For the second time in as many years, Turkish security officers attacked Turkish protesters and other bystanders in Washington, DC. Last year, the venue was the Brookings Institution, where members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s entourage tried to forcibly remove invited guests and journalists whom they believed might ask tough questions. That the guards came prepared to intercept certain people shows a degree of planning that makes what already was a bad situation even worse.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves as he arrives at the entrance to the West Wing to meet with President Donald Trump at the entrance to the West Wing of the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.
This year, the attack happened outside the Turkish ambassador’s home, where the Atlantic Council had handpicked a friendly audience to engage with Erdogan. The video of the attack is disturbing and appears to show Erdogan watching the charge of some security guards into the crowd to beat, strangle, and stomp on demonstrators. Unlike at Brookings, videos show not only security guards involved in the melee, but also at least one journalist from Turkey’s state-controlled outlets like Anadolu Agency.
At the very least, every Erdogan guard accompanying the president on his trip to Washington should be blacklisted from the United States for life. Fool me once, fool me twice, but do not fool me a third time.
The initial State Department response was weak. Yes, many in Erdogan’s entourage have diplomatic immunity, but diplomatic immunity can be waived. And if the Turkish ambassador chooses not to do so, there can be consequences such as declaring certain officials persona non grata and demanding they leave Washington. Turkish journalists who participated in the ruckus should face their day in court and, if found guilty, should serve their sentence in prison for assault. And, at the very least, every Erdogan guard accompanying the president on his trip to Washington should be blacklisted from the United States for life. Fool me once, fool me twice, but do not fool me a third time.
The problem here is deeper than a single incident. As the antics of Erdogan’s aides and the Turkish Embassy in Washington escalate—and if the State Department does nothing significant to address the problem—Washington could one day soon see a situation reminiscent of the 1984 Yvonne Fletcher murder in London. In that case, a British police woman securing a protest at the Libyan Embassy to the United Kingdom was shot and killed by a gunmen from inside the embassy who was shielded by Libyan claims of immunity. Congress is also at fault. Congressmen and senators joining the Congressional Turkey Caucus—through their membership—endorse Erdogan’s actions.
With regard to autocrats, weakness encourages misbehavior. No longer is the issue Turkish diplomatic sensitivity. When it comes to Americans’ safety at home, security and lawfulness are issues the State Department should never sacrifice.
Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest books, Kurdistan Rising? and Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.
Follow on Twitter: mrubin1971