So what? That might be the question you asked yourself when news outlets reported the White House worked out a ceasefire deal with Turkey. If you have been following the situation in Syria closely, you might have seen that this type of agreement means very little to the ongoing conflicts in the region. Many Americans are wondering the same thing: What will happen next, and do US troops need to remain in Syria?
Turkey Agrees to Ceasefire
Earlier this week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that Ankara agreed to halt its military operations in northern Syria for 120 hours. The cessation in fighting is mean to allow Kurdish forces to remove their troops from the area.
Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip indicated that he would “never” agree to a ceasefire arrangement. It appears the leader now feels differently. His change of heart came after five hours of negotiations and the authorization of American sanctions against members of the Turkish government.
In exchange for the ceasefire agreement, the US will not impose any more sanctions on Ankara and will revoke all economic actions against Turkey once a permanent agreement for peace has been arranged. Ankara also agreed to renew its commitment to fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and working with US forces to target the terrorist group.
After the Vice President made his announcement, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said: “This is not a ceasefire. We will pause the operation for 120 hours in order for the terrorists to leave. We will only stop the operation if our conditions are met.”
President Trump also chimed in, lauding the deal:
“It’s a great day for the United States, it’s a great day for Turkey … it’s a great day for the Kurds. It’s really a great day for civilization … I just want to thank and congratulate President Erdogan. He’s a friend of mine and I’m glad we didn’t have a problem because frankly he is a hell of a leader and a tough man, a strong man.”
Unfortunately, a significant number of Kurds have already been killed or displaced as the result of Turkey’s military incursion into the region. But there seems to be some hope that this deal is a precursor to a broader agreement that permanently halts the violence.
Trump Imposes Sanctions
President Trump came under fire from both the left and the right when he decided to remove 50 troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkey’s invasion. Both sides accused him of abandoning the Kurds, who have partnered with the US military in its efforts against ISIS.
But shortly after announcing his decision, the president also issued a threat to the Turkish government: “The United States will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate and finance these heinous acts in Syria. I am fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.”
The warning did not deter Turkey. The country’s military killed hundreds of Kurds shortly after invading the region. In response, the president levied sanctions on Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense and Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. This isn’t quite as severe as what the president had previously threatened, but it would have been a starting point for further economic punishments against Ankara.
Now that the ceasefire agreement is in place, it appears there may be no need for more sanctions. But judging from the history of this conflict, it is not clear that sanctions will ultimately prove to be an effective deterrent. It is worth pointing out, however, that when Trump threatened Turkey’s economy over their government’s unjust imprisoning of an American pastor, this strategy produced results.
So what does this ceasefire agreement mean for the overall situation in Syria? If Washington and Ankara can reach a permanent deal concerning the cessation of hostilities with the Kurds, that would be a positive step. But it doesn’t seem that it would have an impact on the civil war itself. Some in the neocon and neoliberal crowd might wish to see American involvement persist in the region, but a growing number of Americans are fed up with what the president calls “endless war.”
There are many Americans who wish to see the president fulfill his campaign promise of ending the country’s military involvement in wars that do not seem to concern us. Both Syria and Afghanistan have been serious points of contention. Perhaps if there is a permanent ceasefire deal between Turkey and the Kurds and ISIS remains defeated, we can finally bring our troops home.