The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has adopted a harsh language against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, revealing the depth of angst over the brutal crackdown on protesters during President Erdogan’s visit last week.
In a unanimous vote, the Committee also separately condemned Turkey for the violent attack on peaceful protesters outside Turkish Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C., during President Erdogan’s entrance to the building.
The congressmen at the subcommittee hearing even went on to say that President Erdogan should never be allowed to visit the United States again, and pressed for the expulsion of the Turkish ambassador, echoing the earlier call of Senator John McCain.
The sharpness of discourse and recriminations against the Turkish president was a testimony of the state of bewilderment among American politicians.
“To have the president of another country who watched his bully boys beat Americans into the ground and bloody them and for him to protest our people, that is the supreme insult,” Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, said during his opening remarks. “We don’t need people like you visiting the United States any more.”
“When we want to talk to the Turks, we want to talk to Turks who want to have a democratic society, and not to their oppressor, a man who is trying to create Islamofascism in his own country with him as the head fascist … Erdogan should never again be invited to the United States.”
“He is an enemy of everything we stand for, and more importantly, he is the enemy of his own people,” he said, reflecting a widely-shared sentiment among the American public.
The incident prompted swift condemnations from infuriated members of the both chambers of the U.S. Congress.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to waive any claims to immunity for security detail of foreign delegations. They also pressed for holding bodyguards accountable for their actions, making them available for interviews with the U.S. authorities.
If Turkey overturns the American demands, the senators argued, that Mr. Tillerson should revoke diplomatic credentials of Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. Serdar Kilic and reconsider visas for other government officials.
On the same day, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan assailed Turkey and portrayed the violent acts by bodyguards against protesters as “completely indefensible.”
“The violent crackdown on peaceful protesters by Turkish security forces was completely indefensible, and the [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan government’s response was wholly inadequate,” he said in a statement.
“Turkey is an important NATO ally, but its leaders must fully condemn and apologize for this brutal behavior against innocent civilians exercising their First Amendment rights. In the meantime, we stand fully committed to helping bring all those responsible to justice,” he added.
During the hearing, the chairman underlined that the incident fits a pattern of broader political violence and suppression in Turkey. Nor was it an isolated case, as the chairman recalled the altercation last year between journalists and Mr. Erdogan’s bodyguards during a speech at Brookings Institute.
“The repressive and authoritarian nature of the Erdogan government has been developing … right in front of our eyes,” he said.
Aram Hamparian of Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) testified at the subcommittee hearing. After praising Mr. Ryan and other Congress members for their robust posture, Mr. Hamparian called for swift action, “expulsion of the Turkish ambassador and the lifting the diplomatic immunity and action on each of the points in H.Res. 354”
The congressmen who were usually reserved and prefer adopting a diplomatic language when criticizing foreign leaders dropped any reservation, unleashing a scathing criticism of the Turkish president.
This was equally true for Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline. “One has to wonder why President Erdogan felt so emboldened that in the bright D.C. sunshine, in front of cameras and hundreds of people, he sent his attack dogs out.” The Donald Trump administration was among the targets of his castigating remarks for removing emphasis in human rights matters.
Moral issues in foreign policy have been cast adrift as President Trump has no qualms over moral concerns when he forges relations with authoritarian leaders.
His administration’s displayed indifference to human rights violations, crackdown on opponents in domestic politics of U.S. allies or other countries is regarded by the congressmen as an unsavory policy, giving leeway to leaders with authoritarian tendencies.
It was manifestly evident during President Erdogan’s visit. Both Mr. Trump and other officials conspicuously steered clear of any mention of mass arrests and the sweeping purge in Turkey.
In a gesture of comity to Mr. Erdogan, President Trump lavishly praised his guest and Turkey for being a stalwart ally against terrorism in the region. The warm embrace was the seal of approval the Turkish president desperately craved amid mounting international criticism over his crackdown on domestic opponents.
But it was all about style, not anything of substance, as the trip fell short of meeting its lofty goals for a reset in relations tested by a number of unresolved thorny issues.
As the hearing advanced, Representative Brad Sherman of California excoriated Turkey, portraying the incident “as an attack on American sovereignty.”
He was less reserved when depicting the bodyguards as thugs. “The actions of those thugs have been compounded by the lies of the Turkish ambassador … and he should be asked to leave our country immediately.”
The Chairman also went ballistic when he offered a portrait of the Turkish president unheard before from a U.S. congressman.
“Obviously you have a fascistic megalomaniac in charge of the government of Turkey who is so consumed with his own power that he thinks he can call people together and tell us we were wrong when we see our citizens being beaten into the dirt, American dirt,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
If President Erdogan came to the U.S. to persuade the Trump administration over the extradition of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, his arch-foe, he appeared to be less convincing for his argument. The violent episode presented a setback for his demand as the American Congress increasingly appears more skeptical and cautious over the matter.
The incident had a profound impact and a fallout over the extradition issue, a source of enduring friction between the two allies. President Erdogan holds Mr. Gulen as responsible for the attempted coup last summer and presses the U.S. to extradite him.
But despite the U.S. demand from Turks to provide convincing evidence that links Mr. Gulen to the abortive putsch, the Turkish side has so far failed to do that. The congressmen touched upon the matter, urging caution against Mr. Erdogan’s repeated calls to the Trump White House.
Befuddled by Turkey’s summoning of the U.S. ambassador to castigate the U.S. security personnel over the treatment of the Turkish bodyguards, the chairman said Turkey is no longer a friend.
“They are no longer our friends because the head of their country now can watch this [violence in Washington, D.C.] and then call our ambassador in to castigate us after seeing this firsthand,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. “He saw this firsthand. One wonder when he talks about Gulen, we have to take into consideration what he did here.”
U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman was blunter in his response to the Turkish government over its claims against Mr. Gulen.
“I think we have to declare very firmly: They’ve got no credibility,” he said in candid terms.
In a reflection of a growing consensus among the U.S. Congress members, Mr. Rohrabacher summarized the mood. After noting that President Erdogan “wants to close down” all Gulen-linked schools, the chairman said: “We should probably note that the Gulen movement is a very positive thing … this should cement what we think of them.”
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