Turkey: 6,000 arrested following coup, but that doesn't make it an inside job

The failed military coup in Turkey was bizarre, even (especially) by the standards of Turkish military coups (which is a surprisingly large data-set), and in the wake of the coup, 6,000 people were promptly rounded up and arrested including respected judges, powerful military leaders, prosecutors, and a whole list of others whose names seem to have been put on an enemies list long before any coup.

To the extent that a coup can be said to have irregularities, this coup had many of them: many of the soldiers who fought police and blockaded bridges say that they were told they participating in a training exercise and didn't realize there was a coup; president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent a mass-text to the entire nation's cellphones calling for their support, signed by T.C. State; and in the wake of the coup, the liberal opposition to Erdogan's brutal authoritarianism are in retreat, while hard-liners patrol the streets, frightening moderates, attacking people for drinking alcohol and participating in other kinds of secular activity.

It's not controversial to say that the coup allowed Erdogan to consolidate power. It's also well-known that Erdogan himself is a flamboyantly corrupt, self-dealing, censoring, brutal, thin-skinned (no, more thin-skinned than that) thug, who presides over a corrupt family dynasty.

But that doesn't mean that he was behind the coup.

Occam's Razor tells us that the least complicated explanation is the most likely to be true. So, consider two hypotheses:

1. Erdogan staged a coup, somehow staging 300 livestreams and convincing (or tricking) people who genuinely hated him and had pledged themselves to his downfall to cooperate; or

2. The coup was indeed the work of a small faction in the military (which is shot through with officers who've staged coup after coup for decades), who cannily believed that they could trick the military rank and file into participating by telling them it was an exercise (or whose supporters sought to escape culpability by claiming they thought it was an exercise), but who underestimated the popular support for an authoritarian strongman and lost the fight.

That second explanation is the simpler of the two, but it doesn't explain the 6,000 enemies who were quickly rounded up and purged following the coup's defeat. For that, you need another wrinkle:

2. a) Erdogan is a well-prepared opportunist. He assumed that, from time to time, significant events would occur in Turkish or world politics that would shock his people and create the space to consolidate power and eliminate his enemies. Accordingly, he drew up plans for such an occasion.

It isn't much of a stretch to imagine that Erdogan would have prepared himself for this kind eventuality: it takes very little imagination to anticipate that crisis will occur in Turkey, a country that shares a border with Syria; a country that is embroiled in a protracted dealmaking exercise with the EU to warehouse regional refugees; a country with a longstanding, powerful Islamist opposition; a country with another longstanding liberal/democratic opposition that staged a high-profile uprising in calling for democratic reforms that was only put down after brutal state action; a country that has been rocked by more than its share of bloody terrorist attacks. Indeed, it's hard to imagine that Erdogan doesn't live each day as if it might end in chaos.

After 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, I watched the "truther" movement emerge -- people convinced that GW Bush and his establishment planned the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon and used them as a pretense to introduce authoritarian legislation, to build massive civil-service spy- and security-empires, to line the pockets of their military-industrial complex buddies.

It always felt to me like part of the truther pitch was that 9/11 as an inside job was proof of just how depraved the Bushies were. But I think that they missed the big picture: if you want to imagine depravity, imagine instead that people in the Bush camp sat down one day and said, "A disaster will someday strike out land, killing thousands and traumatising millions. We don't know what that disaster will be, but it's an unstable world, and so the disaster itself is foretold. We need to prepare for that day -- not by stockpiling medical supplies or sandbags or emergency shelters or vaccines -- but by writing a 342-page bill that seizes all the legislative ground we know we could never win in a legitimate debate. While our families are reeling and in pain, we will use this bill to consolidate power for decades to come."

The 342-page Patriot Act didn't get written in the handful of days between the terrorist attacks and its introduction (if it was, it was the fastest act of legislative authorship in American history). It was already sitting in a drawer, waiting to be introduced whatever came. If you want to indict GW Bush and his pals for depravity, you don't need to speculate that they were complicit in the attacks; you get all the way to the indictment and conviction just by realizing that they prepared for a national tragedy by drafting plans to enrich themselves and push their agenda.

By the same token, when New Zealand MP Simon Power pushed through his extremist copyright legislation as a rider to the emergency bill to mobilize relief for victims of the Christchurch earthquake, it doesn't tell you that he caused the quake or sabotaged the buildings: just that when the people he was elected to serve were dying in the rubble, his first impulse was to serve his offshore corporate masters. You get all the way to "Simon Power is a depraved monster" without ever having to impute responsibility for the disaster itself to him.

Erdogan's 6,000-person enemies list doesn't tell you that he staged the coup -- it just tells you that he's a strongman who's been sharpening his knives for people who oppose him for many years, and that he's an opportunist who will have no compunctions about using those knives when the time comes.

Turkish soldiers deny involvement in coup plot, told it was a ‘drill’ – report [Sarah Chappell/Euronews]

After the Coup Attempt, the Everyday Resumes [Jussi Parikka]

Turkey government seemed to have list of arrests prepared: EU's Hahn [Robert-Jan Bartunek/Reuters]

(Image: Erdogan gesturing Rabia, R4BIA.com, PD)