The Turkish government treated the incident with the contempt one would expect from a totalitarian government:
In a statement released Wednesday evening, the Turkish Embassy called the demonstration “unpermitted” and “provocative.” Officials alleged in the statement that the protesters were affiliated with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States. A protest leader denied that any of the participants were involved with the PKK or sympathized with the group.“The demonstrators began aggressively provoking Turkish-American citizens” who had gathered to greet Erdogan, the statement said. “The Turkish-Americans responded in self-defense and one of them was seriously injured.”
This follows President Trump’s much-criticized congratulatory phone call after a Turkish referendum, which outside monitors said was plagued with “irregularities,” and the ensuing White House visit for Erdogan, a PR coup for him at a time human rights groups are condemning his domestic crackdown. “It’s bad enough when he has his thugs beat up protesters at home, but it’s quite another thing to have them beat up people in a foreign capital,” says former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams. “That’s treating us like a banana republic. We ought to be outraged, and we ought to punish the people who did this.”
Others agree. Former ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman called the incident “outrageous.” He recalled, “This is the second year in a row where Erdogan’s goons have beaten people up (last year it was out in front of Brookings [Institution] where Erdogan was speaking).” He give kudos to the police for taking this seriously. “We shouldn’t let them get away with this and I am gratified that the DC Metropolitan Police are talking about making arrests including of those who might have diplomatic immunity (understanding that they would have to release those who have immunity),” he said. “I would think State should at least call on Turkey to waive immunity for anyone caught on tape engaging in assault. (The Turks won’t do that but it means they have to hustle people out of the country ignominiously).”
Bipartisan and harsh reaction to the incident reflected the distress that lawmakers feel over this president’s utter disregard for human rights and proclivity to glad-hand with and praise dictators. Ben Cardin (Md.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted, “The Turkish government owes an apology; perhaps they forgot we have unalienable rights in this country.” Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out their own statement, which read in part: “We strongly condemn the violence that took place yesterday outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington,” they said. “Reports indicate that some Turkish officials were involved in assaulting protestors, which violates the most basic rules of diplomacy and is an affront to the United States and the value we place on the right to free speech, as embodied in our Constitution. It is even more concerning coming from one of our own NATO allies. We call upon the Turkish government to apologize immediately for the involvement of any officials.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime critic of Turkey’s human rights policies, declared on MSNBC, “We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America … This kind of thing cannot go unresponded to diplomatically.” His call for a get-tough policy was echoed in the human rights community. David Kramer, a senior fellow at Florida International University and former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, agreed that “charges should be brought against those responsible for such violence. If those responsible are no longer in the U.S., then they should be denied visas for the future. Such thuggish behavior cannot be condoned.”
Turkey behaves this way in part because Trump ignores, even rewards (by praising an arguably stolen election) bad behavior. He is not putting American values or interests first. He has allowed himself to be “played,” just as he has been by Russia by setting up assistance in the fight against the Islamic State as the sole concern of U.S. foreign policy. This simplistic, inept brand of foreign policy sprinkled with admiration for thuggish leaders has become standard operating procedure in an administration without vision, experience or conscience.