Did the Syria pullout start with a phone call to Erdogan?

No matter how you feel about the President’s announcement that we’ll be pulling out of Syria, I would hope that we could all at least agree that the decision needed to come from Washington. That’s an oversimplification, of course, because the Commander in Chief generally doesn’t make such decisions in a vacuum, consulting with his military leadership and foreign policy advisers, but it clearly needs to be our call. That’s why the recent claims in the media that President Trump made the decision as part of a phone call with the Tyrant of Turkey should be disturbing to everyone, assuming they’re true. (That’s a big assumption at this point.) The Associated Press has some of the details currently making the rounds.

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies, and over strong objections from virtually everyone involved in the fight against the Islamic State group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, two U.S. officials and a Turkish official briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

The Dec. 14 call, described by officials who were not authorized to discuss the decision-making process publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, provides insight into a consequential Trump decision that prompted the resignation of widely respected Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It also set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision.

This is yet another story which is based entirely on anonymous sources, allegedly from both Turkey and the White House. For their part, the White House is denying the report completely. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis described the story by saying, “In no uncertain terms, reporting throughout this story is not true.” He went on to call the report, “a false version of events … from sources who lack authority on the subject, possibly from unnamed sources in Turkey.”

I hope that’s the truth and not some spin to put a positive face on this. But before I’m ready to write this off as some sort of deep state chicanery or media malfeasance, I’ll remind everyone that President Trump has had a disturbing and frequently much too chummy relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his despotical regime in Turkey. He’s also long been of the opinion that we need to get out of Syria sooner rather than later, and it’s not inconceivable that he was looking for an excuse to do so and Erdogan gave him one.

The WaPo expands on the AP’s coverage, offering specific quotes and details of the alleged call. They claim that Erdogan told Trump that ISIS was all but finished and Turkey was well prepared to root out any last pockets of their fighters so there was no need for American troops to remain. In response, they claim that Trump told Erdogan, “You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.”

First of all, if Turkey was that well positioned to totally wipe out ISIS in the region they would already be gone. But it’s not a question of Turkey’s military taking out ISIS that should be the primary concern here. It’s the situation our Kurdish allies will be facing after we’re gone. Because let’s face it… the biggest threat to the Kurds isn’t ISIS. They’ve been fighting ISIS for years and, with a bit of help from us, kicking their butts. The real danger to the Kurds comes from Turkey, where Erdogan has been hell-bent on exterminating them for quite some time. I’m somewhat less concerned with allowing ISIS in Syria and Iraq to slip the noose than abandoning the Kurds to a massacre.

All of this is an uncomfortable reminder of how distasteful Trump’s relationship with Turkey has been. Right up there with Putin and King Salman, our relationship with Erdogan should be viewed as more of a necessary evil than any kind of “special relationship” or alliance. The man is a monster, plain and simple. Yes, we don’t want to find ourselves at war with Turkey, and their strategic geopolitical positioning makes them important to both the United States and Europe. But Erdogan isn’t an honest broker in our foreign affairs dealings and he’s much more comfortable teaming up with Russia, Iran and Venezuela than he is with the west.

I’d like to hear some additional clarification from the White House about this call. There wouldn’t have been very many people in the room for it. I’m not even sure there would be a translator because Erdogan’s English is excellent. None of this adds up to good news, however. Not for us, not for the Kurds, and not for the prospects of preventing a resurgence of ISIS.