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A Very Predictable Coup?

The military coup in Turkey last weekend started on Friday and consisted of attempts to take over government buildings and key infrastructure. The coup drew mostly on troops from the gendarmerie and the air force and was led by mid-level generals and colonels. There were some initial successes but by early Saturday morning it was clear that the government had prevailed. By Sunday nearly 6,000 arrests of alleged plotters had taken place with more certain to follow.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed a crackdown on the military and also the judiciary and has blamed the coup on arch foe Fethullah Gulen, who resides in exile in Pennsylvania. Analysts believe that defeating the coup has greatly increased Erdogan’s authority and he will be able to consolidate his power by altering the country’s constitution, which, given the sense of crisis in Turkey due to the coup and the recent terrorist attack in Istanbul, is likely to succeed. And due process for the alleged coup plotters under the present circumstances is likely to be limited. They reportedly will be charged with treason. Erdogan will be able to clean house and consolidate his power.

There is inevitably a counter narrative which I and a number of Turkey-watchers who have networked to discuss recent developments are inclined to believe. As full disclosure, I will admit that all of us are established critics of the autocratic and Islamist direction being pursued by Erdogan’s government over the past three years.

First of all, though it is not a major issue, none of us believes that Gulen was behind the coup. It is convenient for Erdogan to blame his principal opponent because it will facilitate the arrests of any and all opponents not linked to the actual coup by claiming that they are Gulenists. Erdogan has become adept at jailing opponents, often journalists, on trumped up charges to include treason and this time around will be no different. The process has already begun with the detention of a number of military officers and judges and will no doubt be expanded as more enemies are identified.


Second, nearly all of us believe that the coup was basically a set-up. Erdogan and his government have been warning for months about the possibility of a coup, so the event itself should surprise no one. It is now certain that there was a coup in fact being plotted, apparently supported mostly by Kemalists in the military who advocate a secular state and are alarmed by aspects of Erdogan’s foreign policy, including his collaboration with terrorist groups and hostility towards Russia and Syria. There was also likely an element of concern over the deteriorating Turkish economy with European fear of terrorism wrecking the tourism industry, an issue linked to Ankara’s meddling in Syria and Erdogan’s personal vendetta against the leading Kurdish political party the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Many observers and even government officials when speaking off the record have also criticized the Erdogan-driven breakdown in the truce that up until recently prevailed with the domestic Kurdish minority and its armed wing the PKK.

The coup plotters probably erred in their assumption that there was wide support at senior levels in the Turkish military for a coup. The generals, who once would have been natural opponents of Erdogan’s ambitions, had been severely punished in their first encounter [1] with the then prime minister in 2010-11. A series of show trials claiming that the senior officers were involved in plotting against the government based on very flimsy evidence removed many upper ranks, replacing them gradually with Erdogan loyalists. Many of the officers so convicted have only recently been released from prison but, having been out of power for years, they have not retained any ability to take action against the government.

The coup plotters may have approached one or more of the new Erdogan-appointed generals, without whose support a coup could not succeed, expecting a sympathetic hearing. In all likelihood, they were received cordially but the senior officer immediately reported their overture to the president, setting the stage for a trap.

The rest followed course somewhat as planned. The plotters heard from sympathizers in the judiciary or police that they would soon be arrested so they started the coup before their plans were complete and almost caught the government by surprise. They were few in number so they must have hoped that they would be joined by others. They were not successful and loyal army and police units quickly organized to resist them. Erdogan also was able to call on his civilian supporters to take to the streets and gather at the airport in Istanbul. The results were predictable and the coup was crushed. Erdogan will now reap the political benefits. He is also demanding the extradition of Gulen from the United States and the Obama Administration is reported to be considering the request.

One other aspect of the coup has caused some confusion. Early on it was alleged without any evidence that the plotters were dismayed by recent Erdogan government overtures to Russia and Syria to restore normal relations. That is a complete misreading of developments, as the Turkish military has long been reluctant to support any operations in Syria and, in general, is opposed to any initiatives outside Turkey’s borders. During a brief takeover of Turkish television the coup leaders referred to [2] their movement as a “peace council.” The generals have their hands full with the internal Kurdish and refugee problems and are most definitely not encouraging taking on anything new.

