Lunar Night in the Constantinople, Ivan Aivazovsky (1862)

One of the theories that’s been going around Twitter since the tide started to turn in the coup in Turkey is that it was a false-flag operation. This has been a particularly popular theory on the right, but I’ve seen it elsewhere.

The crux is that if Erdogan wanted to consolidate power, he needs a pretext. A coup would provide the pretext. So something something, failed coup, more power for Erdogan!

Even if we grant that Erdogan is the villain that his critics believe (it’s not a stretch), it’s difficult to state how terrible a plan this would be. And it suggests a misunderstanding of the relationship between the President and the military. In the US, we have almost complete civilian control. Which is to say that the military is indisputably below the president in the hierarchy of power. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. This is one of those things that you learn in school while you’re going through, but you don’t necessarily see the importance of until cases like this arise.

For the most part, military action in Turkey seems to occur when there is agreement between the military and the President. The military considers itself answerable not to the president, or democracy. but to the founding spirit of Turkey or somesuch. Basically, it’s like how our military takes an oath the Constitution that means obeying the orders of the president, except in their case it doesn’t exactly mean obeying the orders of the president.

There are some rather zero-sum power dynamics involved here, though. Which is to say that the more powerful the military is, the less powerful the military is (and vice-versa). Which means that to pull this off, Erdogan would have to not only send its troops to die, but convince leavers to engage in a stage show that would, in the end, either leave them dead or in a best case less powerful. It’s not at all clear why the military would do this.

Further, if they are going to put themselves out there, they’re likely going to try to win because they don’t like the president. If their backs were against the wall and they had do to something, they might I guess, but at any point in the process they might actually just change their mind and go ahead and try for the coup. Which represents a risk for Erdogan that it seems very stupid to take.

All of this is further the long way around to meeting its goal. If Erdogan wants to create a crisis to consolidate power, all he really needs to do is stage an assassination attempt. Which itself is risky, but not as risky. It involved far fewer people. The risk of exposure is much lighter. You’re not putting yourself in a position that if the tide turns a particular way, they can go ahead and seize control of the government.

Or put another way, “Hey you, person who hates me, could you roll your tanks into Ankara as a part of a play-show that will give me the power to defeat you?” is not a good plan. It is a stupid one, and Erdogan isn’t stupid.

Category: Newsroom

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4 Responses to Actually, It Was Probably a Coup

  1. Michael Cain says:

    Prior to the amendments in 2010, the Turkish constitution provided explicit protections for the leaders of military coups. With that done, in 2012 some 300 officers were convicted of planning a coup and put in prison. Hundreds more will be purged this time. The AKP is within a few votes in parliament of having enough to refer a new constitution to the voters, which is likely to put the military under control of the president. Yeah, it was likely a real coup, but they waited a decade too long.

    Interesting to look at the voting maps — what’s going on is pretty clearly the Mediterranean coastal area and a couple of inland cities versus the rest of the country. Anti-globalism backlash again?

    • Peter says:

      Turkey’s Mediterranean coastal area traditionally had a significant amount of Greek and other European influence. Today it’s more secular and prosperous than the inland areas. Even the people tend to look more European than Middle Eastern.

  2. RTod says:

    What is it about the right and false flag conspiracy theories over the past decade or so?

    FF has gone from one in those things that only the fringiest players ever reach for — and then only years after the fact — to often the first theory floated when something bad not done by certain enemies occurs.

    Seriously, what caused this shift?

    • trumwill says:

      Wait, you’re in the middle of Dante’s Inferno and you’re spending time commenting here?!

      In this case, I think there is some motivated reasoning at work. A lot of the people pushing the False Flag narrative were pro-coup as it was breaking out. As it unfolded and turned out to have little popular support and threatened to come out really badly with the guy they hate empowered… well, turning this all back on Erdogan would relieve them of having supporting a thing that turned out so badly, now wouldn’t it?

      As to the more general, I think it has to do with the present lack of firewall on the right between the moderate to the severe to the extreme. I hear False Flag theories from the left (I heard some about Dallas, in fact!), but Democrats and mainstream liberals are really good about hearing a bad idea and knowing that it’s a bad idea that will reflect badly on them. For a variety of reasons, that firewall isn’t the right and if you’re out there saying what I said above, you get otherwise reasonable people wondering why you’re so sure.

      (Which, by the way, is happening to me right now. I wrote this in part as a very long subtweet against some twitter folks who were skeptical of my skepticism.)

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