Then there is the message this sends to Erdogan himself. The Turkish leader has humiliated Trump and the U.S. in recent weeks and months. He went ahead with the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense system this summer, over several U.S. objections, and has faced no sanctions. He ordered his military to violate an earlier safe-haven agreement that to which Turkey had previously agreed. His forces fired artillery on a U.S. outpost last week. And he has metaphorically — and literally, according to the BBC — thrown Trump’s “Don’t be a tough guy” letter into the trash.
In exchange for this disrespect and petulance, Erdogan got what he has wanted all along. He started a war to create a buffer zone in northern Syria, then got the U.S. to agree that he be allowed to keep it. Trump is even now repeating Erdogan’s talking points, claiming (without evidence) that the Syrian Kurds have launched attacks into Turkey. “In all fairness they’ve had a legitimate problem with it,” Trump said Thursday, referring to the safe zone. “They had to have it cleaned out. But once you start that, it gets to a point where a tremendous amount of bad things can happen.”
That point has already been reached. Bad things are indeed happening, and will continue to happen. And there’s little reason to believe Trump’s capitulation in Ankara will do much to stop them.