What's a Conspiracy Without the CIA?

The struggle between the Turkish army, which safeguards the country’s secularism, and Erdogan’s Islamist party heated up this week.

Dani Rodrik's name is usually associated with theories in economics, international investments and economic consulting. The internationally renowned Jewish professor, a descendent of Spanish Marranos who was born in Turkey, is the Rafik Hariri Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Hariri was the Lebanese leader assassinated in 2005.

A demonstration against military and civilian activists accused of attempting to overthrow the gover

However, Rodrik is also a major critic of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his policies. Rodrik's wife, Pinar Dogan, also an economics professor at Harvard, is the daughter of retired General Cetin Dogan, who was arrested last week for the third time on suspicion of heading a plot to topple Erdogan's government.

Operation Sledgehammer is the name of the coup attempt over which Gen. Dogan, who commanded the Turkish First Army, is suspected of presiding. According to the plan's details, as reported by the Turkish newspaper Taraf, in 2003 Dogan and a group of senior officers planned to down a Turkish fighter plane and blow up two mosques in Istanbul, in order to cause massive chaos in the country that would "force" the army to take control because of the government's ostensible impotence in maintaining security.

In April Rodrik wrote in his blog that he and his wife also "bought into this story. Even though the charges against some of the individuals in the earlier waves of arrests seemed far-fetched."

He indicates a number of contradictions in the published evidence, and says it would not have stood up in an American court of law, adding: "No self-respecting editorial office in the United States or Western Europe would have even considered publishing the documents."

Rodrik believes Dogan has been framed. "We do not know who is behind the attempt to frame Dogan and the other retired officers involved in the case," he wrote. "Some point to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish religious leader based in the United States with a vast network of supporters, whom they suspect of fomenting anti-secular activities. Others, in the Turkish press, implicate a conspiracy by clandestine paramilitary groups aimed at muddying the waters and covering their own tracks. Some, implausibly, even see the finger of the CIA."

Army in turmoil

Turkey has been awash with such theories ever since the first details were revealed in January. Two other affairs are also engaging the Turks. One is the Ergenekon plot to topple the government and shut down the Justice and Development Party, in which hundreds of military and civilian activists, former office holders, are suspected of being involved. The other is called the Action Plan to Fight Reactionism, in which Turkish officers are also implicated. It is suspected that in 2007 at least one of them proposed shooting down two Heron unmanned aircraft leased from Israel, in order to prevent locating and identifying activist centers of the Kurdish Workers' Party, a terrorist organization working for the rights of Kurds. The suspicion is that the officers believed it was necessary to collaborate with the Kurds and radical leftist groups in their struggle against a religious government and party.

And another hypothesis: Possibly these affairs also testify to internal dissent among the Turkish army's top brass. This theory is based on the public dispute between former chief of general staff Hilmi Ozkok and Cetin Dogan, who accused Ozkok of leaking details of the plan to the media.

In the Sledgehammer Affair 196 military people have been indicted. Last week the prosecution announced a decision to arrest 102 officers. Taking into account these and the generals involved in the other affairs, it is estimated in Turkey that about 10 percent of all the generals in the standing army are connected in some way to one of these affairs. The decision to carry out such extensive arrests is now thrusting the entire army into a state of turmoil.

Today the Supreme Military Council is due to convene to discuss the promotion and dismissal of officers. The council - which is responsible for expelling from the army officers and soldiers who have demonstrated "excessively" religious activity - convenes once a year. Its decisions, which require the approval of the president and prime minister, are usually accepted without question.

Among those slated for promotion are dozens of high-ranking officers who have been indicted or summonsed to report for arrest. According to Turkish army regulations, a person serving in the military who is up for trial or under arrest cannot be promoted. The question is whether the Supreme Military Council will decide nevertheless to promote them, or apply the letter of the law and delay officers' promotion by at least a year, even if ultimately the suspicions are lifted.

Ideological struggle

Erdogan, who is trying to reduce the army's status in politics, declared this week that he intends to annul the provisions in martial law enabling the army to intervene in instances when the government acts in contravention of the constitution, which in effect allows the army to carry out a military coup. This, in continuation of Erdogan's failed attempt to subordinate military personnel to the civilian courts, an attempt that was foiled by the Constitutional Court, which is still outside Erdogan's sphere of influence.

This is not a personal fight but rather an ideological struggle for Turkey's future character. It is being waged on a number of fronts. One is the area of amendments to laws and the constitution in recent years, under pressure from the European Union. These have transformed the National Security Council from a body whose decisions are binding into an advisory body in which the majority are civilian office holders. The council no longer has a representative on the Supreme Council for Education established after the 1980 coup, the function of which was to keep watch against political subversion in universities. National Security Council representation in the Radio and Television Authority has also been eliminated.

However, despite the ebbing of the army's formal political power, the military elite still has many supporters and many connections, and above all legal backing, all of which enable it to limit Erdogan's government. These are more flexible limits, which afford this government greater freedom of action than its predecessors, but Erdogan aspires to more than that. His aim is to subordinate the army to the government completely, and take away its authority to sanction the government or threaten its existence. Ostensibly this is an important step in the democratization of Turkey, and is in line with the EU's conditions for Turkey's membership.

The problem is that many Turks, especially among the opposition, perceive these reforms as measures that will strengthen the hold of the Justice and Development government and change the state's secular character. In order to obtain his goal Erdogan is applying heavy pressure to the media, and mainly to their owners. To some of them he is giving perks. The attitude regarding others is like the attitude toward Aydin Dogan, the biggest media mogul in Turkey, who has been slapped with a fine of half a billion dollars for not reporting income and tax evasion.

However, the more common mode of action is filing indictments against journalists who are covering the latest subversion affairs. About 5,000 such indictments have been filed. Some of the journalists have announced they will quit the profession. Many others are complaining that judges and prosecutors are threatening them directly because they write articles in support of the army or government.

This is a struggle in which neither side are angels. One of its important stages will be decided in the referendum to be held on September 12, the anniversary of the 1980 military coup. The date was not determined at random - it is aimed at reminding the public of the oppressive military regime of those years and encouraging a vote in favor of the reforms Erdogan is proposing. The reforms will not transform Turkey into a more Islamic state than it is today. However, they will lay the cornerstone for a new era - the Erdogan era. Erdoganism instead of Kamalism.