AcademicIamA rocket scientist turned law professor who specializes in democratic coups. I wrote a book that made me a public enemy in Turkey, and I ended up on Wikileaks. AMA about rocket science, Wikileaks, Turkish politics, coups, and Trump.
Nov 7th 2017 by ozan_varol • 26 Questions • 1178 Points
I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, in a family of no English speakers. I moved to the United States at age 17 by myself to attended Cornell University. I served on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers mission. I built stuff that went to Mars and wrote code that snaps photos of the Martian surface.
These days, my academic work has focused on challenging conventional wisdom on constitutional design and democratic revolutions. In my first book, The Democratic Coup d’État, I advance a simple, but contrarian, argument: Sometimes a democracy is established through a military coup.
I was declared a public enemy in Turkey as a result of the arguments now in the book. Turkish President Erdogan lashed out against me in a public speech, which was followed by ad hominem front-page attacks in government-friendly newspapers. I was also targeted by troll armies on social media who lobbed accusations at me ranging from traitor to CIA agent. My name popped up in the "Erdogan emails" leaked to Wikileaks.
I’m really excited to be here and answer any questions you may have. AMA!
Hey everyone, I'm taking a break to teach a class, but I'll be back later to answer the remaining questions. Thanks for your participation and thought-provoking questions!
Never heard of it. Is it good?
Our next President should be a foreign born citizen. Yes, that would require a constitutional amendment, and it's worth it. Those of us born in foreign countries affirmatively chose America over all others; they didn't just happen to be born here. They had to work (in many cases, very hard) to become a citizen of this country.
That's the kind of spirit that a President should embody.
What is your take on "organic coups" vs. those that are organized, funded, and facilitated by external states? Specifically, what is the prevalence of organic, democratic coups as compared to those with the end goal of installing a leader friendly to the external state covertly organizing the coup?
Great question. It's not always apparent which coups are "organic" vs. organized by external actors. And even in organic coups, there's usually some external influence. For example, the 1974 coup in Portugal, which toppled what was then Western Europe's oldest dictatorship, was staged by a NATO-generation of officers who had been inspired by their training in foreign countries.
In many cases, where a foreign government is more overtly involved, the transition doesn't produce a democracy because the foreign state cares more about installing a friendly leader, as opposed to that leader's democratic proclivities. Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup in Chile is a good example of that.
What's your thoughts on Spacex's colonization plans for Mars? Do you see any major problems with ISRU for methane production and fuel storage? And where do you see immediate growth in human presence in space the next 15 years.
Also, do you believe that if the Mueller investigation uncovers serious misconduct by the Trump campaign and given his praise of Putin and Erdogan, that an attempt to bring him to justice in light of proof of wrongdoing that violence is a probable outcome?
I'm impressed with what SpaceX has done. NASA, unfortunately, has been a bloated bureaucracy for some time now, and I'm hopeful about the impact that SpaceX (and others) will make. It's pretty amazing that SpaceX can send a rocket at the same cost as a NASA Christmas party. That said, SpaceX's plans are quite ambitious. I'm not sure how Elon Musk comes up with the dates (2022 is the current data for the colonization of Mars), but I doubt that it will happen by then. I hope he can prove me wrong.
As for your other question, violence by whom? By Trump's domestic proponents? Or by Turkey or Russia?
With the gains and progress AKP has made in Turkey over the last decade and a half, do to believe Kemalism is still relevant? And perhaps further, do you believe Ataturk's legacy and values will still play an important role in Turkey in a generation?
Kemalism still remains relevant, but to a rapidly diminishing portion of the population. AKP has made strides to erase Ataturk's legacy both in the educational and cultural realms (most recently, AKP decided to demolish the historical Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim). These moves have paid off, to some extent.
That said, there remains a minority still strongly dedicated to his legacy and values. They're intent on passing on those values to future generations, even if they happen to be in the minority.
Did Russia work with Erdogan to stage the coup? I don't doubt that the coup was real, but I can't help sense that the Turkish brass knew the details, allowed or encouraged it through Russian provocateurs, and, as we can all see, used the coup to persecute his political opponents.
I agree that the July 15 coup attempt was real. I don't know if Russia was involved (they can't have their hand in everything).
If I can speculate, I would guess that Erdogan knew about the impending coup, but let it happen knowing that it was bound to fail. Erdogan is a firm believer in the adage that a good crisis should never go to waste. As you note, he used the coup to institute a state of emergency and authorized an immediate crackdown on dissidents.