Less than a week after Donald Trump lifted punitive measures imposed on Turkey in the wake of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deadly cross-border incursion into northeast Syria that killed hundreds of America’s former Kurdish allies and left some 200,000 people displaced, the House has voted to sanction Ankara for the offensive.
The vote was 403-16, a resounding message to Erdogan that while the White House may be willing to largely overlook the mini-genocide, Congress is not.
Since Trump effectively green-lighted Erdogan’s expedition, Turkey has established its long-sought “buffer” zone on the border, pushing out the Kurdish forces who fought for three years alongside US special operators in the fight against ISIS. Erdogan’s “ceasefire” with Mike Pence amounted to the US aiding an abetting the forced removal of the Kurds from the border region. The Turkish autocrat struck a similar deal with Vladimir Putin just days later, which found Russia facilitating a similar withdrawal of the YPG from areas west of the initial incursion. That pullback is now complete, according to the Kremlin.
The House bill aims to sanction senior Turkish officials, ban the sale of US weapons to Turkey if they’re going to be used in Syria, sanction countries found to be providing similar equipment and requires the State department to prepare a detailed assessment of Erdogan’s net worth and income, and that of his family members.
It would also mandate that the Defense department submit a plan outlining how ISIS captives are to be dealt with and secured. That suggests the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not enough to get Trump off the hook when it comes to the anger he sparked on Capitol Hill with his decision to abruptly pull US support for the Kurds.
In addition, the bill would force Trump to sanction Halkbank, which was charged earlier this month after a long (and inexplicable, unless by reference to behind-the-scenes negotiations) delay.
Apparently, Trump could waive the sanctions for up to three months after certifying that it’s in America’s national security interests and that Turkey has stopped attacks on the SDF and especially on Kurdish civilians.
“The carnage that we have seen over the past week against our Kurdish partners and innocent civilians has been unbearable. There must be consequences”, Republican Michael McCaul said. He’s co-sponsoring the bill with Eliot Engel who accused Trump of “letting Erdogan off scot-free”.
As far as whether the Senate will act, that’s debatable. Mitch McConnell has indicated any action needs to be scrutinized in light of recent events.
Even more vexing for Ankara, the House voted 405-11 (with three voting present) on a measure to recognize the Armenian genocide. That will not go over well.
Trump’s dealings with Erdogan have been in the spotlight all month thanks to the violence in northeast Syria. The public now knows that the president attempted to intervene in the Reza Zarrab case in and around the time the Turkish-Iranian gold trader was being represented by Rudy Giuliani.
On Monday night, it came to light that Trump once discussed pulling funding for charter schools linked to Erdogan’s archenemy Fethullah Gulen.