In an interview Wednesday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump praised the Turkish president's harsh response to an attempted coup and raised questions about his commitment to protecting America's NATO allies.
Trump told the New York Times that he gave "great credit" to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for "being able to turn that around," in reference to last Friday's coup attempt in which supporters of the president and other Turks confronted soldiers on city streets and helped thwart their bid to overthrow the government.
In the wake of the attempted coup, Erdogan has declared a state of emergency; detained and arrested thousands of army officers and other security personnel; and purged thousands of teachers, judges, and civil servants from their positions. As many as 50,000 people are estimated to have been affected in Erdogan's crackdown on what he has said is a conspiracy masterminded by the followers of exiled Turkish spiritual and political leader Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.
When asked if the United States should press Erdogan to respect civil liberties and make sure the rule of law is applied in Turkey, Trump said that "we have to fix our own mess" before the US can be more aggressive elsewhere.
"I don't know that we have the right to lecture," Trump said. "Just look at what's happening in our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood? How are we doing to lecture when you see the riots and horror going on in our country?
"When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don't think we're a very good messenger."
Trump also raised fresh doubts about his commitment to defend NATO allies if they're attacked, a stance in keeping with his "America First" agenda.
In response to a question about potential Russian aggression toward the Baltic states, Trump said that if Moscow attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after determining whether those nations deserved the aid.
"If they fulfill their obligations to us," he said, "the answer is yes."
Trump said he would force allies to shoulder defense costs that the United States has borne for decades, cancel longstanding treaties he views as unfavorable, and redefine what it means to be a partner of the United States.
"I would prefer to be able to continue" existing agreements, he said, but only if allies stopped taking advantage of what he called an era of American largess.
Last night during his speech at the convention, Trump's vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, said, "We cannot have four more years of apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends.... Donald Trump will rebuild our military and stand with our allies."
For months, Trump has raised questions about the money the United States pours into NATO, which he says needs to be reconfigured to take account of today's global threats.
His rhetoric has caused alarm in allied countries that still rely on the US defense umbrella. The phrase "America First" was used in the 1930s by isolationists who sought to keep the United States out of World War II.
Reuters contributed to this article.
Follow Benjamin Gilbert on Twitter: @benrgilbert