Hey reddit, my name is Ozan Varol. I’m a tenured professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and the author of The Democratic Coup d’État. This is my website.

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!

My proof: My Twitter and My Website

Thanks so much everyone for the thought-provoking questions! If you'd like to stay in touch, you can follow my writing on my website.

Comments: 643 • Responses: 66  • Date: 

EricT59366 karma

Do you play Kerbal Space Program?

ozan_varol231 karma

Never heard of it. Is it good?

EricT59216 karma

Indeed. It is basically a rocket science simulator with a full planetary system to explore albeit at about 1/4 scale earth. So you can get to orbit at about 76k meters. But you have to build and design your own rockets. There are many many unintentional rapid disassemblies.

But once you manage to get a craft into a decent circular orbit and have fuel left over to come back again it is pretty awesome

ozan_varol232 karma

Sounds like it's right up my alley. I'll check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

Bretty_boy233 karma

I'm feeling a bit unfulfilled in my life, but unfortunately I live in a pretty stable country. How would I go about executing a successful coup and taking control?

ozan_varol253 karma

If you live in a pretty stable country, the first thing you need to do is to create instability. Coups against stable governments rarely work. The failed coup attempt in July 2016 in Turkey is a good example. It would have taking nothing short of a civil war to oust Erdogan from the stable government seat he occupies.

It's only when there's instability, and the government begins to wobble in some fashion, that a coup becomes a possibility.

NotCreative2015199 karma

Is there any correlation between the exothermic thrust coefficient of a stage 3 booster and Bon Jovi's hair?

ozan_varol233 karma

If I were giving out awards for the best question of this AMA, you'd win first place (so far).

My answer: There's a correlation, but not causation.

In my experience (having attended several Bon Jovi concerts--a fact I'm embarrassed to admit), Bon Jovi's hair changes are caused by the publicity demanded by each album release. Hence, the new silver look with the upcoming release of his new album.

TheMadQuixotician154 karma

Hello! I wrote my thesis on coups. What's your take on Thailand? What makes them such a special case and statistical aberration?

ozan_varol183 karma

Great question. I think Thailand is a textbook example of how military coups can beget future coups, which something that I consider at length in my book [https://smile.amazon.com/Democratic-Coup-dÉtat-Ozan-Varol/dp/019062602X/]. Over time, coups can become an acceptable way of doing business and correcting deficiencies in civilian politics.

Thailand's culture of coups also stems from frequent power vacuums in the country. As Aristotle put it, nature abhors a vacuum. When politics are deeply polarized (as they are in Thailand), power vacuums emerge as a result, and the military is more likely (and able) to step in to fill the vacuum.

Is your thesis available online somewhere? I'd love to take a look.

DataPhreak17 karma

May be too much speculation, but do you think then that turkey is heading towards the same path of military coups begetting future coups?

ozan_varol40 karma

In the late 1990s the former Turkish president and prime minister Süleyman Demirel was asked to comment on an ongoing crisis between the civilian and military leadership in his country. Demirel replied with a joke. There was an experiment in an English zoo, he said, to place lambs and wolves in one cage to teach them how to live together. The zoo director was asked if the experiment was working. The director replied, “Yes, but from time to time, we have to replace the lambs.”

In other words, Turkey is already an example of coups begetting coups: There've been numerous coups in Turkish history, primarily during periods of political instability. The July 15th attempt failed in large part because the target was a stable, popular government.

Oak987113 karma

Will Trump pardon Turkey for Thanksgiving?

moebiusatg103 karma

Longer term, how will Trump effect the US and Turkey relationship?

ozan_varol161 karma

Trump and Erdogan are cut from the same populist cloth. Like Trump, Erdogan also purports to represent a neglected middle class in Turkey (but unlike Trump, Erdogan was actually part of that neglected middle class before assuming power).

As far as leadership style goes, I can see them being natural partners. As President, Trump has channeled Erdogan, positioning himself as a strong and ruthless leader, running roughshod over his opponents, actively seeking scandal, and threatening to strip media outlets of their broadcasting licenses (all pages out of w playbook).

