Let’s just get the headline out of the way right up front. President Trump will be hosting yet another world leader at the White House for a formal meeting next week. The guest of honor is none other than aspiring tyrant Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey. As Politico reports, the White House is portraying this confab as an opportunity to discuss joint strategies for the war on terror.
President Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since taking office will take place next Tuesday at the White House, the administration announced Wednesday.
“The two leaders will discuss how to further strengthen our bilateral relationship and deepen our cooperation to confront terrorism in all its forms,” the White House office of the press secretary said in a statement, officially announcing the May 16 gathering.
The news comes a day after Trump gave the Pentagon authorization to arm Kurdish militias in Syria as part of a renewed push to drive the Islamic State out of the pivotal city of Raqqa, despite the strong opposition of Erdogan and the Turkish government.
Look… I get that international relations and diplomacy can be tricky at times. The President of the United States is frequently put in a position where he or she will have to deal with world leaders who are, at best, rather spotty in terms of human rights or basic democratic principles. The world is a complicated place and we sometimes have to do business with people who don’t live up to our own ideals. But… Erdogan? Seriously?
I understand why the media is mostly focusing on the question of the United States’ alliance with the Kurds in terms of why this meeting is, at a minimum, horrible in terms of the optics. Trump only recently announced a deal to send additional arms to the Kurdish forces, prompting public criticism from Erdogan, followed by a threat to launch yet more strikes against the Kurds. (Potentially endangering American advisers.) So yes, that’s an element of the story worth covering.
But let’s be honest here. That’s far from the only reason not to host this guy at the White House. At this point, Turkey is essentially a dictatorship, having fallen tragically from their position as one of the most successful, reformed democracies in the Muslim world only a decade or so ago. They are an ally of convenience at best, and one which is both embarrassing and dangerous at that.
Normally a White House visit would be reserved for those who truly merit it and are viewed with the most favorable status by our government. Erdogan, on the other hand, has far too many asterisks next to his name. Is he a good ally? Normally our allies would not do things like:
- Hold an American pastor in a dungeon for more than six months despite repeated calls to free him.
- Stir up trouble and inflame the situation with Israel, one of our actual most favored allies.
- Fire tens of thousands of his own police officers and cripple the rule of law in his nation.
- Lock up thousands of journalists, teachers and political opponents.
- Allegedly torture and kill those who speak out against him.
Is this the guy we want posing for photo ops with the Leader of the Free World in our nation’s capital? What is Trump thinking?
Look… you guys know me by now. I’m still so relieved that we’re not dealing with President Hillary Clinton (::: shudder
:::) that I’ve tried to give Trump plenty of space to operate while still offering constructive criticism when he seems to be going astray. Even in this case I’ll allow that it’s possible that there might be something constructive brewing behind the scenes. If Trump can come out of this meeting with, at a minimum, an announcement that Pastor Brunson is currently on a plane and on his way home it might all be worth it. But if this is just some sort of public relations gig to show two world leaders working together then the President is sending precisely the wrong message to the country and the rest of the world. Erdogan is a tyrant who happens to be in a position to be extremely useful to the west at the moment. That buys him the luxury of having us look the other way at times when it comes to some of his many abuses of power. But tolerating him shouldn’t involve top billing at the White House unless we’re getting something very substantial out of it in return.