunder is understandable; not least because Trump is so clearly inclined to govern by executive order (a.k.a. presidential decree), which is how any democratic dictator worth his salt would … rule.

In any case, this forced White House staffers to follow up with an official statement, which duly expressed the US government’s misgivings about the conduct and outcome of Erdogan’s referendum.

Of course, such blunders are becoming a feature of his presidency. This is why political and business leaders worldwide are beginning to treat him like a crazy uncle, who is liable to say anything. Instead, they are looking to his cabinet secretaries to explain official US policies.

Just days ago, for example, this crazy old fool had Navy officials “baffled” with his atavistic boast about sending an “Armada” to force North Korean President Kim Jong-un to “behave himself.” They were baffled because they knew the fleet he was referring to was in fact headed in the opposite direction – for long-scheduled military exercises off the coast of Australia. This forced Pentagon staffers to follow up with an official statement, trying to spin this blunder into a sensible commander-in-chief command.

In Trump world, these gaffes and blunders make him look crazy like a fox. In the real world, they make him look reckless like a bull in a china shop. But I digress …

It just so happens that – in “Turkey: Bungled Coup Fails. Grave Purge Begins,” July 16, 2016 – I presaged what no less a person than Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is now decrying as Erdogan’s “creeping authoritarianism.”


When news of it broke yesterday, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a single commentator condemning this coup, especially early on when it seemed a fait accompli.

They rationalized it as due comeuppance for the democratically elected Erdogan – who they claimed was ruling Turkey more like a sultan than a president. They also cited his fraternization with Islamists as evidence of his betrayal of the global fight against ISIS and its eschatological ideology, and his Islamization of Turkey’s secular culture to make it more like Saudi Arabia’s.

Truth be told, almost every criticism ever hurled at him is true. But none of it justifies a coup. …

Erdogan’s fixation on settling scores, no matter how irrational, explains why so many Turks took to the streets to defend democracy, not to support him. Except that, if they thought he was a dictator in democratic garb before, they have just emboldened him to reveal his true colors – with all of the repression of civil liberties that portends. …

Good luck, Turkey! Your struggle for democracy is far from over.


I fear this referendum has effectively put that struggle for democracy out of its misery. Ironically, only a (successful) military coup can save Turkish democracy now.

Hail, Erdogan.

Related commentaries:
Bungled coup

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