That said, I'm sure they'll be policy differences: The latest spat over the issuance of visas is a good example.

HopeDesired95 karma

Who would be your ideal president for the USA?

ozan_varol293 karma

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.

canram76 karma

Hi Ozan!

Turkey has been encroaching on Syria. Greece is an absolute mess. Do you think Erdogan has plans to rebuild the Ottoman Empire?

ozan_varol117 karma

I don't there's any doubt that Erdogan harbors "neo-Ottoman" ambitions. But they're more of a product of hubris than anything else. So far, sobering realities have failed to cooperate with his regional ambitions. He may have solidified his power domestically, but it'll take a lot more to recreate an Ottoman Empire that spans beyond the borders of Turkey.

piffslinger55 karma

As a young person just starting out, your career of varied, heady, and interesting work is something I'd very much like to emulate. What about your approach to life and work, if anything, do you think has helped you most in achieving all of this?

ozan_varol165 karma

Focus on process, not outcome. We tend to fall in love with the result, but not the path. But an outcome-focused mind sets you up for failure.

In my experience, the amateur focuses on outcomes and expects immediate results. The professional plays the long game and prioritizes the process, perfecting it for years with no immediate payoff.

Instead of setting goals and focusing on them, ask: What’s the process that might get me to this goal? Then obsessively focus on the process and forget about the goal.

More on this here:


mellowmonk42 karma

Focus on process, not outcome.

This is very interesting advice, not something we hear much, especially in the U.S., where all that is necessary in terms of process is to "follow your dream," as if dreaming will make it all come true.

ozan_varol49 karma

I agree completely. "Follow your passion," in my view, is terrible advice, even though we hear it all the time--particularly in commencement speeches.

mind_repair_tech43 karma

What's your favorite quote related to democracy?

ozan_varol124 karma

"You can’t nudge history forward in the way a child would when wishing to make a flower grow more quickly: by tugging at it. … We must patiently plant the seeds and water the ground well, and give the plants exactly the amount of time they need to mature. — President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic

I love this quote because we tend to have unreasonable expectations on how quickly countries will democratize. I devoted an entire chapter to this question in my book. Havel makes it clear that the reality doesn't meet our soaring expectations and we need to give these transitioning democracies time to mature.

Murdock0752 karma

I lived across the street from Havel when I lived in Prague. I would see him walking his dog with his bodyguard almost every other day, always said hello and seemed nice.

He brought the Czech Republic into a new age, championed democracy and freedom. He was an inspiration and will be missed greatly.

ozan_varol42 karma

Wow, that's amazing. He's one of my heroes.

Goreka42 karma

How strong of an effect do you believe Erdogan / Trump will have on Europe in the near future?

I ask this because in my country (The Netherlands) Erdogan tends to show up on the news quite a bit, and there is quite a large population of Turkish people here.

Trump obviously never even leaves the news, and I wonder if some shit will hit the fan in America so hard some time soon pieces of it will hit us here across the ocean.

ozan_varol52 karma

It's cliche, but we live in a global world. If the shit hits the fan in America, some of it will inevitably end up across the globe.

Politicians learn from each other. It's no wonder that, in many countries (including your own), politicians with authoritarian impulses simultaneously moved from the fringes to the mainstream.

drtisk35 karma

What was it like working for team rocket? Did they have any genuine scientific research projects or was it all just gambling/plagiarism of silph co.?

ozan_varol64 karma

The first rule of Team Rocket is you don't talk about Team Rocket.

Septi034 karma

I am Turkish but my idealogies and lifestyle don't fit anyone I know. I stick out like a sore thumb. How do I go about leaving this country? I am in high school right now.

ozan_varol46 karma

Apply to universities abroad. That's how I ended up leaving.

fire_in_our_throats25 karma

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?

ozan_varol41 karma

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.

fire_in_our_throats15 karma

I didn't consider that - what you say about the transition not producing a democracy does seem to ring true. I'm still amazed that so many people accept the "official" narratives and justifications for entering wars and supporting coups that do ultimately result in a friendly dictator or autocrat.

