In any earlier, more “normal” era this probably wouldn’t be a very big deal, but anything having to do with Turkey is excessively complicated these days. Adam Kredo at the Free Beacon picked up an interesting bit of news out of Istanbul which actually took place last week during the 4th of July celebrations. Our Ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, was delivering some remarks during the embassy’s Independence Day celebration and decided to veer off into international politics, urging the Turks not to use “overly broad” definitions of terrorism or “rush to judgement” against specific demographic groups when battling terrorists. That probably wouldn’t have been too controversial if he hadn’t included the phrase, “making the mistakes the U.S. has made” on that score, along with other, similar critiques of American policy. Ouch.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass criticized the American fight against terrorism during a July Fourth celebration hosted by the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, claiming that an “overly broad” definition of terrorism has hampered U.S. efforts to combat extremists and eroded international confidence in America.
Bass, a career foreign service officer who was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2014, urged Turkey to “avoid making the mistakes the U.S. made” in its fight against radical terrorists, telling those in attendance at an Independence Day reception “that rushing to justice or making an overly broad definition of terrorism can erode fundamental freedoms and undermine public confidence in government.”
The remarks have drawn the attention of the Trump administration which isn’t terribly surprising. Bass is an Obama holdover and his comments certainly seem out of step with current U.S. foreign policy. (Particularly when he went on to say that the only way to fight terrorism was with, “justice and tolerance.”) With all that in mind I can, at least initially, see why there are some eyebrows being raised.
But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Bass is in the position of living inside of Turkey and having to deal with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a daily basis. He’s obviously not talking about ISIS here… or at least not exclusively about ISIS anyway. When you hear the Tyrant of Turkey talking about terrorism these days, odds are that he’s actually referring to the Kurds in his own country as well as in Syria and Iraq. Erdogan has been at war with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) for a long time. To a certain extent that’s fair enough since the U.S. lists them as a terror group as well and their methods have frequently run to the extremes of violence. But there are plenty of other Kurds in Turkey who have come under equal scrutiny, along with uncounted non-Kurds who are simply being lumped together as supporters of Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan is treating all of them as terrorists and either firing them from their jobs or imprisoning them by the hundreds of thousands.
I’m willing to give Bass at least partial benefit of the doubt here and believe that he was trying to gently coax Erdogan away from this path of treating all of his political enemies as terrorists. Of course, he should have known better than to sneak in some comments trashing his own country as part of it (particularly during a 4th of July party for Pete’s sake), but that’s something he’ll have to answer to his superiors for.