One might also add to changes vis-à-vis Russia and Syria the recent rapprochement with Israel. Turkey’s economy is in bad shape and its international standing has been gravely damaged by Erdogan’s foreign and domestic policies. Opinion polls have been suggesting that the Turkish public is blaming Erdogan directly for the decline in employment and income as well as for the terrorism problem. The shift in policy to mend fences with a number of countries has been a response to that concern and is unrelated to the discontent within the Turkish military.

So the aborted military coup has become a great victory for President Erdogan. It remains to be seen how exactly he will exploit it, but it is certain that he will use it as a pretext for expanding his own powers. To those who object to the notion that the Turkish president would kill his own soldiers to advance his political agenda, one might note that he was considering doing so in 2014 to create a pretext [3] for war with Syria. Consequently the question whether Erdogan might actually have helped set up the coup in a version of a false flag operation is certainly intriguing and must be considered. It should be taken into account by the White House before contemplating bending to any demands from Ankara to extradite Gulen or any of his associates.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "A Very Predictable Coup?"

#1 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 18, 2016 @ 7:02 am

All commenters, Left and Right, here in Europe, point out how it’s unthinkable for a faction of the Turkish army to stage a coup without a signal of assent from the US.
The first reaction from Kerry was very unsympathetic to the supposedly deposed Erdogan. When people took to the street and it was evident that the soldiers weren’t going to shoot their fellow citizen, the White House issued a reluctant condemnation of the coup. I take this as a signal that the US was looking benignly at the golpistas.
It’s very possible, as you say, that rather than a staged coup this was a true one – a not-so-well organized one – which Erdogan decided not to suffocate beforehand because it was useful for his purposes: Erdogan’s tears at his friend’s funeral may not be only of mourning, but also of guilt.
In this case, if the the US gave their assent to the coup, in whatever form, played right into the hands of Erdogan.

#2 Comment By Jim Bovard On July 18, 2016 @ 8:33 am

Excellent piece. I hope this gets reposted far & wide.

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On July 18, 2016 @ 8:34 am

I should have emphasized that the Erdogan government has moved very quickly within the first twenty-four hours to arrest thousands, possibly as many as 7,500 as of this morning. Though many of those arrested are soldiers detained en masse the toll suggests that the government had a prepared list of regime enemies. If it had a prepared list it possibly had prior knowledge, though it is also possible that Erdogan’s office maintained an enemies list that was regularly being updated. Either way Erdogan is no innocent.

I do not believe the US government had prior knowledge of the coup attempt or in any way participated. It would have felt obligated to warn Erdogan. Nevertheless, I am sure that many in Washington would have been delighted to see Erdogan gone!

#4 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 18, 2016 @ 10:13 am

Nevertheless, I am sure that many in Washington would have been delighted to see Erdogan gone!

And they would have been wrong to.
In our times of turmoil the destabilization of Turkey can have unpredictable and dire consequences. Turkey is as democratic as it can be, given its history: let’s live with it.
Or do we want another failed state, this time on the Bosphorus, a jihadi highway to Europe?

#5 Comment By Bob K. On July 18, 2016 @ 10:25 am

He will continue his support of ISIS after Obama leaves office. Christians in the area will be in even bigger danger than they are now. And he will start preparations for a war with the Kurds.

#6 Comment By JohnG On July 18, 2016 @ 10:36 am

@Phillip, if what Giuseppe is suggesting is correct, why would the US government feel obligated to warn Erdogan?

I do find the scenario presented in the article more likely but one never knows.

It could also be a “dance” by both sides in which Erdogan indeed did what you described but the US chooses to ignore what we knew about the coup in the making. If it works fine, if not it’s a signal to Erdogan. He can now continue down his path and risk alienating the US, effectively inviting a civil war (Kurds, secularists) or fall back in line.

