Turkish military’s influence rises again


The Wall Street Journal reports: After 13 years of being methodically marginalized during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tenure atop Turkish politics, the army is regaining its clout as the president sidelines his political rivals.

Turkey’s military, which has forced four civilian governments from power since 1960, is re-emerging as a pivotal actor alongside Mr. Erdogan, who has long viewed the army as a potentially dangerous adversary.

Mr. Erdogan’s moves to sideline political opponents — he forced out his handpicked prime minister this month amid a power struggle — has cleared the way for Turkey’s generals to play a greater role in shaping Mr. Erdogan’s attempts to extend his global influence.

Turkish generals are tempering Mr. Erdogan’s push to send troops into Syria, managing a controversial military campaign against Kurdish insurgents, and protecting Turkey’s relations with Western allies who view the president with suspicion. By steering clear of politics, they re-emerged as a central player in national security decisions.

“The Turkish military is the only agent that wants to put on the brakes and create checks-and-balances against Erdogan,” said Metin Gurcan, a former Turkish military officer who now works as an Istanbul-based security analyst.

It is in Syria where the military is most clearly acting as a check on the president. When Mr. Erdogan last year debated sending Turkish forces into Syria to set up a safe zone for those fleeing the fighting, military leaders expressed strong reservations, former Turkish officials and allies of Mr. Erdogan said. That, they said, helped put the idea on hold.

The debate returned last week when Mr. Erdogan threatened to send Turkish troops into Syria to end weeks of Islamic State rocket attacks on a Turkish border town.

Sending large numbers of combat troops into Syria is still a hard sell for the military, allies of Mr. Erdogan and U.S. officials said. If Turkey were to act without the support of the U.S. and its other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, the military fears its soldiers could be bombed by Russian jets and would face international condemnation.

“This is a very realistic headquarters. They know what Turkey’s armed forces are capable of. They’re not adventurous,” said Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst with the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, a Turkish think tank.

The Turkish military and Mr. Erdogan’s press office both declined to discuss their relationship.

The restoration of the Turkish army’s influence has resurrected concerns all the way up to the presidential palace that generals might try to topple Mr. Erdogan, a polarizing figure whose extensive crackdown on domestic dissent has triggered alarm in Western capitals, according to people familiar with the matter. [Continue reading…]

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