The United States Secret Service is history’s finest protection force. Its Turkish equivalent is a joke.
This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington, D.C., proved why. On Tuesday, the Turkish Presidential Protection Department (for simplicity, hereafter referred to as the TPPD) attacked peaceful U.S. protesters on U.S soil.
Watch the following video. It shows TPPD officers launching a coordinated attack on pro-Kurdish protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence.
Now, it’s true that protection agencies sometimes have misunderstandings. In 2004, for example, Chilean security officials learned the error of separating a U.S. president from his Secret Service protection detail. In the same way, Russia’s Presidential Security Service doesn’t like to be kept from its protectees. The Russians, however, are saints compared to the TPPD. After all, this isn’t the first time the TPPD has disgraced itself. Not by a long shot.
Last year, TPPD officers attacked journalists outside the Washington-based Brookings Institution. A Secret Service agent had to restrain a TPPD officer from attacking protesters. During another U.S. visit, the TPPD decided to push Secret Service agents assigned to Erdogan’s detail. In a 2015 visit to Brussels, a TPPD officer attacked a Belgian government bodyguard. In 2009, the TPPD entered President Obama’s inner protective bubble. In 2011, then–prime minister Erdogan’s detail attacked security officers at U.N. headquarters. Thuggery is a prerequisite for Erdogan’s protection details.
These incidents don’t take place in a vacuum. On the contrary, they are a metaphor for Turkey’s descent from Islamic democracy into Islamic autocracy. As Erdogan centralizes power and attacks his opponents, the TPPD has morphed from law enforcement into suited thuggery.
As Erdogan centralizes power and attacks his opponents, the TPPD has morphed from law enforcement into suited thuggery.
Still, in this latest incident — a premeditated assault on the U.S. constitutional right to peaceful protest — the TPPD has crossed a line. It, and the Turkish government more broadly, must face consequences for their actions. For a start, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson needs to show public anger. Outdoing yesterday’s placid semi-condemnation from the State Department, Tillerson should summon the Turkish ambassador and call out Turkey’s breach of U.S. law. Tillerson should also — and specifically — note the TPPD’s ludicrous hypocrisy. On its website, the TPPD takes care to outline “human rights” and diplomatic-communications training as key priorities. I’m not joking.
Second, the U.S. should ban the TPPD officers who were involved from entering the United States. Their faces can be cross-referenced with their visit credentials in order to identify them. Ramazan Bal, the TPPD’s commanding officer, should be included in their number. Bal was head of ministerial security when Erdogan was prime minister, before following him to the presidential palace. He clearly retains Erdogan’s trust and confidence. Yet the sustained misconduct by Bal’s officers suggests that he either is totally incompetent or is directing these acts. Erdogan will whine. Let him.
Third, the U.S. government should suspend all training exercises with Turkish protection agencies. Seeking their unparalleled facilities and expertise, foreign governments frequently send protection teams to train with U.S. government agencies. For example, according to Turkish media, the TPPD’s attached counter-assault team (which is responsible for repelling attacks) was trained by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The key here is the pursuit of broader strategic effect. Enacted quickly and unapologetically, each of these actions would prove to Erdogan that America is no longer willing to tolerate his antics. Erdogan must understand that his anger, for example, over President Trump’s decision to arm Kurdish forces in Syria is ill-directed against U.S. citizens.
Turkey is an important U.S. ally, but Erdogan is not America’s overlord. The TPPD and its master must be corralled.