My prediction: Major reshuffling of the ME, as Turkey is now definitely lost as a reliable Western/NATO springboard.

#7 Comment By IceyFrance On July 18, 2016 @ 12:24 pm

Wonder how Trump would/will respond to this situation? Also wonder whom he would consult.

#8 Comment By Philip Giraldi On July 18, 2016 @ 12:55 pm

JohnG – I assure you that the US government would warn any NATO head of state if it were to receive information about a possible coup. That’s just the way it is and any conjecture involving a conspiracy theory including CIA is nonsense. And Giuseppe is wrong about Turkey being “as democratic as it can be.” That is demeaning to Turks and it is not true. Turkey is being turned into an Islamist based autocracy by Mr. Erdogan.

#9 Comment By Marco On July 18, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

Their are three reasons why Erdogan has staged this coup.1.Rezza Zarrab case that is going to take place in New York next month August. Rezza Zarrab an Iranian business man and Turkish national, broke the embargo placed on Iran, and funnelled billions of dollars and gold through Turkey, with the help of the AKP Turkish government. Erdogan and his family inherited most their wealth from this event, and Rezza will spill the beans in the coming months with many government officials involved in corruption. Erdogn has called the US an enemy of Turkey if they do not hand over Gulen. 2.It is becoming more evident that Turkey is moving towards stronger relations with Russian and moving further away from the west.As Erdogan has no Evidence on Gulen, the US will not hand him over, Then Erdogan will tell hiss followers that the US was always our enemy and turn to Russia.3. Turkey is heading towards losing its membership with Nato,becoming a second Syria and isolating them self from the west. AKP is developing a radical Isis like understanding amongst its supporters and Erdogän is fuelling this behaviour as no investigation to the beheading a of a soldier yet.

#10 Comment By Richard Waze On July 18, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

The coup is real. It failed because the foot soldiers sent to do the fighting didn’t know they were participating in a coup – they were just following orders. So when push came shove and they had to mow down unarmed civilians with machine guns – they surrendered instead. There was also lack of ruthlessness at the top – when instead of killing top figures not participating in the coup – like the head of the army – they backed off. They also missed some opportunities to kill Erdogan personally – which have made a change of power fait acoompli even in the event the coup fails.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 18, 2016 @ 1:44 pm

“Or do we want another failed state, this time on the Bosphorus, a jihadi highway to Europe?”

But Turkey has been the linchpin for covert support of ISIS by the West, Erdogan himself an anti-democratic Isamist dictator. Apparently NATO has no issue with membership of a dictatorship as part of the bogus “freedom agenda.”

#12 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On July 18, 2016 @ 7:33 pm

–sorry if this is a repost. It looks like my combox keeps eating comments–


But Turkey has been the linchpin for covert support of ISIS by the West, Erdogan himself an anti-democratic Isamist dictator. Apparently NATO has no issue with membership of a dictatorship as part of the bogus “freedom agenda.”

The point is, democracy is a worthy goal, but given the objective condition of the world, destabilizing a country is the worst thing one could do. Erdogan is someone one could negotiate with. He’s a supposedly rational counterparty, not a crazy self-appointed “Caliph” living in a nihilist nightmare.
If only for humanitarian considerations, fostering civil wars for the sake of “democracy”, just because we don’t like Erdogan, would be irresponsible.


Giuseppe is wrong about Turkey being “as democratic as it can be.” That is demeaning to Turks and it is not true. Turkey is being turned into an Islamist based autocracy by Mr. Erdogan.

I mean given the current historical conditions, of course. Turkey has always been a limited democracy, previously under military tutelage and now under Erdogan strongmanship.
What are the realistic alternatives on the table? One doesn’t need to like Erdogan – and I certainly don’t like him – to see that there’s none right now besides the collapse of the Turkish state and more chaos in the region.

