The Gray Zone Under Threat: Straining Alliances

The Gray Zone, the civil space that allows for people to exist outside of their private lives and participate in societal, political, economic, and to some extent religious activities, is not just threatened by terrorist attacks and the extremism they’re rooted in, or systemic failures of political and social institutions as they age. It is also threatened when elected and appointed officials, and those seeking elected office, seek to purposefully break institutions for partisan gain. Yesterday the NY Times featured an interview with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. As has been the case several times since he began his run for the Republican nomination and the presidency of the United States, Trump threatened the institutions and alliances that have provided stability and prosperity, albeit an imperfect form of stability and prosperity, since the end of World War II.

Trump’s remarks to the Times included:

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

As I wrote after the March 10 GOP primary debate, the US is not an empire and we don’t demand tribute from our allies and partners. We now have, however, the nominee of one of the two major political parties in the US announcing that he may not fulfill America’s NATO treaty obligations, as well as other American international commitments. This is at a time when our NATO allies, and especially those in Eastern Europe, are especially worried about the actions and intentions of Vladimir Putin and Russia. The strategic messaging of Trump’s remarks is amazing. The presidential nominee of the Republican Party, the party long put forward as the party of national security (the Daddy Party), has just told Putin that should he be elected, it is not only possible, but also plausible that the US would not honor its everyday commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty, let alone an Article 5 request for collective defense.

For all the sturm and drang about President Obama providing al Qaeda or al Qaeda in Iraq with a clear date and time of US withdrawal from Afghanistan or honoring the Bush 43 Administration negotiated date of withdrawal from Iraq; Trump has now given Putin the time window he would need for planning should he decide to engage in further adventures in the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been accused of leading from behind because they took the time to work through and with partners or assemble coalitions to deal with major international issues such as Iran’s nuclear program or the terrorism and low intensity warfare of the Islamic State. What Trump has done, in his remarks during the debates, on the stump, and in this interview with the NY Times is actually signal that the US will just not lead at all unless Trump feels it is being treated fairly.

And this brings us full circle back to Trump’s foreign policy speech. When Trump gave his foreign policy address at the end of April, the overarching theme running throughout his remarks was: “America will be treated fairly.” It is quite clear that being treated fairly is actually the overall strategic message, for lack of a better term, that runs throughout the Trump campaign. First it was “the GOP will treat Trump fairly or I’ll run third party”, which was the origin of the GOP candidate pledge to support the eventual nominee. Then it was “the media will treat Trump fairly” or he’d take his campaign activities away from them and deny them the advertising revenue. He actually did this with FOX Cable News when he refused to participate in one of the debates and held a highly controversial counter event to raise funds for veterans. The core of Trump’s pitch to voters is that “only Trump knows how to ensure that they will be treated well.”

The fly in the ointment of all these appeals for fairness, however, is the implicit or explicit “or else…” Trump has told our NATO and EU allies, and by extension other allies and partners, that if he’s elected they cannot necessarily count on American support and assistance, which has been at the core of the post World War II system that the US helped to build to change the security dynamics in Europe that has been a hallmark of the stability and prosperity of the past 71 years. By strategically communicating that the US may not lead, depending on how Trump feels as President about those asking us to do so, he’s told Putin and his planners, as well as those of al Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Peoples Republic of China, Boko Haram, North Korea, and others, that they can develop contingencies for actions to start the weekend of January 21, 2017. With this approach to National security, foreign, and defense policy, Donald Trump has taken the GOP, the oft promoted party of National security, and, perhaps the US, into uncharted territory that threatens the Gray Zone in a way that no terrorist, extremist, or state based actor ever could. More frighteningly, it is unclear what the plan would be for charting this brave new world.

Time to Talk Turkey: The Coup de Yesterjour

As became apparent early this morning the attempted coup to overthrow President Erdogan’s government failed. And it failed pretty spectacularly. There are several reasons for this. The first is that this was, despite all the initial reporting, not a coup led by even a majority of the senior military leadership. While a number of general officers/flag officers have been arrested, what we now know is that this was not organized by a majority of the senior Turkish military leadership. General Hulusi Akar, the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces was taken and held hostage by those involved with the coup. This is why the initial reporting that he had declared that the military had taken over was quickly deleted and replaced with the statement from “The Turkish Armed Forces”. General Akar was freed early this morning. Other general officers/flag officers, however, quickly stepped in to fill the leadership void.

