The USA's relations with coups have always been a problematic issue. The US government’s relationship particularly with the coups in the Middle East and Latin America has been a popular research question among journalists, academics, politicians, and directors. The question marks are also valid for the United State’s relation to coups in Turkey. While many questions regarding the 1960 coup remained unanswered, the relation with the 1980 coup began to be articulated more overtly.
Twenty years after the 1980 coup, the coup’s general Kenan Evren was asked by then US Secretary of State Gen. Haig why the army was too late, which did not surprise anyone. Of course, the junta regime formed after the 1980 coup tried to be legitimized in the context of the Cold War period on a global scale despite all the violations of rights. The same approach was adopted in many Latin American countries, particularly in Chile. For the United States, what really mattered was the country’s foreign policy orientations’ alignment with the US global policies rather than the regime. In following periods, senior US officers of that time underlined the importance of ending the turbulence in Turkey and stabilizing the country for regional and international security.
The US government’s approach to coups and military interventions did not radically change after the Cold War period came to an end. With regard to the Feb. 28, 1997 memorandum issued in Turkey, which was named a “postmodern coup” by the coup plotters themselves, the USA and the West could not display the principled stance which was expected of them. A democratically elected government was forced to resign with the support of military jurisdiction and the media, and oppressive amendments were made in the laws by the National Security Council (MGK), none of which met any serious criticism by the West. Moreover, some circles spoke as if the military intervention had been a long-awaited and rightful move. This situation meant international legitimacy for the coup plotters and both the United States and Europe were completely aware of this.
The Turkish public has never forgotten the attitudes adopted by Turkey’s allies during the coups. The United State’s unresponsiveness and inertia made the public think that the coups were abetted by the USA. When additional data regarding the silent support was added to the equation afterward, some thoughts that originally emerged as conspiracy theories started to have grounds and witnesses. Of course, the United States provided all the support for those conspiracies when the army-civilian relations came into question. During the Egypt coup, the US government hesitated to refer to the coup explicitly as a coup, which created a tragic situation, and afterwards the US Secretary of State remarked that the army restored democracy in Egypt. So, conspiracy scenarios were no longer needed in the face of these facts. Everyone witnessed this stance without having a need to open archives as in the Musaddık case or to hear the confessions of actors as in the 1980 coup.
The United State’s attitude towards the coup attempt
As a matter of fact, the insurrection and coup attempt kicked off on July 15 by a group of soldiers from within the army created a major opportunity to dismiss the views prevalent in collective memory and change the USA’s image with regard to coups. Several months before the coup attempt, the Turkey experts in the United States started producing speculations based on different grounds and suggested that the army would intervene in the government or might even stage a coup in Turkey. In the times of tension and political divergence between Turkey and the USA, some people try to hold on to the possibility of a coup by asking the military to intervene in the conflict. Thanks to the reforms made during the AK Party period, the democratic standards could be applied to the army-politics relations in a legal and political sense.
However, the army’s monopoly in the security field and the insufficient civilian control of the security sector kept this possibility alive. However, none of these analyses regarded the possibility that the names affiliated with the parallel state, which attempted a judicial coup on Dec. 17, 2013, would make such an attempt. Moreover, the threat perceived by the government on that matter was not taken into consideration by most people. The concerns expressed by the names close to the government were mostly seen as a false perception of threat.
The incidents of July 15 displayed the reality of the threat and people wondered about the US attitude towards the coup in the early hours of the insurrection.. The United States has often criticized Turkey in recent years on the subjects of democracy and human rights. However, since it displayed a poor response to the Egypt coup, many figures in the Middle East focused on the approach of the United States towards the coup attempt in Turkey. Meanwhile, the US State Secretary underlined peace and stability when questioned regarding the coup attempt in Turkey instead of highlighting democratic processes and institutions. It was not a civil war or a political crisis, but a military coup attempt. Everyone knows what it means to issue stability messages during military coup attempts.
Issues of trust with the USA
No matter what they say, that statement meant support for the coup plotters during those hours. The reactions to the statement remained unanswered for a while. Then, after a few hours and as the momentum of the coup plotters weakened, the statement issued by theWhite House that highlighted democracy was perceived as a compensation for the former statement. Meanwhile, some names in the US media made comments as if the coup had succeeded, listed the reasons for the military intervention and endeavored to legitimize the coup, which surprised everyone following the developments outside the United States. The existence of this tone, although in the periphery, and the rush of certain people to TV stations with opportunism in the guise of strategy discussion, Islamophobia in the guise of political analysis and ideological stance in the guise of democratic values left profound marks.
The coup attempt, which was repelled thanks to the struggles and selfsacrifice of people, deepened the issue of trust between the US government and the Turkish people. The meaning of their alliance was started to be questioned long ago due to the USA’s approach to the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). Being indifferent to Turkey’s threat perceptions and national security concerns, the Turkish public reacted towards the US government after the PKK’s attacks in Turkey.
And now, the situation has a new dimension with the nature of the reaction shown towards the coup attempt. The issue will continue to be discussed in a different realm in the following days. The immediate response of the United States to the investigations of the coup plotters and the warning made to Turkey with regard to rights and liberties formed the first damage in this respect. In the following period, the attitude of the USA towards activities that will reveal the coup plotters’ affiliates in the United States will form the second crucial dimension. At this point, the meaning of alliance will be redefined: either new crises or new opportunities will arise in the bilateral relations.