#13 Comment By Chris On July 18, 2016 @ 11:04 pm

Vietnam, in the fall of 1963, was the last time the US green-lighted a strike at a regime. (And by green-lighted I mean the Kennedy administration signaled it would not abandon the generals if they succeeded in ousting Diem.) The idea that Obama knew about and gave an Ok to this third-rate effort is risible.

#14 Comment By enjoy On July 19, 2016 @ 5:25 am

i dont agree with Richard Waze ,
i also believe the coup is staged coup which arranged to give more power to erdogan ,
turkish press agency gives as news the coup has been informed to army by intelligence service of turkey at 15:00 pm and meeting has started very funny the coup start at 21pm and it start on the bridge . it takes 2 another hours for second action which is funny also to tv channel . same tv channel allowed normal broadcasting against coup soon after coup announcement .
question how turkey which has strong police power can not stop this before the action ? or on the bridge ? and why instead of police the president call help from normal public which increased the flame and shows weakness of government ?
the best question that has to be answered should be how can even one parliament member can not be captured by coup group forget the president or prime minister ?

time gives the best answer and all truths will come out in soon .

hope turkey never seen again any coup even the staged coup … i am totally against all kind of military coup in any country .

#15 Comment By Kiza On July 19, 2016 @ 5:58 am

It is my personal belief that US was not involved in this coup. Also, this is not a Gullen coup either. We just need to keep in mind that the Turkish intelligence service MIT is the hot bed of Erdogan and AKP support, Erdogan’s Jesuit order. We also need to keep in mind that this coup was not determined (prepared to do anything necessary) and was very poorly organised, which means that not the right individuals were involved. The AKP supporters who came out on the streets were more vicious than the soldiers with guns. Therefore, the most likely scenario is the following: MIT encouraged the coup by the lower ranking individuals in the military who were known to disagree with Erdogan and AKP. In other words, it was a semi-false-flag, which failed the moment Erdogan’s plane was shot-down. Just imagine a coup target freely flying back in the midst of the military coup!?!? Obviously part of the military brass was controlled by MIT and was ready to limit the achievements of the coup. It was a risky move by Erdogan, but not difficult to pull off.

#16 Comment By alexander On July 19, 2016 @ 10:28 am

Great article, Mr.Giraldi.

This “coup” seemed so poorly managed from the get-go, one can only conclude it was a “faux coup” designed by Erdogan to preempt a possible bona fide insurrection that may well have been in the early planning stages.

Erdogan took these preemptive steps to consolidate his autocratic power.

By staging this event to clean out his judiciary, military, and governmental houses of those who posed a threat to his new found dictatorial aims, he was able to both eliminate his enemies from within, and strengthen his fascistic stranglehold on the state apparatus.

A sad day for Turkey, and a sad day for humanity.

#17 Comment By JohnG On July 19, 2016 @ 11:20 am

Forgive me for being cynical and having what I believe to be a more realistic view of the messy world we live in.

First off, we seldom deal with perfect info, much of it is indications, chatter, etc. I am not saying this is necessarily THE truth, but it seems perfectly plausible for State Dept, various agencies, and indeed potus to figure our that Erdogan is cracking down on the military and that there is chatter of a possible coup in response. And decide to do nothing for the time being. Especially given that Erdogan hasn’t generated much goodwill in Washington.

Please don’t impute some conspiracy to this view, I haven’t said anything about the US organizing or helping the coup. Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have seen multiple coups, I find it hard to believe that this has taken us by total surprise every time.

#18 Comment By Eileen Kuch On July 19, 2016 @ 5:10 pm

I don’t believe that Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin, would accept a reconciliation with Turkey and its Dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We must remember, Putin came to the aid of Syria’s President – Bashar al-Assad – in his war against ISIS, whom Erdogan still supports.
Putin still highly distrusts Erdogan, with good reason. It was Erdogan who ordered the shoot-down of a Russian SU-24 fighter-bomber well inside Syrian airspace as it was conducting bombing operations on ISIS and its facilities. Yes, the Turkish dictator eventually apologized; however, it was both a few months too late and was insincere.