Turkey's president on Tuesday accused the West of "supporting terror and standing by" those who plotted last month's attempted coup, just 24 hours after the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff traveled to Ankara in an attempt to diffuse tensions between the NATO allies.
The incident is the latest indication that Washington is underestimating the degree to which Turkey's leadership genuinely believes that the US is complicit in the coup attempt, not least because of its willingness to harbor an exiled cleric and former political leader accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of plotting the uprising.
Accusations about complicity hurled at various US officials in the weeks following the coup attempt were initially perceived by many in the West as conspiracy theories peddled by an increasingly paranoid Erdogan. But, as Istanbul-based journalist William Armstrong reported for War on the Rocks, those accusations "are getting bolder by the day."
"Pro-government Islamist newspaper Yeni Şafak has for days been claiming that retired US Gen. John F. Campbell masterminded the coup," Armstrong wrote. "Others have reported that Istanbul anti-terror police are pursuing Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center...Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has dropped heavy hints, saying he had 'no doubt' that 'US intelligence knows the coup attempt was made by Fethullah Gülen.'"
The accusations would be easier for the West to write off if they were not quickly gaining mainstream appeal within Turkish society, which — reassured by pro-government media outlets — apparently feels dissatisfied with Washington's seemingly tepid condemnation of the coup in its immediate aftermath.
"There is a narrative in the Turkish press that the White House was slow to respond with a statement during the coup attempt, and that this is because the US was 'waiting to see who won,'" Aaron Stein, an expert on Turkey and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, noted on Twitter.
"This conspiracy shows how little Turkish media knows about US communications," Stein continued. "The White House condemnation was, by bureaucratic standards, close to speed of light. Someone worked really hard to get that out fast."
Hours after the uprising began, the White House called on "all parties in Turkey" to "support the democratically elected government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed." US Secretary of State John Kerry released his own statement shortly thereafter to reiterate "the United States' absolute support for Turkey's democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions."
Regardless of the facts, however, the suspicion that Washington may have been sympathetic to the coup plotters — or even actively helping to plan the uprising — is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom, Armstrong noted.
"Talking to locals where I live here in Istanbul, it seems to have already become accepted wisdom among many that the United States was behind the coup," Armstrong wrote.
The Turkish public's reflex to sympathize with conspiracy theories "goes back almost a century, to the end of World War I, when the West carved up the defeated Ottoman Empire," Tim Arango, a Middle East reporter at the New York Times, wrote on Wednesday.
"A Western plan to divide what became modern Turkey failed after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s founder, waged war against the occupiers. But the effort forever ingrained in the Turkish psyche a fear of Western conspiracies."
Haluk Taylan, 48, a shopkeeper in Istanbul, told Arango that "the US is behind the coup, no doubt. The deep state of the US, the C.I.A., had a role in it."
Istanbul-based software developer Bekir Karabulut seemed to agree.
"I think it would be naïve to say that the US has no involvement in the coup attempt,” Karabulut told Arango. “The US likes to meddle in our business, and the CIA has supported Gulen for years. They helped him flee from Turkey.”
That penchant for conspiracy theories, combined with the optics of harboring a man the Turkish people are generally united against, could ultimately be what drives the US-Turkey relationship to a "critical watershed" — especially as the West continues to "obsess" over contextualizing every event in Turkey around Erdogan's steady march toward one-man rule.
It has become similar to how many within Turkey contextualize major domestic and international events around the seemingly limitless capacity of US power.
A tweet posted on Tuesday by Anadolu, the Turkish state-run news agency, which alleged that the global intelligence firm Stratfor may have played a role in the coup attempt and is a front for the CIA, exemplified that mentality.
"It is also very important to note that the government has considerable support for its post-coup attempt actions," Stein tweeted, referring to Erdogan's post-coup crackdown on suspected coup plotters and sympathizers.
As such, regardless of the overwhelming lack of evidence to suggest any Western influence in the military uprising, the popular mood in Turkey — now hovering somewhere between suspicion and unwavering conviction that the US had something to do with it — has come to reflect the government's "masterful instrumentalization of anti-Americanism" in the coup's aftermath, Stein said.
The consequences of that, Armstrong noted, "may be very grave indeed."