“I’m not going to talk to them. They will be talking to their counterparts. When Trump comes here, I’ll be talking,” sniffed Erdogan when asked by reporters about Pence’s and Pompeo’s impending visit. “Great news if you still wanted endless wars but with more geopolitical humiliation,” mused Dan Foster about the news.
Turkey's president @RTErdogan tells @AlexCrawfordSky he will not speak with the US Vice President about a ceasefire in Syria during his visit – adding that he will only talk to President @realDonaldTrump.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 16, 2019
The Sultan has since thought better of his refusal to meet with Pence and Pompeo, probably figuring that the administration will tolerate only so much embarrassment at Turkey’s hands before reconsidering the entire alliance. Besides, there are other ways to embarrass the U.S. that don’t involve personally humiliating the vice president and the secretary of state. One is to have Erdogan loudly proclaim that he might snub Trump himself by declining to visit the White House as scheduled next month. Another is to ignore U.S. demands for a ceasefire in northern Syria and to reject America’s invitation to act as a mediator between Turkey and the Kurds. The politic thing to do is to receive Pence and Pompeo warmly, listen attentively, then forget everything they’ve said the moment they’ve left. It sounds like that’s what Erdogan will do.
As tends to happen in the Trump administration, the president’s foreign policy and the foreign policy of literally everyone who works for him are two different things. Everyone from Pence on down sympathizes with the Kurds’ plight and is pushing hard for a ceasefire before outright ethnic cleansing begins in earnest. Trump? Trump is Trump:
President Trump: “If Turkey goes into Syria, it’s not our problem.” VP Pence and Pompeo being sent to deliver a very different message to President Erdogan regarding need for a ceasefire.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) October 16, 2019
President Trump: "The Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight. And as I said, they're not angels. They're not angels. If you take a look, you have to go back and take a look." pic.twitter.com/1mEKRZThXu
— The Hill (@thehill) October 16, 2019
“Syria may have some help with Russia and that’s fine,” Trump said. “It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there, so there’s a lot of sand they can play with.” https://t.co/wiRegv21uQ
— Courtney Norris (@courtneyknorris) October 16, 2019
“There’s a lot of sand they can play with.” Even his most devoted sycophants are struggling to frame their disgust in polite terms:
However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 16, 2019
The statements by President Trump about Turkey’s invasion being of no concern to us also completely undercut Vice President Pence and Sec. Pompeo’s ability to end the conflict.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 16, 2019
Yeah, why the hell would you send Pence and Pompeo to try to negotiate a ceasefire while you’re on TV broadcasting to the world that you don’t care what happens to the Kurds or anyone else? What sort of pressure is Erdogan supposed to feel from that? For that matter, why send Pence and Pompeo at all? The time to send them on an emergency visit to Turkey was when Erdogan first told Trump that he was planning to invade northern Syria, not 10 days later when Turkish troops are advancing:
ROMNEY on Pence/Pompeo going to Turkey: “It's too late for this kind of conversation. I mean I'm happy that they're talking but my goodness.”
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) October 16, 2019
How did we end up here? According to White House aides who spoke to the Times, Trump was underprepared for his call with Erdogan on October 6. When the Turkish leader threatened to invade northern Syria at long last to push the Kurds back, Trump didn’t think to threaten him back with U.S. countermeasures like sanctions. Or at least, that’s the charitable spin; the less charitable read would be that Trump really, truly has no problem with the Turks pulverizing America’s allies in the war against ISIS, a point he’s now made repeatedly in public, and only agreed to sanctions after the fact because of the harsh backlash he’s received even from Republicans. Threatening Erdogan with sanctions on the call might not even have mattered: The Sultan knows Trump is a paper tiger.
The Turkish president probably anticipated U.S. sanctions, Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of the new book Erdogan’s Empire, told me. But Erdoğan and Trump have a good rapport, even an apparent “political man crush on each other” as like-minded “strongmen presidents,” he noted. And Erdoğan expects Trump to ultimately “save the relationship,” such as when the U.S. president held back last summer on imposing congressionally mandated sanctions on Turkey over the NATO member’s purchase of a Russian missile-defense system.
“Erdoğan is betting on that once again: that Trump will prevent devastating sanctions against Turkey’s economy and military following the incursion,” said Cagaptay…
Thus far, … [new U.S.] sanctions extend to only three Turkish officials and the nation’s defense and energy ministries.
That probably explains Erdogan’s reversal on meeting Pence and Pompeo. He knows Trump doesn’t care what happens to the Kurds or whether Assad and Russia increase their hold on Syria as a result. He may not even care what happens to ISIS so long as the group doesn’t reconstitute itself before November 2020. But being personally rude to Trump’s handpicked envoys by refusing to hear them out might be an unpardonable affront. Better to maintain the “friendship” with Trump by being polite and then doing what you like, knowing that he’ll find excuses — “the Kurds are no angels” — to justify your actions for you.
Speaking of endless wars and political humiliation, here’s a pair of viral clips from Russian state TV that are making the rounds today. If the president were a Democrat, this sort of immediate bug-out under threat paired with the degree of callousness Trump’s showed the Kurds today would make this episode legendary in Republican media for a generation as proof of the essential cowardice and fickleness of left-wing foreign policy.
— RT (@RT_com) October 16, 2019
Russian mercenaries give video tour of abandoned US base in Northern Syria, laughing at the hasty US retreat, showing unfinished meals on dining tables and heavy military equipment left behind. A Russian propaganda coup. https://t.co/9WHrmEe1Xc
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) October 15, 2019