Turkey’s Latest Coup…What Not to Do

Academy Securities Geopolitical Research Series: Today we are providing analysis by Major General James A. “Spider” Marks (Ret.) on the military coup attempt in Turkey. Major General Marks is a member of The Advisory Board at Academy Securities and a CNN national security and military analyst.
Over the weekend, Turkey was challenged by a military coup (the fourth in as many decades). As before, Turkey seems to have weathered this storm and will hopefully demonstrate enough restraint in the coming weeks to reconcile and move forward. Thankfully, this coup collapsed as quickly as it unfolded.

To be sure, those responsible are being rounded up. No leader would ever allow a good crisis to go unexploited. President Erdogan will take full advantage of these events and increase “his reforms.”

In light of all of this, let’s take a closer look at “the coup that never was.”

Commenting on CNN this weekend about the unfolding events, I was asked, “How did this coup go wrong?” After assuring the host that my experience in the American Army provided precious little exposure to the planning, directing, and leading of a coup, I nonetheless opined that a coup is not unlike any other military operation. Certain principles apply.

Of the nine principles of war that provide the planning construct of our military operations (mass, objective, offense, surprise, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, and simplicity), four of those principles immediately seem applicable to events last night in Istanbul and Ankara. I’d like to address the “principles of coups” with my sincerest personal apologies to Carl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian general and military theorist who captured and codified the principles of war during the Napoleonic Wars.

Objective – to direct every militar y action towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable outcome.

What we saw Friday was anything but the definition of objective. Turkish forces were scattered, and had multiple objectives at multiple levels that did not project power toward attaining clearly defined goals.

The objective of any coup is to overthrow the existing government generally by arresting or incapacitating the country’s leader. As Friday’s events unfolded, President Erdogan of Turkey was on vacation. From the very start, the object of the intended coup was a difficult one to achieve.

Offense – to seize the initiative.

With media streaming live from the streets of Istanbul, we witnessed the Turkish Army negotiating with protestors. There is no military history that chronicles seizing the initiative by talking or cajoling those you intend to overwhelm. Seizing the initiative is an act of aggression that demands the use of force. It was obvious from the start that the Turkish Army was not committed. It was fractured.

Among all of the principles of war, the “offense” is a moral imperative. It gains its strength through the heart, less so the mind. It is a spiritual endeavor, not an intellectual one. To seize the initiative requires total buy-in, a shared vision of the end-state and passion for achieving it through an uncompromising, singular focus on results. We saw none of that on the ground last night.

Unity of Command – ensure t hat there is a single, responsible leader.

As the coup unfolded last night, we never saw the “single responsible leader.” It was unclear who was in charge. Leadership is all about getting folks to do something you want done because you have convinced them to want to do it. Leadership requires visible presence to inspire and direct despite the uncertainty of the outcome, to be out front, to show resolve when even the best plans appear frail. Unity of command was invisible last night.

We’ll know soon enough who the coup planners were but I’m not sure we’ll ever find out who the leader was. There probably wasn’t one.

Simplicity – to prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.

By definition, a coup almost defies “simplicity.” Look at the words used to define it: ” uncomplicated, c lear, concise.” Based on the individual soldiers’ actions we witnessed last night, none of that applied. A coup must provide a clear and immediate alternative to an existing form of government. The alternative must be communicated, communicated, communicated; again and again!

The Turkish Army needed to put their leader in place and then tell the Turkish people and the world that this is Turkey’s new reality. The Turkish people are well educated, have a robust and lively middle class, and are “reachable” online and through social media. The message of change could have been delivered quickly to the many constituents, the government, Turkish citizens, and Turkey’s allies who would have grasped its inevitability. The absence of this was one of many reasons why this coup attempt was unsuccessful.

Turkey’s history of coups and the terrible tragedies that always ensue hopefully will be put to rest, at least temporarily. We all need a stable Turkey, an ally on NATO’s southern border with the chaos of Syria, Iraq, ISIS, and a potentially nuclear Iran.

We should be happy that this coup failed and failed quickly. It was obviously ill conceived and poorly executed. It will, however, happen again. The “principles of coups” may be better adhered to the next time with a far different result.