As a follow-up, if I'm allowed, do you see this pattern ending? Will Western powers ever adopt a live-and-let-live policy, or are we destined to ultimately destroy ourselves in this/these forever war/s?

Thank you so much for your answers, participating in this AMA, and doing what you do!

ozan_varol17 karma

Unfortunately, we tend not to learn our lessons from fighting unwise foreign wars that go horribly wrong. Each intervention, while intent on solving one problem, exacerbates another.

There's a great book by Andrew Bacevich, called America's War for the Greater Middle East. I think you would enjoy it. I have a summary of it on my blog:


Boredatschool1721 karma

What exactly inspired the change from rocket science to law? Was the transition difficult? Which has been more interesting to you?

ozan_varol47 karma

Great question, and I wish I had an equally great answer. I loved worked in rocket science, particularly on the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers project. I wouldn't trade that experience. But for me, my education in astrophysics felt disconnected from reality. I wanted to make an impact, and losing myself in quantum mechanics wasn't doing it for me. I took a law class in undergrad to see if it might be a fit. I remember reading a case for the first day of class about a botched nose job. This was a real dispute between a patient and her doctor, and it felt like a breath of fresh air to me. That's when I transitioned into law.

But the analytical skills I picked up in rocket science have come in handy in law. And some of the best students I've had as a law professor have been engineers and scientists with sharply tuned critical thinking skills.

m0le19 karma

How do you think we can defend democracy against the self-polarisation / bubble tendencies of ultra personalised news and opinion?

ozan_varol71 karma

Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.

Marc Andreessen has a saying that I love: “Strong beliefs, loosely held.” Strongly believe in an idea, but be willing to change your opinion if the facts show otherwise.

Ask yourself, “What fact would change one of my strongly held opinions?” If the answer is “no fact would change my opinion,” you’re in trouble. A person who is unwilling to change his or her mind even with an underlying change in the facts is, by definition, a fundamentalist.

In the end, it takes courage and determination to see the truth instead of the convenient. But it’s well worth the effort.

More on that here:


ryan_holiday14 karma

I know your work is mostly about how democracies can be established through a coup, what about situations where the norms in a democracy had decayed? Can a coup be used to reestablish a democracy or democratic? I am thinking about Trump and the generals surrounding him, obviously but could take something less controversial, like Huey Long in Louisiana in the mid 20th century.

ozan_varol43 karma

Certainly. Portugal is a good example of this: It was a democracy before the Estado Novo dictatorship came to power in the early 20th century. A military coup in 1974 toppled the regime and transitioned the country to democratic rule.

When democratic decay happens and a country becomes authoritarian--we're seeing another example of this phenomenon in Venezuela--a military coup can be used to re-orient the country back toward democracy.

Trump is a democratically elected leader, so a coup against him (currently) wouldn't fit the framework I cover in the book. If he were to refuse to give up power upon an impeachment or an electoral loss, the military may be forced to act to stem the authoritarian tide.

There've been signs of brewing discontent with President Trump among members of the armed forces. In an address late August to troops stationed abroad, former Marine Corps General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a stern warning. He noted that America has "problems we don't have in the military" and instructed the troops to "hold the line" until a solution to domestic problems can be devised. It was unusually strong language for a former general who prides himself on remaining above partisan politics, and even stronger for someone who currently occupies a spot in the cabinet. Mattis added, "We’ve got the power of intimidation, and that’s you, if someone wants to screw with our families, our country and our allies.”

Mattis’s comments were a not-so-thinly veiled rebuke of Donald Trump—and he isn’t the only military leader expressing frustration with the Commander-in-Chief. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the five armed service chiefs issued statements condemning neo-Nazis—without the “on many sides” equivocation that President Trump used. Trump's ban on transgender people from serving in the military also provoked a strong reaction from the military's top brass. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, declared that transgender troops would continue to serve until a detailed policy plan was issued and that the military would “continue to treat all of its personnel with respect." In other countries, similar sentiments have served as early indicators of the military's insubordination.

