How Democratic Is Turkey?

Not as democratic as Washington thinks it is.

It seems strange that the biggest challenge to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authority during more than a decade in power would begin as a small environmental rally, but as thousands of Turks pour into the streets in cities across Turkey, it is clear that something much larger than the destruction of trees in Istanbul's Gezi Park -- an underwhelming patch of green space close to Taksim Square -- is driving the unrest.

The Gezi protests, which have been marked by incredible scenes of demonstrators shouting for Erdogan and the government to resign as Turkish police respond with tear gas and truncheons, are the culmination of growing popular discontent over the recent direction of Turkish politics. The actual issue at hand is the tearing down of a park that is not more than six square blocks so that the government can replace it with a shopping mall but the whole affair represents the way in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has slowly strangled all opposition while making sure to remain within democratic lines. Turkey under the AKP has become the textbook case of a hollow democracy.

The ferocity of the protests and police response in Istanbul's Gezi Park is no doubt a surprise to many in Washington. Turkey, that "excellent model" or "model partner," is also, as many put it, "more democratic than it was a decade ago." There is a certain amount of truth to these assertions, though the latter, which is repeated ad nauseum, misrepresents the complex and often contradictory political processes underway in Turkey. Under the AKP and the charismatic Erdogan, unprecedented numbers of Turks have become politically mobilized and prosperous -- the Turkish economy tripled in size from 2002 to 2011, and 87 percent of Turks voted in the most recent parliamentary elections, compared with 79 percent in the 2002 election that brought the AKP to power. Yet this mobilization has not come with a concomitant ability to contest politics. In fact, the opposite is the case, paving the way for the AKP to cement its hold on power and turn Turkey into a single-party state. The irony is that the AKP was building an illiberal system just as Washington was holding up Turkey as a model for the post-uprising states of the Arab world.

Shortly after the AKP came to power in 2002, a debate got under way in the United States and Europe about whether Turkey was "leaving the West." Much of this was the result of the polite Islamophobia prevalent in the immediate post-9/11 era. It was also not true. From the start, Turkey's new reformist-minded Islamists did everything they could to dispel the notion that by dint of their election, Turkey was turning its back on its decade of cooperation and integration with the West. Ankara re-affirmed Turkey's commitment to NATO and crucially undertook wide-ranging political reforms that did away with many of the authoritarian legacies of the past, such as placing the military under civilian control and reforming the judicial system.

The new political, cultural, and economic openness helped Erdogan ride a coalition of pious Muslims, Kurds, cosmopolitan elites, big business, and average Turks to re-election with 47 percent of the popular vote in the summer of 2007, the first time any party had gotten more than 45 percent of the vote since 1983. This was unprecedented in Turkish politics. Yet Erdogan was not done. In 2011, the prime minister reinforced his political mystique with 49.95 percent of the popular vote.

Turkey, it seemed, had arrived. By 2012, Erdogan presided over the 17th-largest economy in the world, had become an influential actor in the Middle East, and the Turkish prime minister was a trusted interlocutor with none other than the president of the United States.  Yet even as the AKP was winning elections at home and plaudits from abroad, an authoritarian turn was underway. In 2007, the party seized upon a plot in which elements of Turkey's so-called deep state -- military officers, intelligence operatives, and criminal underworld -- sought to overthrow the government and used it to silence its critics. Since then, Turkey has become a country where journalists are routinely jailed on questionable grounds, the machinery of the state has been used against private business concerns because their owners disagree with the government, and freedom of expression in all its forms is under pressure.

Spokesmen and apologists for the AKP offer a variety of explanations for these deficiencies, from "it's the law" and the "context is missing," to "it's purely fabricated." These excuses falter under scrutiny and reveal the AKP's simplistic view of democracy.  They also look and sound much like the self-serving justifications that deposed Arab potentates once used to narrow the political field and institutionalize the power of their parties and families. Yet somehow, Washington's foreign-policy elite saw Turkey as a "model" or the appropriate partner to forge a soft-landing in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere.

