President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to the failed coup in Turkey with indiscriminate retribution. At last count, nearly 35,000 members of the military, security forces and judiciary — including 103 generals and admirals — have been detained or dismissed; 15,000 education ministry employees have been suspended; the licenses of 21,000 teachers have been revoked; and more than 1,500 university deans have been forced to resign.
The purge is stunning in its breadth and depth, extending into the political and business classes as well as the government. How many of these people were actually involved in the weekend mutiny against Mr. Erdogan is unclear. Also unclear is whether Turkey’s fragile democracy can survive this challenge, whether it will become a kind of de facto authoritarian state and — of deep interest to Washington — whether it can recover sufficiently to continue on as a credible member of NATO, the alliance’s eastern anchor.
At such a time, one would hope for a leader willing and eager to unify his people under the rule of law, to reaffirm democratic values and to address the grievances that motivated the plotters in the first place. So far, Mr. Erdogan seems determined to fail this test of leadership.
Since the coup attempt, he has raised the prospect of reinstating the death penalty. After many terrorist incidents, he told CNN, the Turkish people seem amenable to the idea that “terrorists should be killed.” But of course any blood bath sanctioned by the government would destabilize Turkey further and seal Mr. Erdogan’s legacy as the man who destroyed modern Turkey’s promise as a model Muslim democracy.
The coup attempt seems to have magnified the authoritarian behavior bordering on paranoia that has increasingly come to define Mr. Erdogan’s leadership. In recent years, he has seized control of media outlets and lashed out at enemies real and imagined. He said the coup was the responsibility of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania who used to be an ally until a falling out three years ago, and the government has demanded his extradition.
The Obama administration says it will consider this request if corroborating evidence is provided. Behind the scenes as well as publicly, the administration has made clear that it condemns the coup and that the two allies, often at odds, must remain committed to the fight against the Islamic State.
One unanswered question is what to do with NATO tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik air base in southeast Turkey. The base commander and several other Turkish officers there have been detained for reportedly supporting the insurrection. American officials say the weapons are secure and they are not planning to relocate them.
The administration and the European Union have been walking a careful line, emphasizing support for Turkey while also encouraging Mr. Erdogan to follow the rule of law and other principles that unite Turkey and Europe. The people who filled the streets on Saturday to condemn the coup did so to protect constitutional democracy as much as to defend Mr. Erdogan. He would be wise to heed that message.
Culled from The New York Times