Even before the attempted July 15 coup in Turkey, there were severe strains between the government of President Tayyip Erdoğan and his NATO allies. From a European and North American point of view, the central challenge in the Fertile Crescent is Muslim extremism as exemplified in the rump “state” of ISIL and its terrorist attacks abroad. Turkey under the pro-Muslim Justice and Development Party (AKP) insisted instead on going its own way, obsessed with internal conspiracies, with overthrowing the Syrian government even if it meant arming and funding hard line fundamentalists, with annihilating the small PKK-Kurdish guerrilla movement, and with increasingly authoritarian control of domestic media and politics. In the aftermath of the failed putsch, Turkey-US relations are likely to reach a new low.
Appalled at the mass arrests or firings since Saturday of tens of thousands of judges, educators, bureaucrats, police, and military men, along with some apparent reprisal killings, Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Erdoğan that democracy and due process are requirements for NATO member states. Although most of those targeted probably had been under surveillance on suspicion of being lukewarm toward Erdoğan, all of them (they include 15,000 school teachers and 1,500 university deans) were a little unlikely to have been involved with the coup. Kerry was hinting that if the vengeful president went too far in disregarding the right of people to habeas corpus and fair trials, his country might be ejected from the treaty organization.
NATO was already annoyed with Turkey for recklessly shooting down a Russian bomber last fall, the pilots of which had been striking Al Qaeda–allied Turkish proxy guerrillas in northern Syria. Erdoğan seemed to expect NATO to support him if hostilities broke out between his country and Moscow, but he was firmly informed that he was on his own in that case. Turkey’s lukewarm attitude toward the need to roll up ISIL has been another source of friction.
For their part, AKP officials including Erdoğan and his prime minister, Binali Yildirim, demanded that the United States immediately extradite from Pennsylvania to Turkey the elderly Turkish cult leader Fethullah Gülen, head of the Hizmet or “service” movement with which perhaps 10 percent of Turks have some level of involvement. Erdoğan believes that Gülen has a secret Stalinist-style network of operatives who over the years have infiltrated the judiciary, police, and army in preparation for the staging of this coup. The Gülen true believers, a right-wing neo-Sufi group with a strong international presence, had been part of Erdoğan’s coalition before falling out with him in 2013. The US request for evidence of Gülen’s involvement of the coup infuriated AKP officials, who appear to think the United States can just set aside due process at the drop of a hat, the way it is done by Erdoğan in Turkey. Gülen emigrated to the United States in 1999, allegedly for a health treatment, but he was in any case under a cloud in then-secular Turkey because of accusations he was plotting to implement an Iran-style Islamic Republic there.