In the midst of the endless volley of teargas against protesters in Taksim, one of the prime ministers advisors plaintively asked, "How can a government that received almost 50 percent of the vote be authoritarian?" This perfectly captures the more recent dynamic of Erdogan's Turkey, where the government uses its growing margins of victory in elections to justify all sorts of actions that run up against large reservoirs of opposition.

The most obvious way this pattern has manifested itself is in the debate over the new Turkish constitution, which Erdogan had been determined to use as a vehicle to institute a presidential system in which he would serve as Turkey's first newly empowered president. When the opposition parties voiced their fervent opposition to such a plan and the constitutional commission deadlocked in late 2012 -- missing its deadline of the end of the year to submit its recommendations -- Erdogan threatened to disregard the commission entirely and ram through his own constitutional plan. He floated the idea again in early April 2013, but softened his position as it became clear that there is significant opposition to his presidential vision even within the AKP.

Turkey's new alcohol law, which among other things sets restrictions on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., curtails advertising, and bans new liquor licenses from establishments near mosques and schools, is another example of the AKP's majoritarian turn. Despite vociferous opposition, the law was written, debated, and passed in just two weeks, and Erdogan's response to the law's critics has been to assert that they should just drink at home.

Similarly, the AKP is undertaking massive construction projects in Istanbul, including the renovation of Taksim Square, the building of a new airport, and the construction of a third bridge over the Bosphorus, all of which are controversial and opposed by widespread coalitions of diverse interests. Yet in every case, the government has run roughshod over the projects' opponents in a dismissive manner, asserting that anyone who does not like what is taking place should remember how popular the AKP has been when elections roll around. In a typical attempt to use the AKP's vote margins as a cudgel, Erdogan on Saturday warned the CHP -- Turkey's main opposition party -- "if you gather 100,000 people, I can gather a million."

Turkey's anti-democratic turn has all taken place without much notice from the outside world. It was not just coercive measures -- arrests, investigations, tax fines, and imprisonments -- that Washington willfully overlooked in favor of a sunnier narrative about the "Turkish miracle." Perhaps it is not as clear, but over the last decade the AKP has built an informal, powerful, coalition of party-affiliated businessmen and media outlets whose livelihoods depend on the political order that Erdogan is constructing. Those who resist do so at their own risk.

All this is why the current tumult over the "redevelopment" of Gezi Park runs deeper than merely the bulldozing of green space. It represents outrage over crony capitalism, arrogance of power, and the opacity of the AKP machine. In the media, Erdogan has encouraged changes in ownership or intimidated others to ensure positive coverage -- or, in the case of the Gezi Park protests, no coverage. In what was a surreal scene - but sadly one that was altogether unsurprising to close observers of Turkey -- CNN International on Friday was covering the protests live in Taksim while at the very same time CNN Turk, the network's Turkish-language affiliate, was running a cooking show as the historic heart of Turkey's largest city was in enormous upheaval. This dynamic of Turkish press censorship and intimidation, in which media outlets critical of the government are targeted for reprisal, has resulted in the dismissal of talented journalists like Amberin Zaman, Hasan Cemal, and Ahmet Altan for criticizing the government or defying its dictates. This type of implicit government intimidation is unreasonable in an allegedly democratic or democratizing society.

Under these circumstances, Turkish politics is not necessarily more open than it was a decade ago, when the AKP was pursuing democratic reforms in order to meet the European Union's requirements for membership negotiations. It is just closed in an entirely different way. Turkey has essentially become a one-party state. In this the AKP has received help from Turkey's insipid opposition, which wallows in Turkey's lost insularity and mourns the passing of the hard-line Kemalist elite that had no particular commitment to democracy. Successful democracies provide their citizens with ways in which to express their desires and frustrations beyond periodic elections, and Turkey has failed spectacularly in this regard.