A second major contributing factor to the coup’s failure was that those involved did not capture the Turkish leadership. President Erdogan was not in the capitol; he was at a resort on the Black Sea Mediterranean. No one involved with the coup either planned to or tried were able to take him into custody like they did with General Akar and a number of other senior uniformed leaders. The same can be said for Prime Minister Yldirim and other senior leaders in Turkey’s executive branch and parliament. Moreover, the coupe plotters and leaders did not have the support of even the opposition parties in the Turkish Parliament. If you cannot even get the support of the Kurdish opposition party in an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government, you are not going to be successful!

The coup also failed because those organizing and participating in it were unable to actually enforce their orders of curfew and restrictions on movement. They could not hold the airports, which allowed President Erdogan to return from the Black Sea during the coup. This was a huge Information Operations victory for him and his government. And they were unable to secure the streets. Turkish law enforcement and Turkish citizens quickly responded to President Erdogan’s calls to take to the streets to protect democracy and rebuff the coup. The result was Turkish Soldiers being arrested by Turkish police and being forced to stand down by Turkish citizens.

The coup organizers and participants were also unable to stop the signal. While coup participants took quick control of a state broadcaster and ultimately worked their way to the Hurriyet Building that houses CNN Turk, Hurriyet News, and several other news outlets, they were unable to maintain control of the message. President Erdogan, Prime Minister Yldirim, and others were able to utilize a variety of social media platforms to indicate that they were free, provide instructions to loyal military and law enforcement forces, and to the Turkish citizenry. This is a good example of where social media had a significant effect on actual events in real time, which has not always been the case in the past.

And because the coup plotters couldn’t stop the signal, they were also not able to provide a united front and the coup as a successful fait accompli to the rest of the world. As a result a wide variety of leaders, from the EU, NATO, America, Germany, Britain, Pakistan, Russia, and and a number of other states and movements quickly weighed in with support for President Erdogan and the democratically elected government of Turkey.

The result of failing to have a united military and law enforcement leadership, or at least a majority thereof; the failure to seize the Turkish civilian leadership; the inability to actually seize and hold the airports and the streets; not lining up and securing opposition political support; and finally being unable to stop the signal, gain control of communications, and dominate what information did and did not go out all contributed to the coup’s failure. The Erdogan government has quickly moved to reestablish its authority and restore order. President Erdogan has had over 2,800 military personnel arrested, as well as dismissing over 2,700 judges for alleged ties to the Gulenist opposition. He has also closed the airspace over Incirlik Airbase and demanded that the US extradite Fuleithi Gulen to Turkey. It is unclear if the closing of the Incirlik airspace is intended to pressure the US, but given that a significant number of US air strikes on the Islamic State in Syria originate from Incirlik Airbase this would be a reasonable assumption. With Incirlik closed, these air strikes will have to be shifted to other air fields and/or carrier groups.

The major result of the coup, and one that President Erdogan seemed to foreshadow with his statement caught on a hot microphone that it was “a gift from God”, will be his cementing control. While the conspiracy theories that the coup was actually instigated by Erdogan to allow him to purge the military and judiciary and consolidate more control have already begun, it is clear that he has wasted no time taking advantage of it. While I think the conspiracy theories are far fetched, Erdogan is a smart man and a shrewd and when necessary ruthless politician. He understands the advantage he was just provided with. The judiciary purge was done very, very quickly and that would seem to indicate that he, and his immediate circle of advisors, had a list of judges that they suspected of being affiliated with Gulen or just being disloyal and were simply waiting for an opportunity to move against them. The coup has provided that and only a very poor politician would have failed to take advantage of the opportunity to consolidate power and control. What remains to be seen is what President Erdogan does with the opportunity he’s been presented as we move farther away from the actual coup. And that is a question that only time can answer.

A Final Postscript (8:55 PM EDT)

On think that occurred to me after I hit post is the question of what does the Turkish citizenry do now in the new, post-coup reality? President Erdogan has explicitly empowered them; doing so by calling them out to preserve democracy and the Turkish constitutional order as counter-coup participants. As President Erdogan consolidates his power, and, perhaps, extends it post-coup, the question will be what does a Turkish citizenry that he empowered as defenders of democracy do if they, or a significant portion of them, decide he’s gone to far. Here too only time will tell, but as every good strategic thinker understands: every solution creates new opportunities, challenges, and threats. We will have to see what new problems are created by President Erdogan’s solution to the threat and challenge of yesterday’s coup.

