Report: Trump calls Erdogan to congratulate him on his "victory" in Turkey

So says Reuters, with sources in Ankara telling CNN Turkey the same thing. I for one am glad we replaced a president who welcomed a democratically engineered Islamist takeover in Egypt with one who welcomed a democratically engineered Islamist takeover in Turkey.

Frankly, that comparison might be unfair to Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood in Egypt didn’t have the same stranglehold on power that Erdogan now enjoys. And the legitimacy of the vote in Egypt wasn’t under the same cloud of suspicion that now hovers over yesterday’s referendum in Turkey.

U.S. President Donald Trump called his Turkish counterpart to congratulate him on the results of a referendum that will grant the Turkish leader sweeping new powers, presidential sources in Ankara said on Monday evening…

Thousands of people marched through at least three neighborhoods of Istanbul, some chanting “Thief, Erdogan,” “no to the presidency” and “this is just the beginning” after calls on social media for protests in several cities. 

The charitable view of Trump reaching out is that it’s nothing more than realpolitik, however bitter. You want to put a hurt on ISIS and (maybe) Assad in Syria? You want to see the caliphate ousted from Raqqa? Well, all of that requires a Turkish buy-in, both in letting the U.S. continue to use the air base at Incirlik and in Turkey tolerating to some greater or lesser degree a Kurdish attack on ISIS’s capital. You don’t have to like the idea of kissing Erdogan’s ass, just as you don’t have to like Trump inviting Chinese communists to his playground at Mar-a-Lago. But if the latter helps neutralize North Korea and the former helps neutralize ISIS, well, there’s a couple of net wins for America. You take your allies as you find them.

The less charitable view is that Trump has always had a soft spot for authoritarians and probably thinks Erdogan’s consolidation of power was impressively ruthless and a sign of “strength,” just like China steamrolling the protesters in Tiananmen Square was. Here’s the state of democracy today in a country we’re bound by treaty to defend, located at the crossroads of some of the most dangerous political currents on Earth:

Rather, the powers that would be afforded to the executive presidency [under Turkey’s referendum] are vast, including the ability to appoint judges without input from parliament, issue decrees with the force of law, and dissolve parliament. The president would also have the sole prerogative over all senior appointments in the bureaucracy and exercise exclusive control of the armed forces. The amendments obviate the need for the post of prime minister, which would be abolished. The Grand National Assembly does retain some oversight and legislative powers, but if the president and the majority are from the same political party, the power of the presidency will be unconstrained. With massive imbalances and virtually no checks on the head of state, who will now also be the head of government, the constitutional amendments render the Law on Fundamental Organization and all subsequent efforts to emulate the organizational principles of a modern state moot. It turns out that Erdogan, who would wield power not vested in Turkish leaders since the sultans, is actually a neo-Ottoman.

You can resolve to deal with Erdogan, even after he’s assumed new dictatorial powers, without appearing to endorse authoritarianism by calling to congratulate him — especially when the legitimacy of the referendum is in question. Turkey’s election board issued a surprise ruling as polls were closing yesterday declaring that ballots that weren’t stamped with an official seal could in fact be counted and would be considered valid unless they could be proved fraudulent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an election monitoring group, declared that suspicious, noting that it “removed an important safeguard.” Videos were circulating on Twitter last night of Turkish election officials apparently stamping multiple unstamped ballots to make them official. (It’s the voter who’s supposed to use the stamp to mark his/her ballot.) Trump’s own State Department acknowledged the OSCE’s account of “irregularities” today. Even if Trump wants to make nice with Erdogan for strategic reasons in Syria, the White House should never be congratulating a foreign leader on a victory when there’s a reasonable suspicion of cheating. Especially when the product of that cheating is Erdogan becoming the world’s most powerful Islamist autocrat in a country that had been a rare example of Muslim democracy. Good lord.

As I write this at 5 p.m. ET the White House has yet to confirm that Trump called Erdogan, but it’s hard to believe that Turkey would force a diplomatic conflict with the U.S. by claiming that it happened if it didn’t. All that would get them is a pissed off White House and a statement from the U.S. emphasizing that we did not congratulate Erdogan on his victory. Stay tuned.

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