The Obama administration’s relative silence on Turkey’s alarming crackdown following the failed coup attempt is as good as a green light for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to continue his assault on democracy.
The government of Turkey reportedly dismissed close to 1,700 military personnel, including 149 generals and admirals, and shut down 131 media outlets throughout the country.
Television channels, radio stations, news agencies and newspapers listed in an emergency decree from the country’s cabinet of ministers were to be closed with immediate effect.
Journalists who were in no way affiliated with the alleged mastermind of the failed coup, Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and even those who disagree with Gulen’s views are now facing persecution as well.
The actions taken after the coup attempt threaten democracy almost as much as a successful coup would have.
More worrisome, however, is United States’ silence over the matter. The U.S, a country with a history of punishing dissent, has not only been lukewarm in its criticism of the actions of the Erdogan regime, but has expressed support for their “need to hold perpetrators of the attempted coup to account.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the department was "deeply concerned" by the reports of a media crackdown.
"The United States supports freedom of expression around the world. And we have concerns when any country makes a move to close down media outlets and restrict this universal value," he said. "We expect Turkish authorities to uphold their assurances that the Turkish government will protect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms."
“I cannot overstate the sense of the Turkish government and the Turkish people right now that they truly felt and truly feel under threat,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said during a department briefing. “We support completely the efforts to bring the perpetrators of the coup to justice. We just also caution against any kind of overreach that goes beyond that.”
The state of emergency gives Erdogan and his cabinet new powers to implement laws without parliamentary approval. It also allows Ankara to censor media broadcasts, search citizens, impose curfews and restrict gatherings both public and private.
As Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton puts it, the crackdown shows Erdogan is taking advantage of the failed coup to further strengthen his grip on power. He also feels that the Obama administration appears to have done “very little” to pressure Turkey to ease up on its people, either publicly or behind the scenes. That gives Erdogan all the encouragement he needs, Bolton said.
“The situation will continue to deteriorate as Erdogan arrests more people and puts them in jail,” he added.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Turkish counterpart, however, did discuss the importance of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base in the campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The base, which is used by Turkish and U.S. forces in the air campaign against Islamic State, has been without power in the days since the failed coup.
Turkey's Western allies have expressed solidarity with the government over the coup attempt but also alarm at the scale and swiftness of the response, urging it to adhere to democratic values.
Yet, United States, a country that has been all about promoting democracy and supporting democracy and doing everything in its power (military intervention in Iraq and continued pressure on countries like Egypt and Pakistan) to discourage any country where democracy may be threatened, remains silent.