Turkish Coup Update: The Coup Has Failed

Update at 12:10 AM EDT

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yldirim has announced that Umit Dundar is the new acting Chief of the Turkish Military. There is still no new information on the whereabouts and the status of the actual Chief of Staff, General Hulusi Akar. I saw a tweet several hours ago saying he’d been rescued and freed as he was being held hostage, but the tweet wasn’t really sourced to any real reporting.


The Guardian is reporting that President Erdogan is addressing a sizable crowd in Istanbul.

He tells supporters that the government will succeed.

From the highest level of the army to lowest-ranking officers, he says, the armed forces must know they cannot govern the state.

The government is elected and is in control, he says. The people elected a president and that president is here.

He says the coup plotters brought out tanks, but “my people” took them back.

Erdoğan says he will stand firm and will not compromise.

He says he will address “those in Pennsylvania” – by which he means cleric Fethullah Gülen and his supporters – accusing them of betraying the nation. That’s enough, he says: if you are courageous, come back to Turkey.

There is still some fighting in Ankara though, so complete control hasn’t quite been reestablished.

For the Sixth Time in Its Modern History the Turkish Military Has Seized Control


Update at 10:50 PM EDT

Things seemed to have slowed way down in regards to information coming out of Turkey. The Turkish Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara has reported that there a 42 dead civilians, 17 of whom were police. Thirteen soldiers who tried to storm the Presidential Palace have been arrested.

Update at 8:55 PM EDT

Borzou Daragahi has highlighted a report from a journalist in Istanbul that what is being reported as explosions or bombings are, in fact, the sonic bombs from fighter jets. Since there are conflicting reports of Turkish fighters targeting both the coup side and the government side, it is unclear which side’s flying these jets, but it would be standard procedure for the military to put up a combat air patrol (CAP).

Additionally, The Guardian is reporting that General Zekai Aksakalli, Commander of Turkish Special Forces, has stated that “those who are attempting a coup will not succeed”. And that: “Our people should know that we will overcome this … We are in control of the situation.”

The EU has issued a formal statement supporting the Turkish government:

Turkey is a key partner for the European Union. The EU fully supports the democratically elected government, the institutions of the country and the rule of law. We call for a swift return to Turkey’s constitutional order. We continue to follow closely the developments and to coordinate with the 28 EU Member States.

Update at 8:44 PM EDT

Soldiers have, apparently, seized control of CNN Turk. Soldiers have also been reported as seizing the Hurriyet building.

Reuters is reporting that President Erdogan’s plane has landed at Istanbul Airport.

Update at 7:50 PM EDT

Reuters is reporting that the Turkish Parliament has been bombed. And there are reports of a large blast in Istanbul as well.

An F 16 has shot down a helicopter commandeered by those involved with the coup.

The AP is reporting that Turkey’s National Intelligence Spokesman has stated that the coup has been repelled.

And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that:

I have just spoken to the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. I am following events in Turkey closely and with concern. I call for calm and restraint, and full respect for Turkey’s democratic institutions and its constitution. …Turkey is a valued Nato ally.

Finally, here’s the readout of the President’s call with Secretary Kerry on the events in Turkey:

The President spoke tonight by phone with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the events in Turkey. The President and Secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed. The Secretary underscored that the State Department will continue to focus on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Turkey. The President asked the Secretary to continue to keep him updated as the situation unfolds.

Update at 6:20 PM EDT:

According to Ece Temelkuran, a writer based in Istanbul, the mosques have begun repeating President Erdogan’s call for his supporters to take to the streets and use people power to rebuff the coup.

The military has, of course, instigated a curfew. And there have been reports of one helicopter gunship firing over Istanbul. It is at this point that things could turn very ugly very quickly. If the military is unable to establish and maintain order and the Erdogan government is unable to reestablish it, then we have all the possibilities of a classic insurgency. The challengers do not have the power to successfully complete their rebellion and the government does not have the power to successfully suppress the rebellion.

Reuters has just reported that the Turkish armor surrounding the Turkish Parliament have opened fire.

