Eight days ago, Donald Trump told Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the US would not stand in the way while the Turkish military invaded northern Syria.
After all, what could go wrong?
Quite a bit, it turns out. In the past six days alone, more than 300 people have been killed, an estimated 500 ISIS sympathizers have broken out of low-security facilities, highway executions are a semi-regular thing and Bashar al-Assad’s forces are being welcomed as heroes in towns and cities they haven’t controlled in at least half a decade.
All in a week’s work for a man who once claimed to “know more than the generals do” about war.
After days of dawdling, the Trump administration finally got around to actually imposing the sanctions they’ve been threatening since last week. Specifically, Steve Mnuchin has sanctioned the Turkish ministers of defense, interior and energy.
The US is also imposing primary and secondary sanctions on financial institutions doing significant transactions. “These sanctions are very, very strong”, Mnuchin told reporters.
Turkey will continue to be able to buy fuel, apparently.
The announcement came hours after Trump tweeted out a statement tipping higher steel tariffs and promising to do more should Turkey persist in the kind of “destabilizing behavior” that he himself countenanced just a week ago. He also quipped that for all he cares, “Napoleon Bonaparte” can “protect the Kurds”.
Mike Pence joined Mnuchin at Monday evening’s press conference. “President Trump made it very clear. The US is going to continue to take actions against Turkey’s economy until they bring the violence to an end”, he remarked, without so much as a passing reference to the fact that it was the president who allowed this situation to spiral out of control in the first place.
Among other things, Pence said Trump spoke to Erdogan, who promised not to attack Kobani. Trump, Pence promised, “pressed Erdogan really strongly”.
The vice president will lead a delegation to Turkey sometime “soon” in a bid to convince Ankara to put a stop the violence.
The English language fails as a tool when it comes to conveying how objectively absurd this is. This was all set in motion by Trump’s decision to move 50 special operators away from positions held by America’s closest on-the-ground ally in Syria. It is thanks to that decision that Syria now has a new humanitarian crisis on its hands.
You may not forgive Erdogan for the massacre, but you’ll forgive him for being incredulous at the notion that the same US president who, just a week ago, said American forces would clear out for the Turkish military, is now accusing Ankara of war crimes and sanctioning its ministers.