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Opinion: Why Turkey's Recip Erdogan is the man

And the Oscar for best Prime Minister goes to ...

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walks away after reviewing Spanish troops at Madrid's Moncloa Palace Feb. 22, 2010. (Susana Vera/Reuters)

LONDON —  Here's a proposition: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the outstanding democratically elected national leader in the world today.

You beg to differ?

Really? Who tops him?

President Obama? You must be joking. Elected on hope, with majorities in both houses of congress, and by the end of his first year what has he got to show for it? A health bill? Guantanamo still got non-paying guests? Goldman Sachs still unregulated and unmonitored? No, I can't see it.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown? He'll be gone in 90 days.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy? We're still waiting for all his global initiatives on financial regulation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doing a serious job, but let's face it, she only has domestic responsibilities. Germany has been excused by the rest of us from taking part in international affairs for the next thousand years — although Greece wishes that included EU central bank affairs as well.

Brazil's President Lula da Silva is close — but you can't win my award when your most famous city, Rio, has vast areas outside the rule of law. (Something the International Olympic committee overlooked in awarding the 2016 games to Rio — they will live to regret it when the bill for armed security services comes in.)

No. The man who is without doubt the cleverest, roughest, toughest, most humane political leader in the world today is Erdogan. The ongoing confrontation with some senior figures in the Turkish military over an alleged coup plot is only the latest proof of the man's mastery.

Here's the back story, in case you missed it:

Back in 2003, when Erdogan's Islamic AK Party (AK stands for Justice and Development) was fresh in office, a group of senior officers reportedly plotted a coup, code named "Ergenekon." The details that have emerged are out of cheap spy fiction: provoking a war with Turkey's old enemy Greece and then declaring a state of emergency and removing Erdogan.

The plot details were crazy but the idea that the military would intervene in politics was not. Since the founding of the modern Turkish state in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk the military has been the guarantor of a secular Turkey. Four times in the last half century the army has staged coups d'etat to remove governments that were weak or veering too far to the left.

In recent weeks 200 people have been detained and questioned about their roles in "Ergenekon." These included not just senior army officers but establishment figures at leading newspapers and the judiciary.

Right about now you should be asking yourself, why did it take so long? After all, the coup was allegedly plotted more than seven years ago.