As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues an eight-day Middle East diplomatic junket and National Security Adviser John Bolton advocates for war with Iran, President Donald Trump promises to wreak economic devastation on Turkey if the country attacks the U.S.-aligned Kurdish militia in Syria.
It is a rare and pointed threat from the leader of the Free World.
…that’s where diplomacy became quite dicey.
As Trump tweeted over the weekend, “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds…”
The uncertainties associated with the drawdown of U.S. military troops in Syria have all players on edge, inspiring somewhat conflicting statements from the Trump administration. Trump announced his plan in December and pledged to bring troops home “now.”
But Bolton recently spoke with journalists in Jerusalem, saying, “There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” which include defeating what’s left of the Islamic State and securing an agreement from Turkey for the safety of the Kurds fighting alongside American troops.
And that’s where diplomacy became quite dicey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not distinguish Syria’s Kurdish fighters from Kurdish insurgents he considers terrorists against Turkey.
The U.S.-backed group, Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has led a confederation of militias vitally important to the success of eradicating ISIS. With the United States pulling troops from Syria, in effect removing the protections of YPG, many fear Erdogan will act on his promise to crush the YPG.
Erdogan went on the offensive after Bolton’s remarks. “Those who cast aspersions on Turkey … claiming it will massacre the Kurds in Syria are actually well aware of the fact behind the issue,” Erdogan declared, calling Bolton’s remarks a “serious mistake.”
Furthermore, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin directed a message on Twitter to President Trump, warning, “Terrorists can’t be your partners & allies. Turkey expects the US to honor our strategic partnership and doesn’t want it to be shadowed by terrorist propaganda.”
Pompeo is on record portraying the drawback of troops as “a tactical change” while assuring that the administration is focused on facing down ISIS and keeping Iran under a modicum of peaceful control. Despite the posturing of Trump and Erdogan, Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, are said to be in accord on the “importance of continuing U.S.-Turkish consultations.”
There are adults in the room after all.
Trump is holding firm to his commitment to the Kurds but also has declared he does not “want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.” He finished his rant by tweeting, “Stop the ENDLESS WARS!”
In December, during the phone call between Erdogan and Trump discussing the troop withdrawal in Syria, the Turkish president extended an invitation to visit his country. White House officials say Trump accepted his offer with no known date in 2019 yet scheduled.
It is a positive step for the two leaders – unless that invitation is now off the table.