The Turkish government is obviously familiar with the concept of “chutzpah,” if not necessarily the word.
Ankara summoned the American ambassador to protest allegedly “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by the Washington, D.C., police. Their offense? Intervening after Turkish security personnel mauled peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington last week.
Video of the incident is jaw-dropping. About a dozen people protested Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — arriving at the ambassador’s residence after a White House visit — from across the street, separated by police from Erdogan’s forces. Then guards suddenly rushed en masse past the D.C. cops to beat up the demonstrators.
The neutral language of press accounts can obscure the truth of what happened. The two sides didn’t really “clash” or “engage in a violent confrontation,” as is often reported. There was an overwhelming aggressor — the thuggish security personnel of the head of state of, amazingly enough, a NATO country.
The guards repeatedly kick in the face a man who had been thrown to the ground. They put a woman in a headlock. Dressed in black suits, they behave like drunken British soccer hooligans or anti-fascist agitators. Clearly, assaulting innocent people is a core competency.
This incident, which injured 11, is not the most consequential event in the world. It’s not the Syrian war, or a North Korean missile test. We have large national interests at stake with Turkey, especially in navigating the complex currents in the Syria civil war. But it’s not nothing, either. It deserves more than State Department statements of “concern.”
Especially given the context. The guards didn’t lash out on their own. They charged under the watchful eye of President Erdogan, who was in sitting in a black Mercedes-Benz and emerged to observe the assault. Some media reports contend, based on close analysis, that Erdogan himself may have given the order for the attack.
This is second offense for the Turks. A year ago, they beat up protesters and disfavored journalists outside an Erdogan talk at the Brookings Institution in Washington. One reporter wrote of that earlier incident, “Never seen anything like this.” If you hang around President Erdogan long enough, though, you’ll see it all.
Erdogan is a thug who has bullied, cheated and purged his way to the head of a budding authoritarian state, accumulating powers unparalleled since Ataturk. It speaks to the nature of his regime that Turkish officials insist the guards acted in “self-defense.”
William F. Buckley Jr. once said this kind of reasoning “is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around.”
The Trump administration is obviously not putting an emphasis on promoting our values abroad. But it’s one thing not to go on a democratizing crusade; it’s another to shrug off an assault on the rights of protesters on our own soil. If nothing else, President Donald Trump’s nationalism and sense of honor should be offended. Not only did the Turks carry out this attack, they are thumbing their noses at us by summoning our ambassador over it.
The Turkish goons who punched and kicked people should be identified and charged with crimes. They are beyond our reach, either because they are back in Turkey or have diplomatic immunity. But we should ask for them to be returned and for their immunity to be waived. When these requests are inevitably refused, the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. (heard saying during the incident, “You cannot touch us”) should be expelled.
Erdogan is crushing his opponents with impunity in Turkey. Reacting firmly to this attack at least will send the message, “Not in our house.”
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.