Trump Embraces Turkey’s Erdogan As His Henchmen Assault American Citizens
In his remarks at the beginning of May, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed one of the confusions facing this administration, how to translate President Trump’s “America First” rhetoric into a coherent foreign policy built around a vision of the US role in the wider world. While giving this speech, Secretary Tillerson addressed the thorn in the side of American foreign policy, the interplay between our values (specifically human rights) and our strategic interests.
How do we represent our values? And in some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals or our national security interests. If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.
No country exemplifies the tensions expressed by Secretary Tillerson better than Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO and a key, if not the key, US ally in the Middle East and our struggle to secure ourselves against ISIS. Turkey, however, has been moving increasingly towards being an authoritarian regime in the wake of an attempted coup last year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the coup by purging and jailing over 100,000 Turkish citizens mostly for some variation of criticizing or resisting the government. These actions of President Erdogan’s have drawn sharp rebukes from the Obama administration and EU officials leading to significantly cooled relations between the EU and Turkey, practically ending discussions of Turkey’s EU membership.
Unlike the Obama administration, President Trump has enjoyed a far more comfortable relationship with dictators than is common for US presidents. Here are several of the President’s comments about various authoritarian leaders:
Coupled with Secretary Tillerson’s renewed emphasis on balancing values with interests, these comments have helped the current administration enjoy a more cordial relationship with President Erdogan. Compliments and congratulations are not all President Trump has been extending to his counterpart in Turkey, he also invited President Erdogan for an official state visit on May 17th. President Erdogan’s visit to Washington DC last year was not graced with a meeting with then President Obama, but President Trump held a full press conference with him this time. One very notable similarity existed on both visits: violent actions taken by President Erdogan’s bodyguards against protesters.
Last year Erdogan’s security detail kept out notable Turkish journalists from his events claiming without evidence the journalists were members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization. An altercation also erupted in front of one of the venues between Erdogan’s supporters and critics. During the high profile visit this year, violence was even worse.
Violence on 5/17/17
Here is the video from VOATurkey showing the violence in front of the Turkish Embassy:
A demonstration outside the Turkish Embassy in northwest Washington led to nine people being injured, and two arrested https://t.co/6SQTlQAUaa
It was later confirmed that several of the men in suits involved in the violence were members of President Erdogan’s security detail assaulting American citizens of Turkish and Armenian origin. Witnesses claim the suited goons attacked protesters for carrying the flag of a pro-Kurdish party. Such violence, especially by members of a foreign leader’s security is almost unheard of on American soil. DC’s police department issued a strong statement saying “the actions seen outside the Turkish Embassy yesterday in Washington, D.C. stand in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect each and every day.” The US State Department also added criticism of the brutality, although the White House has yet to make any comment on the incident.
Responding to the criticism, the Turkish Embassy released a statement with their version of events.
The demonstrators began aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens who had peacefully assembled to greet the president. The Turkish-Americans responded in self-defense and one of them was seriously injured. The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration. We hope that, in the future, appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur.
In response to the Turkish statement the Hill asked for additional comment from DC’s police department as both sides claim the other started it.
The Metropolitan Police Department, contacted by The Hill, said that the incident is under investigation and that a cause to the fighting could not yet be determined. “We intend to assure that there is accountability for anyone involved in this assault,” Newsham said at the department’s press conference earlier in the day. “Yesterday we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protests.”
Reviewing video and collecting witness statements will take time, but the DC police intend to get to the bottom of the incident and deserve to be commended for their bravely breaking up a melee that was diplomatically sensitive and where one side was heavily armed. In recent days video has emerged that shows President Erdogan looking on as the brutal assault unfolds mere hours after his meeting with President Trump.
Footage captured from another angle reveals Erdogan orders the attack on peaceful DC protesters directly (at 0:13). https://t.co/xegB7vEmM8
Violence of this type against American citizens by foreign actors on our soil is unheard of. Responding to the incident Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was forceful:
“We should throw the Turkish ambassador out of the country, we should identify those people that performed these unlawful acts of beating people up and they should be charged”.
President Erdogan has used fear, violence, and propaganda to silence his populace and consolidate his personal power in Turkey. It remains unclear if President Trump’s admiration for President Erdogan will continue following such egregious acts, but so far the White House has remained silent.