If the world’s talking heads were in an uproar over Brexit, what can they be thinking about the ongoing purges in Turkey? Turkey is the pivot between Europe and lands east. Turkey stands astride the divide between Islam and Christianity, between clan-based dictatorships and more democratic systems of rule, between a world with an average human IQ of 100 and a world of average IQ between 80 and 85. Brexit was nothing compared with what is happening in Turkey.
Since the failed coup in Turkey, Erdoğan has cracked down on those allegedly behind it, having produced a suspiciously convenient arrest list for thousands of politicians and military and judicial personnel, whom he accuses of threatening his “democratic” rule. But Erdoğan now faces a stark choice: follow Putin and Xi down the path of autocratic no return, or retrace his steps back toward functioning democracy. __ Strongman Deadman
When the Turkish people rallied to support Erdogan against military plotters, they unwittingly gave the strong man carte blanche to purge all political and ideological opposition from government, media, education, and all levels of Turkish society. By supporting Erdogan’s survival, they opened the door to a totalitarianism without limit or conceivable end.
But seen in a broader light, Erdogan is simply speeding up his takeover timetable to match fellow strongmen Putin and Xi, who have been carrying out similar “reforms” against all limits on their own personal power to dictate.
Return of the Age of Strongman Rule?
We have always had tinpots like Castro, Kim, Chavez, the mad mullahs of Iran, Assad, Saddam, etc. As long as such throwbacks did not wield too much power on the world stage, they were largely tolerated — until they were not. But recent events in Turkey, Russia, and China suggest that we are seeing a larger return to strongman autocracy.
Putin, Erdoğan, and even Chinese President Xi Jinping all have similar, justifiable fears about their political survival. All three came to office in systems that place real constraints on the exercise of power – even if the system is otherwise undemocratic or an infant democracy ready to be strangled in its cradle. In Erdoğan’s case, Turkey had the rule of law and institutional checks and balances on executive power; and in Putin and Xi’s case, there were unwritten rules sanctified by decades of precedent.
… Like Putin, Xi uses anti-corruption measures to dispatch rivals and concentrate power in his own hands, and he has been even more ruthless than Putin in doing so. Hundreds of senior generals in the People’s Liberation Army have been purged and imprisoned on corruption charges.
By violating Party norms and unwritten agreements among the ruling elite, Putin and Xi, it is becoming increasingly clear, understand that they can never relinquish power voluntarily without fearing for their future safety.
The same caveat now applies to Erdogan, who is likewise burning his bridges behind him. Strongman rule can be rapid, decisive, and brutal — but it also tends to become incredibly brittle, corrupt, and eventually untenable. When a nation adopts a personality cult in place of a workable rule of law, the path to advancement for everyone in the society suddenly must pass through one man.
When the Strongman Falls, Turmoil Rules
But time and tides wait for no man, and every life must end. When a strongman passes the point of no return, he cannot survive a transition of power. And the society he tried so hard to create cannot survive him. The greatest threats to Putin, Xi, Erdogan, and the like, comes from fellow countrymen whose destinies, livelihoods, and opportunities have been stymied and destroyed by dictatorial decree.
A Choice of War?
All of that is likely unless the strongmen — like Hitler, Tojo, Kaiser Wilhelm, Nicholas II, Mussolini etc. — decide to start escalating wars of expansion. In that case, the timetable for dissolution of strongman rule gets moved up rather quickly. This is the choice that is faced by multiple strongmen of today: To war or not to war?
Putin and Xi are already halfway there with their provocations in Eastern Europe and the China Seas, respectively. Very little additional miscalculation on either of their part could start the clock ticking down on their own inevitable ruin — and an entirely unanticipated future for their former countries.
Erdogan Can Bring Europe to Its Knees
It is curious that Erdogan decided to arrest the pilots that shot down a Russian bomber several months ago, triggering an international incident between former friends. The arrests would seem to offer an olive branch to Putin, in addition to other recent conciliatory gestures from the Turkish strongman to the Russian.
Russia has something that Erdogan wants — trade, tourists, and situational alliances for short-term goals. Erdogan can offer something that Putin desperately needs — blackmail over Europe to force the curtailment of EU sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea. Erdogan now has the power to collect and release a flood of dangerous immigrants into Europe such as the weakling politically correct confederation of welfare states has never seen. Europe is already teetering at the brink of deep domestic unrest. Erdogan could push the balance into full-scale insurrection.
Quid pro quo between the two strongmen appears to give both what they seem to want. But even the most obvious plays at these levels can have unpredictable results.
After losing most of its best men in World Wars I and II, Europe is soft and weak, unable to think or act for itself. Germany and Russia are to thank for the devastation from those wars. 70 years of Pax Americana has left most of the world unprepared to face the new era of the strongmen without the constant assistance of the superpower of the west. And that assistance can no longer be guaranteed.
The United States is withdrawing from the world. The United States created and maintained the global free trade order. Without the United States’ smothering security presence, much of the world either will devolve as local powers fight for the scraps or return to their pre-1945 state of affairs. In Europe it will be a bit of both. One outcome among many is that the geopolitical environment of enforced peace and open trade that enabled the Europeans to form the EU in the first place is disappearing. For reasons well beyond the Europeans’ control, the EU is ending.
Things are likely to grow more interesting.
Focus on Putin
Demographically, it is already too late for Russia.
… ethnic Russians are declining both in number and the share of the population while the non-Russians are increasing on both measures, something the Kremlin is loath to acknowledge. __ Demographic Collapse of Ethnic Russians Ongoing
Strongman rule is the ambrosia of ambitious men, and the abdication of responsibility by citizens. Russia’s susceptibility to the siren song of imperial greatness illustrates this fatal weakness in already-downtrodden populations. Putin, of course, is in too deep to turn back now.