Duke_Newcombe12 karma

Are you thoroughly, utterly sick of all variations of "it's not exactly rocket science" jokes, yet?

ozan_varol22 karma

I've heard them so many times that I think I've developed immunity. Same with the Turkey jokes (especially right before Thanksgiving).

iambluest12 karma

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.

ozan_varol33 karma

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.

blitzwit14312 karma

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?

ozan_varol25 karma

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?

blitzwit14313 karma

Violence domestically. By either end of the spectrum. i can foresee a scenario where if Trump is impeached/forced out of office that his supporters react violently. I can also see if he refuses to cooperate and attempts to retain power in contempt of legal process that anti-Trump factions may react violently.

ozan_varol15 karma

Agreed. Violence is possible in both scenarios.

TottieM11 karma

Have you an opinion about the Kurds. Should Turkey be in NATO?

ozan_varol23 karma

Yes, Turkey should be in NATO. The military alliance has been a progressive force for Turkey. It anchors Turkey to the West, which is a good thing.

Is there something more specific you'd like to know about the Kurds?

swearinerin11 karma

I’ve heard that many Turkish people believe in the Armenian Genocide and have even spoken out about it happening but that the government has shut down (jailed, threatened, etc..) those people who speak out that it happened.

Is this true (to your knowledge)?

ozan_varol26 karma

Yes. The most prominent example is author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, who was prosecuted for speaking about the Armenian Genocide.

nbd900010 karma

Aloha! if i have personally have an impulse control problem, but it's specific, do i have any DeltaV?

Also. can you execute a coup in a failed state simply by getting enough people on the same page, in spite of the existing system?

ozan_varol8 karma

Coups can happen in failing states, precisely because they are failing states. There's a huge power vacuum, and the domestic military (if they are stable) can step in to fill the vacuum by staging a coup.

Vorenvs9 karma

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?

ozan_varol15 karma

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.

MoltaBella8 karma

How do you handle the world of politics and everyone having an opinion? Do you have advice for people who want to be as educated as possible about a topic? How do we have civil conversations without talking out of our asses, basically?

ozan_varol27 karma

I think we need to raise threshold required to have an opinion on something. I often tell my law students that the best lawyers know their opponent's argument better than their opponent does. But most of us tend to form an opinion without considering the arguments on the other side.

Empathy would also help. Humans operate on different frequencies. If someone disagrees with you, it’s not because they’re wrong, and you’re right. It’s because they believe something that you don’t believe. They're seeing something that you're not seeing.

You can read more about my thoughts on that very question at this link:


heartfelt244 karma

Is Erdoğan 's support base mostly religious fanatics? Do you think it is possible that Turkey might become socially regressive after his stints in power?

ozan_varol10 karma

I don't think "religious fanatics" is the right phrase. There are certainly extremists within Erdogan's base, but most of his base consists of a pious middle class that's been marginalized by secular governments of the past.

And yes, it's certainly possible for Turkey to become socially regressive. We're already seeing some signs of this (in the form of increasing restrictions on alcohol use, to cite one example).

The country is regressing democratically as well. Erdogan has consolidated power in his presidential seat and curbed the independence of virtually all institutions designed to check abuse of power.

frenchhorngod3 karma

Have you ever found that a coup is all about those who follow the rules (pretty much) and those who don't?

ozan_varol9 karma

A coup, by definition, is an extra-legal action. People who plot and stage coups are breaking all sort of rules. They come to power by violence or threat of violence.

But as I argue in my book, paradoxically, an event as illegal and undemocratic as a military coup can produce a democratic outcome (in some cases) by transitioning the country from dictatorship to democracy.

darkglitter8023 karma

I’ve never fully understood the depth of Erdogan’s hold about power... He is a dictator right? Is he the big man (as Putin) or there’s something/someone behind him? Is Islam radicalization a big concern in Turkey?

ozan_varol6 karma

He's running a one-man operation. Islamic radicalization is certainly a concern for the progressives and secularists in the country. Turkey has undergone, not only democratic, but also social regression under Erdogan.

Wh1teCr0w3 karma

In your opinion, do you feel it's possible for a coup to be successful in a first world, or what can be loosely described as a "super power" country in our modern times?

