Tear gas continues to waft over Istanbul's mosques and malls as protests have spread to dozens of cities. What began as a sit-in against the destruction of a small park has morphed into a country-wide revolt against authoritarianism. Turks have reason to be angry: Where liberals once applauded Erdogan's efforts to rein in the Turkish military, he soon showed his vendettas would not stop there: minorities, secularists, and women all found themselves targets of his ire. Press freedom is in free fall. Turkey was a tinderbox in need of a spark. By attacking demonstrators, Erdogan lit a match.
The "Turkish Spring" puts President Obama in a tough spot. Hosting Erdogan at the White House last month, Obama was effusive. "This visit reflects the importance that the United States places on our relationship with our ally, Turkey, and I value so much the partnership that I've been able to develop with Prime Minister Erdogan." Never before has an American president struck up such friendship with a Turkish leader. In a January 2012 interview, Obama singled out Erdogan as among those leaders with whom he was able to forge "bonds of trust."
Such trust is unwarranted. Erdogan is antagonistic to the United States, its values and its goals. He has shown support for Hamas and helped Iran evade sanctions. As he visited the White House, Erdogan's government seized a local conglomerate's media assets.
Turkey's strength is its people, and it's with the people that the United States should stand. If Turkey is to be a model, Obama should speak to the importance of free speech, a free press and free association. No election victory should put a leader above the law. Obama has a bully pulpit; if he truly cares about Turkey's future, he will use it.