Arrogance or ignorance? Turkey’s diplomacy needs fine tuning

VOA Screenshot

Once again, the diplomatic assertiveness that has characterized Turkey’s foreign relations in recent years, was in full view of the world this week.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hosted by President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday. He was there to repair the strained bilateral relationship and try to change President Trump’s mind about the US military moves in Syria that Turkey said it found totally unacceptable.

Opinions vary as to what exactly came out of their face-to-face meetings, first in the Oval Office, then with their delegations over a working lunch.

Both leaders have talked of a ‘new era’ in US-Turkey relations and declared their commitment to work together in future.

Whatever the outcome, the visit was an important one. It happened at a time when both sides are straining to remain courteous despite their disagreements while tensions all around them are running exceptionally high.

Yet, the meeting itself barely made the headlines because it got drowned out by what happened soon after it finished.

After meeting with President Trump, President Erdogan went to the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington to attend an event co-hosted by the Turkish think tank SETA and the US organization the Atlantic Council.

The violent brawl between Mr. Erdogan’s security personnel and protesters demonstrating outside the embassy, has become the latest in a series of scandals witnessed during the Turkish President’s visits abroad.

Calling the violence a “brutal attack on peaceful protesters”,  Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham  said it was not something that they would tolerate in Washington DC.

The Turkish Embassy blamed the altercation on “groups affiliated with the PKK”, gathering without permit, in the immediate vicinity of the Ambassador’s residence, while the president of Turkey was visiting the residence”.

The Anatolian News Agency has reported that the incident was caused by an “inadequate” response by American police.

The Republican Senator John McCain was one of the most indignant among American politicians. “This is the United States of America. We do not do this here. There is no excuse for this kind of thuggish behavior,” he said, calling for the Turkish ambassador to be expelled.

Soon after, Turkish ambassador Serdar Kilic was summoned to the US State Department.

For a country like Turkey, with a long and proud diplomatic tradition, such shortcomings of propriety and professionalism must be seen by others as truly baffling.

For many in Turkey, it is not only exasperating but also deeply humiliating.

Violating democratic norms and  constitutional boundaries may have become the usual practice in Turkey.

Turkey’s leaders, most probably, see the President of the United States as a kindred spirit. Mr. Trump’s own impatience with those who disagree with him and his tendency to be insulated from criticism must sound comfortingly familiar to his Turkish guests.

Mr Trump’s lack of interest in democracy and human rights concerns in Turkey may even emboldened them.

Yet, to assume that they can carry on behaving like they do back at home, right in the heart of the host country’s capital, is willful ignorance, if not incomprehensible arrogance.

Especially at a time when yet another controversy spinning around the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, whose lobbying activities for Turkey, as well as his dodgy dealings with Russia, are dragging the Trump administration into deeper and deeper trouble.

This post is also available in: Turkish

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