WASHINGTON – So let me get this straight: President Trump ordered the removal of American troops from northern Syria, knowing that Turkey would invade, seize and occupy Kurd-occupied land.
But now, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did just that, killing Kurds who had been U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, Trump is throwing a tariff tantrum and siccing sanctions on Turkey.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order that raised tariffs on Turkish steel imports to 50% and halted negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with the country.
If this weird little do-si-do with Erdogan was the result of sober consideration, then the president of the United States isn’t only a morally corrupt sycophant to murderous dictators, he’s bat-guano crazy. But you knew that.
There’s no point pretending that Trump didn’t know what Erdogan intended toward Syria. The two men spoke on the phone on Oct. 6, and Trump soon after ordered the withdrawal of American troops from northern Syria and, what do you know, Turkey invaded.
The State Department said Trump doesn’t support the incursion, which may or may not be true. In any case, saying you don’t support it doesn’t mean you didn’t deliberately create circumstances that made such an incursion possible.
How credulous must one be to accept that these events were coincidental?
But Trump is a wheeler-dealer. He wouldn’t cut such a deal without something in return. He already has two towers in Istanbul, so that’s probably not on his to-do list. What does Erdogan have that Trump wants?
It’s anyone’s guess at this point. But Trump has blood on his hands, which means America has blood on hers. Whatever motivated our moody president, the consequences were obvious. The immediate effects are well-known, but the longer-term ripple effects could plague the region, not to mention America’s standing in the world, for years to come.
Thanks to Trump and Erdogan, it is now more likely the Islamic State will begin reorganizing. The American pullout also strengthens the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and, by extension, Russia and Iran.
Naturally, the willfully ignorant and impulsive Trump issued his order to withdraw troops despite repeated warnings from his military and foreign policy advisers. It seems plain enough that he didn’t heed their advice because he didn’t want to hear it.
Bottom line: Trump appears to have wanted to please Erdogan. The sanctions and tariff hike may be merely part of the setup. Thus, while tensions rise in the Middle East – and America’s foes jockey for position to benefit from the aftermath – Trump has created cause for plausible deniability: “Hey, I thought it was the right thing to do. We can’t be involved in endless wars.”
As we’ve learned the past three years, Trump does what Trump wants. He’s the CEO of America, after all. Then, once he unleashes havoc, he delegates to others the burden of his consequences: “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out,” he tweeted.
For starters, around 785 people connected to the Islamic State escaped from a detention camp.
The impetus behind all this chaos and carnage apparently was Erdogan’s wish to rid himself of some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees languishing in Turkey. He and Trump surely could find common cause in that sentiment. Under Erdogan’s plan, Turkey would resettle and oversee about 1 million refugees along the newly confiscated border area. From his perspective, the Kurds living there are terrorists, though they fought alongside American and European troops against the Islamic State. Thus, Erdogan is solving two problems, thanks, it seems, to Trump’s generous acquiescence.
From Trump’s point of view, what’s the big deal? American troops leave the badlands and let the others fight among themselves. The bigger picture reveals that Trump has further alienated our allies, made America less trustworthy, surrendered American leverage in the area and enabled what is essentially a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Trump, apparently, feels empowered while directing geopolitics by the seat of his pants, feeding his rapacious ego with the admiration of totalitarians from Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and the Saudi royals. But, Erdogan, what’s he got?
One shudders to think: Either Trump is wagging the dog to create a distraction. Or, not to state the obvious, he is not the “extremely stable genius” he claims to be.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post.