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Why the United States and the West Can’t Win With Turkey

Examining the perfectly closed loops of circular Islamist thinking.

August 18, 2016

Examining the perfectly closed loops of circular Islamist thinking.

With regard to recent events in Turkey, this should be the headline the world over: “The West denounces the coup but gets the blame for it anyway.”

Completely contrary to the claims by Mr. Erdogan now, Western governments on the night of the attempted coup immediately jumped to his defense. It was done as a matter of democratic principle – an unshakable belief in standing united against military coups.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, even proceeded to stoop to the low point of advocating “proportionality” in view of Erdogan’s budding counter-coup.

When Mr. Erdogan removed all stops and silenced any and every journalist, lawyer or prosecutor who ever failed in the tiniest bit to abide his master’s voice, Merkel effectively asked Erdogan not to overdo it.

That, at a time when Erdogan moved far beyond the Gülenists, and decided to remove all remnants of opposition in Turkish society, is a very meek response from the leader of a major Western democracy.

Especially a leader like Merkel who is a self-avowed lover of freedom and resents totalitarianism in all its forms.

One needs to remember that the Gülenists, until recently, were Mr. Erdogan’s buddies, while he never had anything but disgust for secular journalists and any lawyer who believes that all human beings are created equal before the law.

Democracy vs Totalitarianism

It is typical of totalitarians to turn on their own closest allies and purge them most sharply. Totalitarians know that their allies could use the same methods and more calmly subdue the traditional parties.

The point where the West ultimately decided not to be a silent bystander any longer was when it started resisting Erdogan’s demands for unquestioning immediate extraditions and for a “carte blanche” in dealing with the aftermath of the coup.

From that moment on, the clash was preordained: On one side were representatives of Western democracy and on the other side a man determined to practice his increasingly totalitarian — i.e. ideological, transformative, movement-party, party-state, and mobilizational — brand of democracy.

This clash does, at long last, give Erdogan a seeming confirmation, however illogical, for his accusations against the West.

But the irony is that the West had to be pushed, tugging and screaming, into this role of a critic of the counter-coup. And it is still playing the role half-heartedly.

But what about Turkey’s opposition parties? They are the ones who might have benefited from a successful coup. Their denunciation of the coup was a self-protective instinct.

They knew the regime was going to accuse them of supporting the coup. With their extremely accommodating stance toward Mr. Erdogan, they hope to fend off AK Party operatives’ efforts to lump them together with the coup and punish them along with whomever else Erdogan plans to punish.

Whatever the intention, in practice this approach by the opposition seems not to have worked well, given the scope of the purge.

What about America?

There is an inner logic to why many, probably most, Turks blame the coup on the United States of America. In a perfect case of circular thinking, they think America should have supported the coup. Given that they now can’t make sense of the thought that the United States didn’t, only firms up their convictions.

The more the United States does the opposite of what Turks, and especially Erdogan supporters expect, the more they are sure that America must be plotting something nefarious.

For in their view, it is Turkey – always Turkey – that is innocent (and, by extension, the injured and righteously aggrieved party). Those nations that do not simply fall into line Mr. Erdogan has in mind for them are bad actors.

There is an explanation for this. Islamists, in Turkey as elsewhere, form their identity largely against Western power and influence. A vast amount of their reasoning and rhetoric is constructed around this opposition.

That is no secret. Accordingly, in a spectacular display of closed loop thinking, they now deduce that America must be opposing them in return and has to want a coup.

Popular assumptions

This is in its own way an iron-clad logical deduction, given the kinds of minor premises that they frequently express, namely that:

  • The West runs the world
  • It is behind virtually everything that goes on
  • It knows what it is doing
  • It acts selfishly in its own interest
  • It combats its enemies
  • It knows the Islamists are its enemies, and
  • It wouldn’t help its enemies just for the sake of sticking to some principles it proclaims.

Some of these points sound like halfway reasonable premises, some sound paranoid, such as the oft-heard attribution to the United States of near-omnipotence, omniscience and omni-malevolence. (The astute reader will notice that these are the attributes of the devil.)

But they fail to allow for a sociological reality that the Islamic nationalists are themselves well aware of within their own country, namely that:

  • Every society has its liberal and radical intellectuals
  • Not all liberals and radicals are deeply loyal to their country’s power and interests
  • Some of them actually see their country as part of the problem in the world, and take pride in ignoring national interests for the sake of principle.

This sociological fact goes far toward explaining the things that look incongruous in U.S. foreign policy. In a variation on Mark Twain’s dictum about Richard Wagner’s music (“It’s not as bad as it sounds”), U.S. foreign policy certainly has its dark sides, but they are nowhere near as dark as Islamists like to cast them.

Unperturbed and with great conviction and zeal, they prefer to plow past this inconvenient fact and go ahead with their deduction that America’s contradictions to its interests must be a clever scheme for deception.

That, in the perfect conclusion of this spectacular act of circular thinking, has them assured that the U.S. government must in reality be doing what they accuse it of doing, and what it denies doing.


The headline world over on Turkey should be: “West denounces coup, gets blame for it anyway.”

Turkey’s opposition parties’ denunciation of the coup was a self-protective instinct.

Islamists, in Turkey as elsewhere, form their identity largely against Western power & influence.

US foreign policy certainly has its dark sides, but they are not as dark as Islamists like to cast them.