Isolationist coup and the need for a JFK in Turkey

The shocking revelation that came out with the latest comprehensive coup action plan, dubbed “Sledgehammer,” exposed once again in more blunt terms how strong the anti-foreign sentiment was among certain factions within the Turkish military. They were trying to turn the clock backward in a globally integrated world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

It was developed to stage full-scale war against anything that might be associated with minorities, conservatives, foreign investors, international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, the US and the European Union. The plotters apparently devised a scheme to turn the clock back to the Stone Age in the country with no regard whatsoever to consequences. They planned to nationalize all assets in the country, kick foreign investors out and freeze all debt payments.

Let’s glance at what was noted in the would-be coup-stagers’ “to-do list.” First of all, the clear characteristic of the coup was against the principles of the liberal market in Turkey. They wanted to nationalize companies deemed to be of vital interest to the country in the eyes of a so-called national unity government, to be established after the successful completion of the plan.

All banking and financial operations were to be halted until further notice, and military officers would be appointed as the managers of banks and financial institutions. Foreign companies and individuals in Turkey would be prevented from sending the money in their accounts abroad. Bank accounts belonging to minorities would be seized. Similar actions would also be taken against stocks owned by foreigners.

The wrath of coup plotters would target interest-free banks that operate under the Islamic guidelines in Turkey, and their assets would be turned over to the Treasury. It is worth noting that most of these banks are owned by Middle Eastern and specifically Gulf countries. Currency exchange rates would be controlled, and the Turkish lira would be protected. All interest payments, domestic or foreign, would be declared null and void while capital payments would be deferred until further notice. The new government would authorize the printing of more money to repay the debt if necessary.

All agreements with international financial regulatory institutions such as the IMF would be cancelled to acquire full economic independence. The coup government would also seize privatized state enterprises and nationalize them again just like what happened during the establishment the republic. All economic ties with Middle Eastern countries including Iran and the Gulf states would be frozen and existing agreements would be re-examined.

The coup plotters would target global corporations as well. International companies operating in Turkey as a subsidiary or a joint venture would be nationalized. All major corporations in Turkey would be required to include military officers on their board of directors.

The European funds allocated for so-called missionary activities would be seized. A new law would be enacted immediately to trace the origin of wealth for individuals to pave the way for seizing their assets if the justification is not found to be convincing. The taxes on luxury goods and assets would be increased to provide financing for new investment.

The military government further contemplated backtracking from all obligations to the EU and promised to re-evaluate existing agreements under a new nationalistic vision. It would have accused Western powers of trying to break up Turkey by using the EU, the IMF and the World Bank. The plan envisaged the abolishment of all private universities and colleges in Turkey as well and advocated the nationalization of all existing ones.

The detailed 5,000-page action plan reads like a movie script and has almost no grasp of the reality of today’s world. The chief of general staff, while at least partially confirming the authenticity, claims the plan was just a scenario and was never meant to be put into action. The General Staff denies the details of the plan. Many in Turkey, however, beg to differ considering the track record of factions in the military who have ousted the democratically elected government four times in the last five decades.

I think it is past time to clean house in the Turkish military. We must ensure that no officers will dream of staging a coup against the civilian government and that they will strictly adhere to the rules of military conduct and fight external challenges, not imaginary domestic threats and trumped up charges.

Even though we give the chief of general staff the benefit of the doubt and assume that the top brass was not aware of this vicious plot, that still does not absolve them from their obligation and responsibility. The scheme was happening under their watch, and the buck stops with them. They have to do the right thing here.

Let’s look at an American example from 1962, when a similar secret plan, codenamed Operation Northwoods, was developed to deliberately cause civilian casualties to justify the invasion of Cuba. It reminds us of a scenario at the center of the Sledgehammer coup plot that would have orchestrated the shooting down of one of our F-16 fighters over the Aegean Sea, with blame placed squarely on the Greeks in an effort to incite hostility.

The secret US plan was drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with input from CIA Director Allen Dulles. The proposal was signed by then-Chairman Lyman Lemnitzer, and sent to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. It proposed actions like: “We could blow up a US ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba,” “We could develop a Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” and “casualty lists in US newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation.”

The plan was never implemented. President John F. Kennedy personally rejected the proposal. He removed Lemnitzer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly afterward. After the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy fired Dulles and two of his deputies as well.

I guess we have to wait and see who will fit the profile of Kennedy in Turkey in bringing the military in line with democratic principles.

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