I apologize if this is an uncomfortable question.

ozan_varol4 karma

I think the question turns, not on whether the country is a "super power," but whether it's stable. Coups rarely succeed against stable governments, and super powers tend to be stable regimes.

geldersekifuzuli3 karma

Hi Dr. Varol, I am Turkish student studying PhD on life long learning/ adult education at Penn State.

Personally, I can't see any tangible reason for imagining a better Turkey in the long run. Whoever gets power uses it for suppressing other ideologies. Courts have been mostly biased. I don't know any time period that there is no suppressed community by the government throughout Turkey Republic history. I don't see any reason for changing this intolerant mind set in Turkey. This is deeply embedded in almost all parts of the the society. Firstly dehumanization comes, and then persecution becomes acceptable treatment. So, society see persecution as something like pest control.

On the other hand, I also know that I may not read dynamics of the Turkey well, my perception can be deficient, and my ideas may be wrong. (I have failed in reading Turkey before, too) That's why, I would love hear your perspective.

Do you see any reason for a serious positive change in the long run? For your point of view, is there a tangible reason to hope for a Turkey that values are respected, minorities are well behaved, courts are as fair as in the US, basic human rights are protected?


ozan_varol7 karma

Great question, but very difficult to answer.

I'll note that countries in far worse circumstances than modern Turkey have corrected their trajectory toward a more inclusive democracy. Think South Africa. Germany after WWII. And many others.

Positive change is possible, but exceedingly unlikely in the short term, for many of the reasons you mention.

For many Turks, things will get worse before they get better.

EmmaofEngland2 karma

Did you always feel different to the people you grew up with?

ozan_varol5 karma

I was into computers and astronomy growing (i.e., I was a nerd). There were plenty of other nerds to keep me company, so I didn't necessarily feel different. But I've always felt uncomfortable when I find myself on the side of the majority, which is why I blog about contrarian thinking.

whythecynic2 karma

Is there an "Ignition!" for solid boosters? Rocket engine design? I've been hard-pressed to find another book that's as informative, concise, and funny, with a great blend of hard science and the human side of things!

ozan_varol7 karma

I can't think of any accessible books on solid boosters or rocket engine design, but I'd recommend this book-length blog post from Wait But Why, titled SpaceX's Big Fucking Rocket: https://waitbutwhy.com/2016/09/spacexs-big-fking-rocket-the-full-story.html

Have you read Walter Isaacson's Einstein biography? You might enjoy it, if you're looking for a book that combines science (you get plenty about the theory of relativity) and the human side of things.

Other examples that come to mind are Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, and Geraint Lewis et al's A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos.

hiton162 karma

Other than Turkey and Spain, can you reference any democracies that came from dictatorships? There are lots of examples of the reverse...

ozan_varol2 karma

Sure, there are lots of them. I'll name a few: Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Mali, Colombia, Guinea-Bissau, and even the United States (which was under British dictatorial rule before the colonies declared independence).

I cover most of these cases in my book.

technicalextacy2 karma

Would you agree with the statement that democracies generally do not go to war with each other?

ozan_varol3 karma

That's what the empirical evidence shows. Democracies are less likely than autocracies to go to war with each other.

TheShayminex2 karma

What does a rocket sound like? Answer in form of an onomatopoeia.

ozan_varol3 karma


tmtmac182 karma

Howdy there from Ohio! What is something a rocket could carry that could encourage a coup? Trying to keep the question relevant to both backgrounds.

ozan_varol4 karma

I love it! Any sort of explosive would do the trick since coups tend to begin with violence, or at least the threat of it.

SySTeMFa11URe2 karma

This might be a stupid question, but have you ever experienced any hate physically?

ozan_varol3 karma

Physically, no. Verbally, yes, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

More on that in this article, which was republished in TIME: https://ozanvarol.com/americas-demons-and-better-angels/

ScratchyPond4572 karma

when you build or design something to go into space how many people check your design before it actually gets turned in to something?

ozan_varol2 karma

Anything that will go into space is checked, re-checked, tested, and re-tested. When the testing is insufficient (as was the case, to cite one example, with the ill-fated 1999 Mars Polar Lander), things go south.

onoahoe2 karma

How does being a rocket scientist and law professor qualify you to talk about Donald Trump? (this is not a passive aggressive question I'm just curious)

ozan_varol14 karma

I don't have any particular expertise for speaking about Trump (other than being an informed citizen). I don't view myself as an "expert" on anything--even on matters that other people would call me an expert on. Whenever someone asks me to express an “expert opinion,” I instinctively look behind me to see if they’re speaking to someone else.

I’m constantly learning. I’m continuously revising my opinions. Once I declare myself to be the expert on anything, I fear that my learning will stop.

I've written more about this issue at this link.

AlmightyRuler2 karma

I once had a professor make the assertion that the reason democracies did not truly take hold in Middle Eastern and Asian countries is that they lack a long tradition of non-partisan bureaucratic institutions, which are the backbone of a strong democracy. Would you argue this is true, partly true, or not at all the case?

ozan_varol8 karma

First, I would dispute the premise of your professor's assertion that democracies didn't take hold in Asia and the Middle East. There are plenty examples to the contrary (see, for example, Japan).

But to answer your question, it's often misleading to identify a single cause for a complex problem. Problems tend to have multiple causes, and the lack of stable, competent bureaucratic institution can certainly be one reason why a country doesn't develop a democratic system, but there are many others as well.

Mahimah2 karma

Of all the topics in your original post, which is the most difficult to explain?

ozan_varol3 karma

Quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity top the list. They challenge our intuitive notions of how the world is supposed to work, which makes them difficult to understand and explain.

seis662 karma

Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to questions. I am from Chile. How do you feel about it’s very particular history around 1970-1990, where we went from a legally-chosen socialist government, then to a coup to “re establish democracy” which led to a 25+ years of dictatorship, to being able to vote as a country if we wanted to continue Pinochet’s government?

ozan_varol2 karma

Chile doesn't fit the "democratic coup" framework in the book. As you note, Pinochet staged his coup in democratic terms, declaring that he was taking upon himself “the moral duty of deposing the illegitimate government.” Not everyone bought this line, of course, and subsequent events exposed Pinochet’s initial promises for the lies they were. My book focuses on military coups that topple dictatorships and build democracies, which is the opposite of what occurred under Pinochet.

PKspyder1 karma

Do you think Elon Musk's Earth to Earth rocket is a good idea?

ozan_varol2 karma

It's a good idea--assuming that it actually works and launch and re-entry don't kill people.

MasterLJ1 karma

Given that the situation we currently are in, with heinous mass shootings in the US, and talk surrounding the 2nd Amendment -- do you believe US citizens could possibly overthrow the US government if it became tyrannical?

ozan_varol2 karma

Not without the help of the military. Regardless of the country you're in, when the military sides with a tyrannical regime, the regime often reigns supreme. When the military sides with the people, democratic regime change becomes a possibility.

Deerballs1 karma

With what kind of motivation did you write your book? Could you see the consequences of writing that book , and if so why did yo do it?

ozan_varol2 karma

My motivation for writing the book was curiosity. The book attempts to answer a set of seemingly simple questions that popped into my head as I sat in my apartment in Chicago in early 2011 watching the Arab Spring unfold. In Egypt the military had just seized power from the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak and promised democratic elections. Although Egypt’s democratic transition later took a turn for the worse, the military coup enabled the first ever democratic elections in a country that has been around since before Christ. In Tunisia the military enabled a democratic transition by refusing orders from the dictatorship to use force on its rebellious population. On some accounts, it was Rachid Ammar, chief of staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces, who said “Tu est fini” (You are finished) to the Tunisian dictator Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali and sent him running to Saudi Arabia for refuge.

As my television set unveiled these events in bright colors and mass confusion, I began to ponder: Why do we assume that militaries inherently pose a problem to democracy? Can a military coup serve the counterintuitive function of toppling a dictator and establishing the foundations of democratic rule? Over the ensuing six years I devoured innumerable historical and contemporary sources, trekked to Egypt and Turkey for interviews and research, and wrote articles in search of answers to these questions. That search culminated in the book.

Whenever you challenge conventional wisdom (as I did in the book), you can expect backlash from those with a stake in the status quo. But I certainly couldn't foresee the magnitude of the backlash.

SparklesMcSpeedstar1 karma

How difficult was it for you to make the switch in subject?

I'm a 3rd year undergraduate who's not sure he's in the right place...

ozan_varol1 karma

It was much easier than it might appear. I took a law class in my senior year that ended up changing my career aspirations. It's not too late, even after you graduate, to switch to a different path that the one you may have followed in college.

Mr_Monster1 karma

It is my opinion that the coup in Turkey was staged by President Erdoğan in order to crush dissent and true democracy. Is there evidence to support their claim of a true coup attempt?

ozan_varol1 karma

No. All of the evidence shows the coup attempt was real. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if Erdogan was informed that the coup was coming but let it happen anyway knowing that it would fail (this is pure speculation; I have no evidence to back it up). He's a firm believer in the adage that no crisis should go to waste. As you note, he used the failed coup attempt to as an excuse to run roughshod over dissidents.

[deleted]1 karma


ozan_varol15 karma

Kurds are a long-disenfranchised minority in Turkey. They've been treated as second-class citizens for a long time now--assigned the duties of citizenship, but denied many of the benefits, including the right to speak in their mother tongue. This led to an on-again-off-again conflict with the Turkish state.

The current Turkish government has no interest in normalizing relations. The leaders of the Kurdish party in Parliament (HDP) have been jailed for supporting terrorist activist against the Turkish state. The coup attempt on July 15, 2016, provided further fodder to President Erdogan to conduct massive purges against his political opponents, including deputies from HDP.

Progress requires consensus, and consensus requires compromise and some level of trust between negotiating parties. These elements are absent from the current political discourse.

divingpirate1 karma

Did you actually work on rockets or was your work focused on the landers? Both are awesome areas and I have a plethora of questions on either area.

ozan_varol2 karma

I was on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers (so I worked primarily on the rovers).

DrewLeo1 karma

Speaking of Wikileaks, how does that organization factor into your area of expertise? In other words, how much of the credit/blame would you give them for coups these days?

ozan_varol2 karma

In my area of expertise, Wikileaks has come into play after a coup happened. In the case of the July 15th failed coup attempt in Turkey, they leaked a set of "Erdogan emails" as retaliation for the political crackdown that ensued. I'm not aware of any cases where Wikileaks has prompted a coup, though I can certainly see it happening.

SVcross-1 karma

If a goverment paid you to, how many Rockets do you need to send to space the servers of Wikileaks, all the turkish politicians and Trump? Would you do it?

ozan_varol12 karma

Haha. Good question, but the answer is no, for a personal reason. I was on the receiving end of this threat not long ago: A columnist in Turkey suggested that NASA should send me to Mars so I can stop writing nonsense. Treat others like you want to be treated, right?

lispychicken-1 karma

Would you call President Trumps rise through a bought DNC, a cheating Hillary, entirely slanted media and bought and paid for social media platform a successful coup vs the corrupt government/media or is this squarely on the US voters finally wanting to make an actual change that was promised previously, but never once delivered? How would you categorize his meteoric rise through the garbage that is and hopefully "was" the US political landscape?

Does Turkey have any great stories of success in politics (large scale or small) like we do with President Trump?

ozan_varol6 karma

Erdogan's rise to power is a story of monumental success in politics. He started out as Mayor of Istanbul, he was jailed for reciting a poem that a Turkish court interpreted as a call to violence, he got out, formed his political party, and then became Prime Minister and now President.

His rise to power occurred through populist appeals to a suffering middle class (not unlike Trump). The pious middle class in Turkey had been languishing under fragile, secular coalition governments. Erdogan emerged as their savior.

FuckSensibility-5 karma

Why does Wikileaks hate democracy?

ozan_varol7 karma

Why do you think that Wikileaks hates democracy? They would argue that they're promoting democracy by enhancing transparency.