Donald Trump is lifting sanctions on Ankara less than 24 hours after Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal that mandates the complete withdrawal of Syrian-Kurdish fighters from the country’s border with Turkey.
Speaking at the White House, Trump on Wednesday claimed the “ceasefire” Mike Pence struck with Erdogan last week has held “beyond most expectations”.
Earlier, the president tweeted the following:
Big success on the Turkey/Syria Border. Safe Zone created! Ceasefire has held and combat missions have ended. Kurds are safe and have worked very nicely with us. Captured ISIS prisoners secured.
This is nothing short of a travesty. Since Trump told Erdogan the US would not stand in the way of Turkey’s long-threatened incursion, hundreds of Kurds have been killed, war crimes were committed and Bashar al-Assad now effectively controls territory he hasn’t held in at least five years. Hundreds upon hundreds of ISIS sympathizers have escaped prisons administered by the Kurdish-led SDF.
Politically, Turkey’s agreement with Putin in Sochi on Tuesday amounts to Erdogan recognizing Assad, a milestone for the Syrian strongman in the decade-long civil war.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Trump delivered a stream of misinformation, spin and outright lies. “Now people are saying, ‘Wow. What a great outcome. Congratulations'”, he claimed.
That’s not a total lie. There are, in fact, “people” saying that. Those people are: Putin, Erdogan, Assad and Qasem Soleimani.
Trump also suggested that in the event the Kurds are unable to keep ISIS prisoners at bay, Turkey will “be there to grab ’em”, a patently absurd claim for which there is absolutely no evidence.
The president referred to “all forms of the Kurds” while explaining how much America has done for its allies in the region, on the way to derisively describing Syria as “blood-stained sand”.
For those with no frame of reference or who haven’t studied antiquity, Syria is a lot more than “blood-stained sand”. What’s happened in the country over the past 10 years will go down as one of the most tragic episodes in human history. Trump is trivializing that.
The president did offer up one caveat to his characterization of the country as a barren wasteland not worth preserving – there’s oil there. “We’ve secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of US Troops will remain in the area. Where they have the oil”, he said. “And we’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future”. (Thanks Dick Cheney.)
Trump also promised that sanctions on Turkey will be reimposed if Erdogan “fails to uphold the deal”.
It isn’t clear what that means at this juncture. On an admittedly superficial read, the new arrangement between Erdogan and Putin essentially calls for the Turkish military, Russian MPs and border patrols conducted by the Syrian army (proper) to enforce the “buffer” zone between the Kurds and Turkey. The US has no troop presence in the north. It will be virtually impossible for the White House to sort out the facts if (or, more aptly, when) violence starts up again in the northeast.
Trump’s remarks on Wednesday are likely to be mercilessly criticized on Capitol Hill, although some Republicans have backed off in recent days, presumably realizing that piling on when the White House is under siege from the spiraling impeachment probe is risky.
Still, the GOP is not satisfied that Turkey’s week-long massacre of America’s former allies in Syria has been adequately addressed. After all, Steve Mnuchin’s sanctions were in place for just nine days.
Asked by a reporter to explain why his top envoy said escaped ISIS fighters are in the wind (contrary to the White House’s assertion that they’ve been recaptured), Trump shook his head and left the room.