October 8th. That’s less than 48 hours after Trump got off the phone with Turkey’s President Erdogan, telling him in the first place he was pulling remaining U.S. troops out of Syria.
Which means, this isn’t some new example of Trump getting tough, this is an example of Trump getting ignored.
In fact, according to the the government affiliated Daily Sabah newspaper, the Turkish government launched of “Operation Peace Spring”: the strongest and most violent assault yet on Kurdish-held areas of Syria on October 9th. One day after the Trump letter.
So this letter didn’t come in response to Turkey going faster and deeper into Syria than anyone in the White House apparently expected, laying waste to figthers who formerly the U.S.’ staunchest ally in the region against ISIS: the Kurds. This letter came before. And Turkey’s President did it anyway.
We’re not going to review the letter. If you haven’t seen it yet, we’re providing a link to it here, or by clicking on the photo above. (The White House has confirmed that it is real.) And let’s forget about the “crazy” aspect most everybody else appears to be focused on for the moment. Let’s even go as far as entertaining the remote possibility Trump woke up to the horror he’d wrought, and was just trying to do his best, the best way he knew how.
Yes, Turkey’s economy is in a shambles right now, so much so that it had been threatening President Erdogan’s de facto status as “President for Life”. And yes, Trump (and Europe, which isn’t happy about what Turkey is doing either) could make that worse. (Turkey is the U.S.’ 32nd biggest trading partner, and the U.S. actually racks up a small trade surplus.)
At the same time, what better way to fire up the fidelity of the Turkish populace than a big victory over the Kurds? And a big land grab in Syria, that’ll give Turkey a place to move many of the refugees it’s been housing since ISIS caused so many to flee? As we’ve mentioned before, based on the overall number of people in the country, Turkey currently has the highest percentage of refugees of any country in the world.
But more important than all of that, to both Turkey and President Erdogan’s standing, this is perceived in Turkey as a victory over the U.S.
Trump stepped down and let Erdogan dominate. If you factor in the date, that’s what this letter, and its subsequent non-reaction, is all about.
While Trump’s actions always seem impetuous, Turkey’s had planned this all out for years. It was just a matter of opportunity.
Also, Turkey already had a “Plan B”: Russia. Even though Turkey is a NATO member, earlier this year it bought a missile defense system from Russia, over the objections of the U.S. (The U.S. is at least temporarily withholding some fighter jets as a result.)
But that purchase also created some well-timed good will and freer channels of communication between Turkey and Russia. Russia supports Syria’s tyrannical government, with which the Kurds now have been forced into an alliance. So Russia will be part of any eventual power sharing with Turkey, as well as approving the creation of any relocation zones in Syria for those refugees now in Turkey.
That’s also a big part of why Erdogan’s acting like he could care less about what Trump has to say. The damage Turkey’s done now can’t be undone. (The fact that it was done with Trump’s blessing and then suddenly not, not withstanding).
So at this point, the focus naturally shifts to Russia. That’s why Erdogan’s already got meetings scheduled with Russia’s President Putin next week in the Russian resort town of Sochi (which is actually not that far from Turkey). He did also sit down today with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, after initially saying he’d talk only to Trump. And there probably will be a ceasefire at some point. But that’s because the damage is already done.
Trump can’t step aside after abdicating all responsibility, and still expect to be a major player. And at this point it’s unlikely that ceasefire can even happen without Russia’s blessing.