Having washed his hands of Syria and left our Kurdish allies in the region to fend for themselves, President Trump has moved on to absolve Turkey of any wrongdoing and bless the union of Turkey — a NATO ally — and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
American troops had been in northern Syria working with Kurdish allies to fight the Islamic State terrorist group. Their presence always rankled Turkey, which considers some Kurdish groups themselves terrorists and, as soon as Trump suddenly withdrew US troops, the Turks invaded and began butchering Kurds.
The United States threatened sanctions — a case of too little, too late — and now Trump is cancelling even that mild response. This week he announced the United States would lift the sanctions because, he said, a five-day cease-fire agreed to by Turkey was now “permanent.”
And he doubled down on the abrupt withdrawal decision that had created the mess. “Let someone else fight over this long-bloodstained sand,” Trump declared at a formal White House announcement.
So, having created a humanitarian and military disaster by his precipitous removal of American troops, Trump declared the problem he had created to be solved. End of story. And for this, Turkey would be rewarded — the economic taps again would flow.
But the idea that the Kurds are now safe is ridiculous. Even Trump wasn’t so foolish as to actually believe in the permanence of Turkey’s pledge.
“You would also define the ‘permanent’ in that part of the world as somewhat questionable,” he said. “We all understand that.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan certainly does. He insisted Turkey would “crush” any Kurdish fighters who stand in the way of his country’s effort to create 20-mile deep border zone free of Syrian Kurds.
“We would never shy away from moving ahead on our path. We would never calculate whether the price to pay on this path would be too high or too low,” Erdogan said.
By week’s end, Turkey was making good on that pledge, taking out Kurdish fighters in at least three northern villages, according to the Associated Press.
That Turkey is clearing the region with the help of Russian forces — which this week moved into the city of Kobane, once home to a US military base — also seemed not to bother Trump at all.
“Other countries have stepped forward; they want to help, and we think that’s great,” Trump said. “The nations in the region must ultimately take on the responsibility of helping Turkey and Syria police their border. We want other nations to get involved.”
Even as Trump was declaring the brilliance of his own strategy, his special envoy to the region, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Turkish invasion “has scrambled the entire northeast, undercut our efforts against ISIS and brought in the Russians and Syrian regime forces in a way that’s really tragic for everyone involved.”
Jeffrey also confirmed that more than 100 previously captured Islamic State militants escaped in the chaos that followed the Turkish assault.
So again, let’s reward that behavior by lifting sanctions.
Even Defense Secretary Mark Esper noted in an interview with Fox News shortly after the Turkish assault was launched, “The arc of their [Turkish] behavior over the past several years has been terrible. . . . We see them purchasing Russian arms, cuddling up to President Putin. We see them doing these things that, frankly, concern us.”
He also said this week that, based on reports he has seen, it’s possible Turkish forces committed war crimes during the assault.
Bemoaning bad behavior — as a number of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress have done — accomplishes little if not followed by action. Real economic sanctions on Turkey, especially denial of military hardware, might at least send a message that this is not okay. This is not the way putative allies behave.
It may be too late to help the Syrian Kurds, but not to send a message that there is still a branch of the US government that knows right from wrong.