This morning I did a preview of today’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spurred in large part by the Washington Post publishing an op-ed written by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. At that time I set my expectations rather low in terms of what might come from the meeting. Having watched their joint comments and read through the press pool’s description of what was discussed I’d have to say that those low expectations were met… barely. Here’s the thumbnail description from the New York Daily News.
President Trump welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House Tuesday, where the two leaders pledged to work together to fight ISIS and help find a resolution to the Syrian conflict…
In brief joint remarks given by Trump and Erdogan Tuesday, the President, focused almost entirely on relations with Turkey, saying the two men would “have long and hard discussions.”
“We know that they will be very successful. We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. “supports Turkey in the fight against terror” and that the White House also “appreciates Turkey’s leadership” regarding the Syrian crisis.
The remarks for the media were indeed… brief. They were also short on substance and almost entirely devoid of any specifics. To hear the two leaders speaking, their entire conversation centered on the fact that they would both like to defeat ISIS and end the conflict in Syria. I suppose that’s not terribly shocking because it’s the most popular pair of items the two could currently find agreement on without stirring up a lot of controversy. Trump struck his usual tone of talking about how great the meeting was, how great our relationship with Turkey is and how it’s going to be even more great in the future. Yes. Everything was just great.
Absent from their remarks was any mention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, who still sits rotting in one of Erdogan’s jails while he is in Washington glad-handing with our president. Also notably absent was even a whisper of an acknowledgement of the massive human rights abuses going on in Turkey to this day or a suggestion that Erdogan might try to do any better in the future. On the plus side I suppose we can be glad that President Trump didn’t just have some agents wheel out Fethullah Gulen on a hand truck, trussed up like Hannibal Lecter as a gift to take back to Ankara. (Not that I have all that much sympathy for Gulen or particularly want him extradited, but he may wind up being the only bargaining chip we have if it comes to that.)
I’ll confess that the image of the American President sitting with and shaking hands with the Tyrant of Turkey was a jarring one, but I’m not sure what else we should have reasonably hoped to come of the meeting. I’m a bit too exhausted with the entire story arc at this point to entertain another round of wondering if Trump is actually playing three dimensional chess and just keeping his cards close to his vest and blah, blah, blah, blah. The far more likely scenario is that today’s meeting was precisely what it seemed and nothing more. Trump put a check mark in a box by having a photo op with a foreign leader who is heavily involved in the war on ISIS and kept that as his driving goal throughout. If he’s not going to work on Brunson’s release or address the whole tyranny thing, I suppose he’s made peace with the current situation in Turkey as the price of doing business. And no… I can’t entirely fault him for it since I don’t have any better solutions to offer which wouldn’t potentially cripple us in the war against ISIS.
But it certainly would have been a huge feather in his cap if he could have come away with Brunson’s release, even if we had to give up some additional foreign aid or military commitments in return. Ah, well. Maybe next time.