Under intense pressure from Republicans, Democrats, the international community and especially Syrian Kurds who have been too busy dying to lodge a formal complaint with Congress, Donald Trump pulled the sanctions trigger on Turkey.
Or at least he was on the verge of doing so on Monday.
“I will soon be issuing an Executive Order authorizing the imposition of sanctions against current and former officials of the Government of Turkey and any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in Syria”, the president said, in a statement posted to Twitter. “Likewise, the steel tariffs will be increased back up to 50%, the level prior to the reduction in May”.
Trump also said the Commerce Department will stop negotiating with Ankara on a trade deal that the White House values at $100 billion.
That rumored “deal” was the subject of considerable debate last month, given the US is still ostensibly at odds with the Turks over the purchase of Russian-made missile systems.
The White House also says the US may impose “powerful additional sanctions” on anyone involved in “serious human rights abuses”. It wasn’t immediately clear what constitutes “non-serious” human rights abuses, but one assumes what happened on Saturday counts as heinous enough to warrant sanctions.
Trump went on to reiterate that he is withdrawing US forces from northern Syria despite the fact that doing so has now effectively handed all of Syria back to Bashar al-Assad, assuming he can beat back the Turks.
Congress won’t be satisfied with Trump’s opening salvo on the sanctions front. What he detailed on Monday afternoon isn’t going to cripple Turkey’s economy. Frankly, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to have much of an effect at all, let alone serve as a deterrent for Erdogan, whose belligerence is the stuff of legend.
Further, it’s not entirely clear why the administration continues to issue announcements of executive orders as opposed to just pulling the trigger.
The president also took some time on Monday afternoon to elaborate on how he’s thinking about the situation on the ground in Syria.
“Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land”, Trump said, on the way to describing an imaginary conversation he had with “my Generals”.
“I said to my Generals… anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte”, Trump actually tweeted. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”
Napoleon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.