The combination of a feckless opposition and the AKP's heavyhanded tactics have finally come to a head. This episode will not bring down the government, but it will reset Turkish politics in a new direction; the question is whether the AKP will learn some important lessons from the people amassing in the streets or continue to double down on the theory that elections confer upon the government the right to do anything it pleases.

It is not just the AKP that needs to reassess its policies, but Washington as well. Perhaps the Obama administration does not care about Turkey's reversion or has  deemed it better to counsel, cajole, and encourage Erdogan privately and through quiet acts of defiance like extending the term of Amb. Francis Ricciardone, who has gotten under the government's skin over press freedom, for another year.

This long game has not worked. It is time the White House realized that Erdogan's rhetoric on democracy has far outstripped reality. Turkey has less to offer the Arab world than the Obama administration appears to think, and rather than just urging Arab governments to pay attention to the demands of their citizens, Washington might want to urge its friends in Ankara to do the same as well. The AKP and Prime Minister Erdogan might have been elected with an increasing share of the popular vote over the last decade, but the government's actions increasingly make it seem as if Turkish democracy does not extend farther than the voting booth.

AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Spies Like Them

How Robert Mueller transformed -- for better and for worse -- the FBI into a counterterrorism agency.

With the announcement that James B. Comey will be nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Robert W. Mueller III as the director of the FBI, a modern era will soon come to an end. Mueller has served longer (12 years) as FBI director than anyone since J. Edgar Hoover. He is the first person to complete a full term as director since Hoover's tumultuous and controversial 48-year reign, and the imposition of a 10-year term limit by Congress in 1976. While the public and the press generally laud Mueller for his achievements at the FBI, his own agency has a more conflicted view.

Mueller was appointed by President George W. Bush to replace Louis Freeh just days before 9/11, and was a bit like a raw recruit the first time he witnessed combat in the stressful period that followed the attack. He was little heard or seen in the field as he allowed Deputy Director Tom Pickard to lead the daily all-office conference calls and manage the initial stages of the TRADEBOM and PENTBOM cases, as the investigations into the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were known. Mueller soon found his voice, however, and set about ensuring that the FBI was protected from the wolves that were circling the bureau, sniffing the blood of blame and recrimination for the 2,977 innocent victims. The wolves were bent on dismantling and destroying the organization that allowed 19 Saudi terrorists to live among us for so long, essentially unnoticed. The FBI was described as having precipitated an intelligence failure of epic proportions.

Mueller eventually prevailed over his detractors, and he satisfied the FBI's numerous 9/11 critics by creating the National Security Branch, an Intelligence Division, a Cyber Division, and reprogramming thousands of FBI agents from criminal work into counterterrorism and intelligence analysis. He personally initiated one of those grand paradigm shifts in government that academics and historians build careers around analyzing and evaluating. There is no doubt that Director Mueller is held in the highest esteem by local law enforcement, Congress, and the general public; he will go down in history as one of the FBI's greatest directors.

Within the FBI, however, there are at least two divergent views of Mueller's legacy. The first is that Mueller saved the FBI from being broken up into its component parts amid the 9/11 Commission's call to create a new domestic intelligence agency to address counterterrorism. For that political feat he is a hero to a great many current and former agents -- certainly to the more than 50 percent of FBI agents who have joined the bureau since 2001, many specifically to fight terrorism. Most of them have spent their entire careers working counterterrorism or intelligence matters, however, and they have no experience with the criminal investigative organization that was the pre-9/11 FBI. Theirs is a world of terrorism leads, assessments, preliminary investigations, national security letters, FISA intercepts, and the occasional undercover operation targeting a self-directed domestic terrorist.

Much like the way the FBI shifted in the 1940s from fighting bank robbery and gangster crime to fighting Nazis and catching Communist spies during the Cold War, the modern FBI became all counterterrorism, all intelligence, all the time, after the 9/11 attacks. Mueller effectively transformed the FBI into the intelligence agency that his critics always wanted it to be

To effect this great change, Mueller mandated that the FBI would leave no counterterrorism leads unaddressed, at a time when the amount of unaddressed work in FBI files was a standard by which field office manpower needs were documented. At the direction of President Bush, Mueller ordered this focus on prevention -- at the expense, if need be, of prosecution. He shifted the internal and external legacy of the FBI agent from that of a hard-nosed, cigar-smoking, tough-guy criminal investigator, to one of desk-bound, egghead intelligence collector, perusing open and classified sources for leads and tips -- an FBI agent whose job it was to collate and analyze information about terrorism, not just to investigate federal crimes.