Update at 6:15 PM EDT:

Reuters is reporting, based on EU sources, that the coup appears to be substantial.

“It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a substantial body of the military, not just a few colonels,” the source told Reuters.

“They’ve got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently,” the source said, shortly before state television TRT broadcast a military declaration of martial law.

“They control several strategic points in Istanbul. Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing,” the source said.

The Guardian is reporting, sourced to NBC News, that:

The president (Erdogan) was speaking from an undisclosed location, and NBC News, citing an anonymous US military source, said that his plane had been refused landing rights in Istanbul.

Update at 6:03 PM EDT:

The Guardian is reporting that PM Erdogan is blaming the coup on the Gulen Movement. Gulen, a political rival of Erdogan’s, has been in exile in Pennsylvanian (this should have been a tell, Southeastern PA is where you go to plan a revolution…) and here’s some info on his movement.

Update at 5:45 PM EDT

The Guardian is reporting that Reuters has reported out, based on sources within Turkey, that the Turkish state broadcaster has gone off the air.

Update at 5:35 PM EDT

Hetav Rojan, who is affiliated with the SDU in Copenhagen, has reported on his twitter feed that PM Erdogan is headed to the airport. It is unclear what this actually means in terms of Erdogan’s efforts to regain and/or maintain control.

Borzou Daragahi, a reporter with Buzzfeed, is reporting that Erdogan is in a secure location.

So you can see just how disjointed the information is coming out – even from good sources!

Update at 5:25 PM EDT

The Guardian is reporting that the Turkish Armed Forces have released a statement that:

the freedom of Turkish citizens is guaranteed by what is referred to as a “peace council”, regardless of religion, race or language.

It says the Peace Council will not allow public order to be damaged

The Guardian is also reporting that “military forces have control of airports and strategic points in Istanbul”.

Update at 5:20 PM EDT

Here is the link to The Guardian‘s breaking news on the Turkey coup. Here’s the one for the BBC’s. Here’s the AP’s. And here’s the twitter feeds of a couple of good sources. Hetav Rojan and Borzou Daragahi.

For the Sixth time since the founding of the modern state of Turkey the Turkish military has mounted a coup and seized control of the government. The Turkish Armed Forces has released the following statement:

Turkish Armed Forces have taken over the administration of the country Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged. All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue.

The Turkish government has responded with:

This is an attack against Turkish democracy. A group within the Armed Forces has made an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government outside the chain of command. The statement made on behalf of the Armed Forces wasn’t authorized by the military command. We urge the world to stand in solidarity with the Turkish people.

The Turkish military has traditionally been fiercely Kemalist and has seen itself as the defender of Mustafa Kemal’s legacy. Prime Minister Erdogan had tried to coup proof himself by replacing a number of military leaders, including having them investigated, charged with crimes, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.

As is always the case this is a quickly changing situation, information is likely to change over the next 24-48 hours. I’ll update with information as it becomes available.

Bastille Day Attack in Nice

Update at 1:05 PM EDT

The Guardian is reporting that the explosive found in the truck was an inactive grenade and that the guns were fake rifles.


Not really an update, but in case anyone is interested, here is the link to the pdf of Galula’s Pacification of Algeria.

Update at 10:05 PM EDT

Here’s the link to President Hollande’s Press Conference/Statement with English translation.

Update at 9:50 PM EDT

The Guardian is reporting that French TV Station BFM and the local newspaper Nice-Matin have reported out that the attacker was a 31 year old resident of Nice who is a dual French-Tunisian national. An ID card was found in the truck.

Update at 8:50 PM EDT

France 24, via their twitter feed, is now reporting that the death toll is up to 77.


Updated at 8:25 PM EDT

According to France 24’s twitter feed, explosives and heavy weapons were found inside the truck. And the death toll is now at 73.


A currently unidentified man drove a truck into the crowd in Nice, France celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade de Anglais. The current estimate is that 60 are dead and many more are wounded. It is being reported that the driver emerged from the truck and started shooting.

Given that today is Bastille Day there is speculation that this is an act of terrorism, but the information reported out is unclear at this point. Rather than jump to conclusions, and as is always the case as details are sketchy right now and will change over the next 24 to 48 hours, I’ll update as appropriate.

Here’s France 24’s English language live feed: