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Bolton: If coup in Turkey fails, expect brutal crackdown

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 15, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

 

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton joins us.

Good evening, Ambassador.

As you look at these pictures and see what's going on in Turkey, your thoughts?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Well, I think we really don't have any good idea what the disposition of the Turkish military is. We know the coup originated with some in the military. The senior officers, many who have been put in place in the past several years by Erdogan obviously are part of the problem from the perspective of those carrying out the coup.

So, there is no doubt this is not run from the very top of the military, but it's kind of a last ditch effort by those who still adhered to the vision of Mustafa Kemal to have a secular constitution, secular society,(inaudible) in Western government. The constitution itself gives the military the duty of maintaining the secular nature of the state which Erdogan has been doing everything he can to overturn.

So, I think it remains very much up in the air. I don't think these television pictures tell us very much. You are hearing competing press statements. But I think the future of Turkey is obviously at stake. If the coup succeeds then I think Erdogan effort to perhaps recreate the Ottoman caliphate, perhaps to be the dominant power again in the Middle East and second to move Turkey in Islamic direction will be foiled if Erdogan prevails. I think you would see an acceleration of the Islamization effort to make.

VAN SUSTEREN: But, it puts United States in an awkward position. We support elective government, we do not support coups. Yet the way that you describe it is that given the choice that seems that we would, the United States would prefer it with move toward less toward Islamic government and towards a more secular one.

BOLTON: Well, I think the president's statement just a few minutes ago seems to indicate is he backing Erdogan the same way for a good long time they backed Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. I think it is not a question of elected governments versus military governments at least in the case of Turkey. Is the question of the constitution which Erdogan has been doing his best to sub verdict.

Not only that, he has been trying to get his supporters, Islamists in the top jobs of the military. He has been systematically packing the judiciary to that effect as well. So that is why I think this is, really is kind a last stand by the seculars who are still in the army.

And that may bode poorly for their chance of success. But on the other hand, as I say, at least on a public level, I don't think we have now any estimate of how much of the military backs the coup and how much of the military and the police oppose the coup.

VAN SUSTEREN: Should we be worried? Does this impact us here in the United States? I mean, as Americans are watching us across the country and looking at these pictures and trying to figure out who is doing, what how does it impact Americans?

BOLTON: Well, if Turkey goes in the direction that Erdogan wants, toward more an Islamist state, I think that increasing radicalization just contributes to the growing chaos across the region, if the military wins it's still going to be difficult.

But, you know, Erdogan once said when he was Mayor of Istanbul and I think this is in the minds of a lot of Turkish citizens, civilians and military. Erdogan once said democracy is like a streetcar you ride it to the stop you wanted and then you get off. So, it may sound ironic but the defender of not only the secular state but the possibility of democracy into the future here could well be the military against this kind of authoritarian internal coupe by somebody like Erdogan.

VAN SUSTEREN: But Erdogan is someone we know. Is someone we have worked with for a while.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLTON: Well, I must say, I don't agree with that.

I don't agree with that he was ahead of the AKP party, back in 2003 when the United States sought permission from the government of Turkey.

VAN SUSTEREN: He said no.

BOLTON: To bring in the fourth division, fourth infantry division across the Turkish border into Iraq and we couldn't get the votes. And Erdogan said, oh well, you know I did my best and so on and so forth. I have always believed he sabotaged our efforts back then.

So I have nothing. I have no charity in my heart for Erdogan. If he goes down I'm not shedding any tears. I don't think he has been a friend to the United States.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I don't know, I didn't mean to say as a friend but he is someone we know, who we work with. I mean, we at least know him in that way. It's someone we have -- whether he has been cooperative or not, at least it's a known entity. If the military is successful in this coup, who does emerge as the one in charge? And what's the certainty there for us?

BOLTON: Well, I don't think we know. But we know Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping well too, I mean, that to me is not evidence in support of their remaining in power, necessarily I think there could be confusion if the military prevails. Likely are people at the lower general grade level who are doing this, because they are the last ones that haven't been purged.

So, therefore, the question of the loyalty of all of the various military units around the country remains to be determined. And at this point, you know, the journalists are most mostly sitting in Istanbul in Ankara and I don't think have any real way of knowing what the sentiment of the troops is throughout the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think German Chancellor Angela Merkel is thinking tonight as she looks at this?

BOLTON: Well, she has made a mess of this whole refugee situation in Europe. I have a lot of respect for Merkel but this has been a debacle. And I think the Erdogan government facilitated the movement of those hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of refugees out of Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

So if anything I think the restoration of a secular government here is more likely to stem the refugee flow. I think the military is more likely to say we have got to get control of this situation.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's being reported right now that the -- at least being reported in Turkey that the coup attempt has been repelled, that sounds like, it might be -that the Erdogan has regained control.

BOLTON: Well, it is certainly possible. As I say at this point we have got a lot of competing press releases and we will see what happens as the evening goes on. It is just very difficult to tell from a distance.

VAN SUSTEREN: There also were some flashes and explosions but I don't know what that was. We saw pictures of that. I can't, you know, I don't know what they are. I just noticed them in the background as we look at these pictures.

What about in terms of, I asked you about German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Impact on Western Europe is what? I mean as we watch and try to figure out what's going on whether Erdogan has taken complete power back or not. But give me your thoughts on the impact on Western Europe.

BOLTON: Well, I think Turkey was never likely to succeed in its application for membership in the E.U. This will probably seal its fate for those who would use the coup as an excuse. But, honestly if Erdogan has succeeded here as that report indicates, I think you are going to see very, very extensive repression.

I think the military will be purged once and for all. I think the courts will be purged, and I think there is going to be a real authoritarian crack down. This is the moment, if the coup has failed as I said several times earlier, I think it was a last ditch effort, and it's failed. If it has failed, then I think there are no checks and balances left against Erdogan really turning Turkey in a very Islamist direction and a very authoritarian direction under his presidency.

VAN SUSTEREN: We're learning also that air traffic in -- out of Europe is saying that they are expecting or hoping that the international departures at the Istanbul airport will be beginning soon again. So that also may be a sign that the coup is over. You know, I read about Erdogan and his takeover of what once was a thriving media and as I look at this tonight. My guess is, my thoughts like yours, ambassador, is if he has won, he is really going to crack down on these people who rose up against him.

BOLTON: I don't think there is any doubt about it as I say that is not to repeat this but seems to me such an insight into Erdogan thinking when he said democracies like a streetcar you ride it to the stop you want and then you get off. I think you have got to stop. I think he is going to get off if he has in fact prevailed here.

VAN SUSTEREN: I asked you about Western Europe and about Angela Merkel. What's Putin's thinking tonight as he watched this?

BOLTON: Well, I think this has been a complicated relationship and I think he believed that Erdogan moving in this Islamist direction was really more likely to pose a threat to Russia. And in a way having the military in power would -- they would find -- it would be easier to find a Modus Operandi at least with respect to some of the issues. But, I think Putin, who has a very aggressive instinct will see the current instability in Turkey as an opportunity for him to expand Russian influence.

So, if it's a circumstance where the struggle for control with the government is not over right now but continues for days or weeks, I think this from Putin's point of view is a way to try to stabilize the Assad regime in Syria, which would be its number one priority. Do what they can to finish off the Syrian opposition, because the Turks will be otherwise occupied. And there are a lot of possibilities here for Putin and the Black Sea. So, I expect Russia will be very, very assertive and aggressive as long as this uncertainty prevails.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, the pictures that we are looking at, we believe is Istanbul airport it seems like people are, you know, pouring in or crowding, going into it. I can't make much of it, but certainly a lot of people in the airport. Almost looks like O'Hare airport on a Friday night, awful lot of people there.

BOLTON: And it's the middle of the night there too. Remember that.

VAN SUSTEREN: And that is right. But they have got martial law declared, too. Erdogan, if he has maintained control, what happens to our war on ISIS? It just proceeds as is? I mean, is he not going to change up any agreements with those bases with us or his lack of or any cooperation he does give us?

BOLTON: Well, I think it's too soon to tell. I mean, I think, Erdogan brought a lot of problem to himself, by his opposition to Assad. He thought Assad would fall and the Syrian opposition would sweep in fairly quickly. But, in fact, the chaos that has descended on Syria really gave ISIS the opportunity they needed. So, the Turkish aggression, assertiveness against Assad has back fired on him in a sense.

And I think Erdogan and the military both for that matter are worried about the spread of Kurdish control in northern Syria and in parts of Turkey where linked up with Kurdistan and Iraq, this really poses a mortal threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey as we know it and that is something that Erdogan has been -- that is another blow back from his opposition to Assad that I don't think he counted on.

VAN SUSTEREN: I don't know if you could read the lower third of the screen, but the state media is reporting that a bomb has hit the Turkish parliament, that can't be good news. Although, you know, it may be that, you know, and this is just my speculation, is that the Kurdish Separatist, who had been battling Erdogan for so long and enough. And others before him, maybe this is a time for them to make a greater move.

BOLTON: Well, I think that is exactly right. Look, in the spreading chaos here. This is an opening for the Kurds as well, so there are a lot of scores to be settled around Turkish politics. I just think we need to know more here. Where is Erdogan, for example, he was apparently out of the country. Has he made it back in? He was trying to get into Ankara, in Istanbul. Where is he exactly? He has to be in control of the country, if you can't land in it, but still fundamentally, I think we need to know what the disposition of the military forces is, if the military can hold together, there may yet be a chance for the coup to succeed. It's just at this point we got fragments of information very hard to make real judgment.

VAN SUSTEREN: All we know that this martial law that Erdogan at least, we don't know where he is, that he has appeared on TV using face time to CNN Turk and it's a very curious what is going on. But the pictures are distressing. Anyway, Ambassador Bolton, thank you for joining us.

BOLTON: Glad to do it. Thanks for having me.