But there is another view of Mueller's legacy. The shift to an intelligence agency was dramatic and disheartening to those who had joined the bureau under other former directors, particularly Louis Freeh, to investigate gangs, organized crime, and international cartels -- and actually put people in jail. It was now clear to them that being part of an intelligence agency was not the same as being a member of the world's premier law enforcement agency.

Many senior agents view the changes with a jaundiced eye. In a nutshell, here's what a lot of current agents think: The focus on intelligence for intelligence's sake has been detrimental to the FBI, particularly within the criminal program. You can gather all the intelligence you want and "know your domain," but if you don't have the agents to act on the intelligence, or don't want to act on criminal intelligence, it's useless. Many outside the FBI do not understand that, unlike within the national security and intelligence communities, there is no system to easily disseminate criminal intelligence to other law enforcement agencies. So criminal evidence is often collected, reported, analyzed, and then filed away.

Senior agents complain about the increase in the administrative burden that accompanied the shift to intelligence gathering: Intelligence reporting requirements often take away from the time necessary to build a case for prosecution. Instead, agents now spend their valuable investigative time entering evidence into computer systems, making their own copies, logging vehicle mileage, running records checks, and in general doing their own administrative support with no clerical assistance. "Support" positions have given way to intelligence analysis positions to track an al Qaeda threat that President Obama says is severely diminished and may no longer exist domestically. As one senior agent said to me, "If they want to pay a 20-year agent with an advanced degree and national criminal expertise to move file boxes and make copies of case files, who am I to complain?" All of this, however, makes the FBI far less efficient.

Others noted the shift away from the law enforcement model to a corporate model. Internal FBI directives now come out as corporate policy. Outsiders like McKinsey Consulting and its 23-year-old Harvard MBAs were brought in to tell senior FBI agents how to transform themselves and work more efficiently. Learning Lean Six Sigma and earning your business black belt became more important than catching bad guys. The FBI's own Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide and other policy implementation guides (PIGs) have become overly burdensome to follow and impossible to commit to memory. For example, the PIG regarding the use of bureau vehicles is over 40 pages long, when all it really needs to say is, "Bureau vehicles are for official use only."

In addition to the corporate transition, current street agents complain that the shift to intelligence work has made senior FBI officials perceive the bureau's analytical model as superior to the investigative model. Analysts are given more respect, particularly at FBI headquarters, where the influx of senior staff from within the U.S. intelligence community are given deference over those who carry guns, take risks (both with their lives and liability), are injured on duty, and ultimately collect the intelligence that the analysts regurgitate into reports for field agents. These are the views of the agents in the streets and are based on conversations with them about the direction of the FBI.

As I write these words, I can already hear the disagreement from my colleagues and friends within the intelligence community, who will argue that my comments re-enforce the need for a separate agency to conduct domestic intelligence collection. But my argument is not about the need for analysts, but rather about how they are used in the bureau to the detriment of investigators, particularly within the criminal programs. When you try and create an animal by committee, you end up with a camel. That is what the FBI has become under Mueller ... a law-enforcement camel.

Currently, the FBI's top investigative priorities, in order, are:

  1. Protect the United States from terrorist attacks;
  2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage;
  3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes;
  4. Combat public corruption at all levels;
  5. Protect civil rights;
  6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises;
  7. Combat major white-collar crime;
  8. Combat significant violent crime.

As you can see from this list, combating major white-collar and significant violent crime is now the FBI's lowest investigative priority.

