"If you gather 200,000 people, I can gather a million," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told protesters. Source of photo: REUTERS/Umit Bektas.
Governments are led by conspiracy theorists. Most successful political leaders, no matter what political system they represent, have a conspiratorial bent of mind. It doesn't matter if it is a democracy or not. And this is only natural because politics is a ring of conspiracy. You don't last long as an ambitious politician in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, or any capital in the world if you are not constantly thinking about what your political enemies are devising. And that's just in the political arena.
So, when people throw the word "conspiracy theorist" around as a tool of ridicule, don't think nothing of it, and remember that the most successful and legendary leaders in history have been paranoid conspiracy theorists.
Here are just two current examples of conspiracy theorists who run governments, taken from recent headlines.
1) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that the present uprising in Turkey is mainly a product of a foreign-based conspiracy directed against his rule. Here is an excerpt from, "Erdogan Raises the Stakes," by Yavuz Baydar that contains revealing quotes about Erdoğan's mentality and his view of the nature of the protests.
He quoted Erdogan as saying: “We have to listen to those kids. We need to understand what these sociological movements mean and what they may result in. We will conduct studies on the issue. The problem is not about those kids; it is something beyond them.2) In the wake of NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, some leading politicians and media figures in the United States accused Snowden of defecting to China without presenting evidence to back up their claims. They publicized a conspiracy theory to tarnish the image of a whistleblower. Snowden clearly stated on record that his intentions were pure and patriotic, and that if he really wanted to financially benefit by selling sensitive information to the Chinese or the Russians then he could've done it.
“I see the plot and I know what lies beneath it. I have information, documents. I see clearly who the actors are — both at home and abroad. They have one target: Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I have uncovered their foreign links. I will struggle against them. And I know well how to do that.”
In the prime minister’s view, there are three reasons for “the conspiracy”: economic success, the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkey’s rise as an international player.
II. Leaders As Conspiracy Theorists: When Are They Right And When Are They Wrong?
Is Erdoğan wrong to charge that the protesters are misguided and that a bigger agenda is afoot that will harm Turkey's long-term interests? No, just as Assad wasn't wrong when he said in speeches and interviews in 2011 that the protests in Syria are led by provocateurs and are filled with foreign terrorists. Assad turned out to be right in his assessment.
I'm not defending Erdoğan. Readers of this blog know what I think about him and the party he leads. But what is going on in Turkey at the moment is not a simple case of David vs. Goliath, people vs. tyranny, innocent protesters vs. oppressive police. It is more complicated. And that's where conspiracy theories come in. Some conspiracy theories are legitimate and enlighten one's thinking, while others are just plain trash.
It should count for something that Erdoğan received almost fifty percent of the vote in the last election that was held in 2011. 21 million people voted him in. The person who came in second place, who heads the secular and liberal Republican People's Party, got the backing of 11 million people. So, Erdoğan has a point when he says that he could turn out more people. The angry protesters probably don't care about that fact, but it means something to any objective observer.