By Mark Landler

New York Times News Service

Turkey takes extra powers to ‘protect and strengthen’ democracy

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared a three-month state of emergency Wednesday that gave the state extra powers to pass laws as authorities pursue individuals suspected of attempting to topple his government. The declaration followed the firing and suspension of tens of thousands of soldiers, educators and civil servants in recent days on suspicion of complicity in the failed coup last week. In a televised address Wednesday evening, Erdogan said the extra powers were needed to protect Turkey’s democracy, and he criticized Western nations who have accused his government of overreaching in its efforts to root out opponents.

— The New York Times

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to remember today that to President Barack Obama, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey once embodied a new kind of Muslim leader. Obama regarded him as “a man of principle, and also a man of action,” Tom Donilon, the president’s former national security adviser, said in 2011.

But when Erdogan began tilting in the direction of authoritarianism, ascending from prime minister to president and setting out to transform Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into a one-man system built around him, their once-intense relationship deteriorated. His frequent phone calls with Obama ended, and Erdogan has observed that they rarely speak anymore.

On Tuesday morning, the phone calls resumed. Obama called Erdogan to deliver what a senior administration official described as a “shout-out” for his resilience in the face of a failed coup attempt, and to express relief that the Turkish president and his family were safe.

Obama’s supportive words, even in the face of a state of emergency that Erdogan declared Wednesday and a crackdown that extended to banning every academic in the country from traveling abroad, testified to the stark reality the White House confronts with Turkey. Erdogan may now be a bitter disappointment to the president, but he is still better than any other option — and like it or not remains a linchpin in the campaign against the Islamic State and in a host of other critical issues.

For Obama, as for many of his predecessors, it is a familiar accommodation, struggling to square values and interests in the chaotic landscape of the Middle East. In Egypt, for example, the United States has tolerated a repressive military government in an effort to preserve another crucial alliance in the region.

“Whatever our concerns might be about the direction the Erdogan government is going — and there are legitimate concerns — nobody thinks that a military coup is a legitimate or sensible alternative,” said Philip Gordon, who coordinated Middle East policy on the National Security Council until 2015.

Had the coup succeeded, administration officials said, Turkey most likely would have plunged into a protracted period of instability, perhaps even civil war. That would have made it an even less reliable partner in the campaign against the Islamic State after the United States and its allies won the right last July to use Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to launch airstrikes against the group.

Those operations were halted when Turkish authorities cut off electricity to Incirlik, after it emerged that the base’s commander was linked to the coup plotters. U.S. officials said the operations had resumed, though they acknowledged that Turkey, and especially its military, would be preoccupied for the foreseeable future by the fallout from the attempted coup. The government has charged nearly 100 generals and admirals, and detained thousands of other officers, as Erdogan’s purge widens.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., spoke with Turkey’s chief of defense, Gen. Hulusi Akar. A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Gregory Hicks, said they had agreed to “continue a close U.S.-Turkey military-to-military partnership.”

During their phone call on the same day, administration officials said, Obama urged Erdogan to stay focused on the threat from the Islamic State.

“I think we don’t need to remind Turkey of that,” Brett McGurk, the president’s special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, told reporters. “They just suffered terrible attacks at Istanbul airport only a couple weeks ago with a number of suicide bombers.”

Although Obama has periodically warned Erdogan to curb his authoritarian tendencies — he called him in June 2013 after police cracked down brutally on protests in a park near Taksim Square in Istanbul — the president has generally delivered his criticisms in private. He is likely to do the same this time, analysts said, unless Erdogan begins executing people. It is a further reflection, they said, of the paucity of options open to Obama.

“We don’t really have a Plan B,” said Steven Cook, an expert on Turkey at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is what we’ve got, and we’re going to live with it.”

14539520