In my personal opinion, one of Mueller's major failings during his 12-year tenure has been ignoring the threat to national security that systemic mortgage fraud by banking insiders posed to the United States. The FBI basically ignored systemic financial institution fraud of major proportions. While many threats are often bandied about as a danger to national security, the near collapse of the housing industry through sub-prime lending and the securitization of mortgages almost resulted in a total failure of the banking industry. Without the intervention by Congress and the bailout of numerous banks "too big to fail," the United States -- and possibly the world -- would have experienced catastrophic consequences.

According to a report by the Seattle Post Intelligencer in 2007, this occured because the FBI "dramatically cut its number of white-collar crime investigations, including mortgage fraud, after shifting about 2,400 agents from traditional crime-fighting squads to counterterrorism units in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks." The Post Intelligencer further reported that "the FBI was aware for years of 'pervasive and growing' fraud in the mortgage industry that eventually contributed to America's financial meltdown, but it did not take definitive action to stop it." The Bush administration later rejected FBI pleas for more agents to investigate mortgage fraud. "We have to prevent another 9/11-type surprise attack," agents were told by Bureau officials. Transfers to counterterrorism prevented the FBI from understanding how bad mortgages were packaged into bad securities, creating a widespread impact that weakened the greater economy.

What then occurred was that FBI staffing issues after 9/11 led to white-collar criminals escaping prosecution and punishment in financial institution fraud cases involving billions of dollars. For example, the collapse of Washington Mutual Bank, which was the largest savings and loan institution in the United States until its collapse in 2008, due to horribly flawed sub-prime lending practices, resulted in no one in bank executive management (who had pledged to make WaMu "the Walmart of banking") going to jail. Not one!

FBI officials knew what was going on because they had good criminal intelligence on the mortgage-fraud schemes, on the corrupt attorneys and appraisers, and on the insider schemes. But no action was taken on the intelligence. Had the violators been terrorists whose crime resulted in deaths of innocent civilians -- instead of homes lost to foreclosure while the corporations reaped billions of dollars in profits -- the FBI would have been excoriated. But it was alleged that when Mueller was briefed on mortgage fraud, "his eyes would glaze over. It was not something that he would consider a high priority. It was not on his radar screen," according to a retired FBI official cited in the press.

It wasn't just the FBI's white-collar crime program that lacked the resources and political will to do its job. Organized crime, complex international drug investigations, and domestic police cooperation suffered as well. There were simply not enough experienced agents working criminal cases nor enough federal prosecutors to prosecute the complex cases that could result from criminal investigations. As former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt, speaking as the source Deep Throat, allegedly told Watergate reporter Bob Woodward in a basement parking garage, "You got to follow the money." Unfortunately, today, according to current and past FBI agents, there are few people left with the expertise to follow the money.

The next director of the bureau will face significant criminal investigative and counterterrorism challenges. James Comey, like the previous two FBI directors, was a career federal prosecutor and an attorney at the Department of Justice for the majority of his career. This experience will serve him well, but only if he embraces a new paradigm that takes a hard look at the functionality of the counterterrorism and intelligence programs vis-a-vis the criminal programs and does not succumb to political pressure to only commit resources to what is politically expedient.

Among the current and former agents with whom I have spoken, Comey is highly regarded for his stand, along with Mueller, against then White House aides Andrew H. Card and Alberto R. Gonzales during their attempt to get ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens then being conducted by the National Security Agency. Integrity goes a long way with rank-and-file FBI agents, as do the stones to stand up to your boss and tell him he is wrong. The threat to resign was real and would have had tremendous political impact had both Comey and Mueller left in protest of that policy. It is my personal hope that the president chose Comey based on a belief that a willingness to stand on principle is the single most important characteristic that an FBI director can have.

Will Comey continue to maintain that political independence, or will he succumb and follow Mueller's policies regarding the prioritization of national security programs within the FBI over the needs of the criminal branches, particularly as the war in Afghanistan ends, and the president proclaims al Qaeda defeated? Does Comey represent a new hope or a continuation of the status quo? Only time will tell.