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."
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Bass's comments have come under scrutiny by Trump administration insiders and regional experts, who told the Washington Free Beacon that Turkey's recent crackdown on scores of political dissidents in no way reflects America's own battles in the region.
Insiders are viewing Bass's criticism of U.S. policy on terrorism as a veiled rejection of President Donald Trump, who has come under fire from multiple U.S. officials who rose to prominence under Obama and are still serving in government.
For example, Dana Shell Smith, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Qatar until she resigned in June, came under scrutiny earlier this year when she signaled distain for representing the Trump administration while still serving as a U.S. official abroad.
"We support the Turkish government's ongoing efforts to bring to justice those who were responsible for the terrible events of a year ago," Bass said in comments recorded by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, referring to a recent coup attempt in Turkey that resulted in the imprisonment and detention of more than 100,000 political opponents.
"In our own experience dealing with terrorism in recent years, in the U.S., we have learned some painful lessons," Bass said, drawing parallels between Turkey's crackdown and U.S. efforts to fight terrorists. "Among those lessons, we have learned that rushing to justice or making an overly broad definition of terrorism can erode fundamental freedoms and undermine public confidence in government. We learned those lessons the hard way."
"It is our hope that our friends in Turkey will avoid making some of the same mistakes that we have made," Bass was quoted as saying.
Bass's public criticism of the U.S. fight against terrorism has raised eyebrows among Trump administration insiders and foreign policy experts, who noted a recent trend in which senior State Department stalwarts, many of whom served under Obama, have been willing to criticize U.S. policy and the Trump administration both on record and anonymously in the press.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and Middle East expert, chided Bass for comparing the U.S. fight against terrorism to Turkey's recent coup attempt, in which thousands were jailed for taking up arms against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Let me get this straight: a democratic debate about the Patriot Act is the moral equivalent of jailing tens of thousands of people, and firing a hundred thousand more?" Rubin asked. "At the very least, the ambassador's remarks reflect a culture problem within the State Department where criticizing U.S. policy is a virtue rather than a liability. Such moral equivalence insults all those in prison without evidence or real charges and hemorrhages both credibility and leverage."
Bass also maintained in his remarks that the only way to combat terrorism is to promote "justice and tolerance."
"If we have learned anything from last year and the violence of this year, it is that the only answer to terrorism and violence is justice and tolerance," he said.
Sources close to the Trump administration's foreign policy team told the Free Beacon that Bass's remarks reflect an attitude of opposition to Trump among senior U.S. foreign service officers who served under Obama.
"Like many other officials who rose to prominence during the Obama administration, Ambassador Bass still hasn't adjusted to the last election and what it means," said one veteran Middle East analyst who works with the White House on these regional issues.
"We haven't been too tough on terrorism," the source said. "President Trump was elected in part because he was clear that, if anything, we've been way too weak. In any case July Fourth is an occasion for emphasizing America as the world's beacon of freedom, not apologizing for real and imagined faults."
A State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon, "The Ambassador’s comments speak for themselves."
Update 3:40 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated that Bass's remarks were made at the U.S. consulate in Ankara. The remarks were made in Istanbul.
Update July 11, 11:50 a.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the State Department.