President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey's democratic institutions.Those concerns were not mentioned in a brief readout of the phone call that the White House released Monday night.... The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government's heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency.
April 18, 201703:57
The U.S. president not only contradicted his own press secretary, Trump's call also appears to be at odds with the statement on the Turkish referendum from the U.S. State Department.Trump is now the only leader in the Western world to congratulate Erdogan on the election results, effectively endorsing the outcome and extending the imprimatur of the United States government on democracy's slow demise in Turkey.If there's a compelling defense for this, it's hiding well.To be sure, the strength of Turkey's democratic norms were already eroding, but the point of the referendum was to shift away from the country's parliamentary system, putting even more authoritarian power into Erdogan's hands. Questions about whether Erdogan's government abused the process to ensure its preferred outcome remain unanswered.The Turkish president, however, doesn't care. A New York Times editorial said the referendum has left Turkey "in the hands of an erratic and vengeful man and the world wondering whether a nation that for decades has served as a crucial bridge between Europe and the Muslim world can possibly have a stable and prosperous future under someone with so little respect for democratic structures and values."There's no great mystery about Trump's motivations: the White House wants Turkey's help in Syria. But the U.S. president didn't have to go quite as far as he did in touting the results, which had the unfortunate effect of reminding the world of Trump's affinity for authoritarian rulers.Dan Drezner has talked about the tensions presidents face when weighing America's values and America's interests, and the awkward compromises that ensue. How much thought do you suppose went into Donald Trump's deliberations on this?